National Science Foundation
RET Provides Budding Experience to Build Research-Based Curriculum
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Biology students from Acton-Boxborough, MA classify fungi with the help of Dr. David Hibbett from Clark University.

Credit: Brian Dempsey, Fall 2005
Permission Granted
State: Massachusetts

Keeping abreast of knowledge can be a tremendous task for science teachers, but Brian Dempsey of Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in Acton, Massachusetts has succeeded by taking advantage of a Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) activity sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). RET supplements allow K-12 teachers to perform research with an NSF-funded scientist for a summer, with the goal of ultimately involving their students in a research-based curriculum.  

Dempsey worked with David Hibbett and Manfred Binder from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., on their grant to study the evolutionary relationships of a group of mushrooms named the Boletales. Dempsey was included in the research activities of this project, from collecting and identifying mushrooms during field trips to extracting and purifying DNA to estimate evolutionary relationships among the mushrooms. Dempsey’s experience even included attending the Mycological Society of America meeting and preparing two manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals. One manuscript is about his RET experience, while the other focuses on his research findings from that summer.  

Over the course of his summer research, Dempsey's work showed that two species of Boletales mushrooms had been regularly misidentified as separate species, when in fact they were the same--common New England forest mushroom, Boletus longicurvipes.  The appearance of these mushrooms had deceived past scientists and the DNA sequences that Dempsey generated and analyzed revealed their true identity. 

In his classroom, Dempsey has employed a fungal molecular ecology learning module that he and Hibbett developed. The module uses DNA sequences already generated by Hibbett’s lab to identify fungi, but the RET experience has inspired Dempsey to compete for a grant to acquire molecular biology equipment for his high school, so he can involve students in research in the hopes of piquing their interest and enthusiasm for biology.

Partner: Acton-Boxborough Regional High School

More Photos:
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Teacher, Brian Dempsey, collecting mushrooms. 

Credit: Manfred Binder, Summer 2006
Permission Granted

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