Real-World Studies Are Being Used in the Classroom

Real-World Studies are creeping into practice within the pharma world, but how about science classrooms?

Led by teacher Jody Saxton West, Northfield High School in Minnesota’s science curriculum has had a massive overhaul. The sophomores in her Advanced Placement Biology class have been working on projects with real-world applications. This application of their work has enthused students.

Jody Saxton West, left, points to a project board, which her students were evaluating. (Credit: Philip Weyhe/Northfield News)
Jody Saxton West, left, points to a project board, which her students were evaluating. (Credit: Philip Weyhe/Northfield News)

Since the beginning of the year, students have worked in small research groups using Bio-Rad algae beads. Bio-Rad is a California-based company that works on innovating and developing useful products for healthcare industries. The beads are designed to aid in pollution control, and hit the market last Autumn. Essentially, they’re made up of fresh water algae wrapped in polymer plastic.

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What have student been working on?

Student projects vary from testing the beads under different light concentrations to predicting how they might react to different temperature. The data to collect will be fed back to Bio-Rad, meaning students are building real research experience.

Saxton West commented, “My greatest joy as a teacher is when my students are no longer just consumers of information, with the experiments my students did in the last few weeks, they actually contributed to scientific information. That’s incredibly exciting.”

How did the partnership develop?

In 2013 Saxton West struck up a friendship with Leigh Brown, a member of Bio-Rad’s life Sciences division. The friendship led to the teacher being invited to provide consult input to the algae beads project in 2014. Since then, her students have been involved with beta-testing as well as their own research projects.

What could this mean for UK science education?

Could this unique partnership mean a change could be coming to UK shores next? We certainly hope so! GlaxoSmithKline’s science education programme offers a broad range of free resources for secondary school-age children.


These soon-to-be scientists will be relied on to solve the global health issues of the future. Showing children from a young age how their skills can produce real change is a big step forward.