Teaching Problem-based Learning at Sammamish High School

We worked with outstanding faculty at SHS who recently received an i3 (Investing in Innovation) grant from the US Dept. of Education to redesign their science curriculum. One of the SHS goals was to incorporate problem-based learning into their STEM education plan. The Boydston Group has been involved in discussions regarding lesson plans and lab planning, and has helped develop hands-on lab experiences in which SHS students work with UW graduate researchers to address a specific scientific problem. The environment provides an opportunity for young students to get a glimpse of how researchers approach scientific problems, and for graduate researchers to explain the impacts of their research and how it builds from key fundamental principles in chemistry.

To begin, the scientific challenge was to use polymers to form a molecular cage around hydrophobic drug molecules, and to release the drug molecules in response to specific stimuli. Students and faculty from the two schools worked together to establish the key principles behind the reactivity of a small series of block copolymers. Based on these reactivities, students made predictions about which types of stimulus would result in drug release. They chose from acid, heat, ultrasound, and UV light. The SHS students worked in groups to prepare micelles from the block copolymers, encapsulating Nile Red as a drug mimic. After applying various stimuli to the micelle solutions and recording their observations, the groups drew conclusions and prepared posters to present their work.

In a parallel effort, students were presented with the task of using electrical impetus to drive oxidations of organic compounds. Students discussed the principles of oxidation and reduction reactions, and how electrochemistry can be used to accomplish these transformations. Graduate researchers from the Boydston Group then presented some of the limitations commonly encountered in organic synthesis, such as low selectivity and atom efficiency.

Together, students from UW and SHS discussed how techniques developed in our group to accomplish organocatalyzed electrosynthesis are able to address some of these limitations for key reactions. They then moved into a lab exercise in which UW researchers helped SHS students setup electrolysis cells to conduct some of the reactions that were developed in our group. SHS students explored the use of potentiostats versus batteries as sources for controlling cell potential, and used thing layer chromatography to track to the progress of their reactions.