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Bombina orientalis, the Asian fire-bellied toad, is the subject of biology professor Robert Kaplan’s field research, and informs the amphibian ecology unit taught to school children. Below: Kaplan’s work also takes him to the wilds of Washington State.

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Teaching About the Birds
and the Bees
(and the Flowers
and the Frogs)

Reed’s current biology outreach program was launched in 1996 by biology professor Robert Kaplan, backed by a large grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. When that grant ran out in 2006, the program continued to be sustained with support from Reed and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

In 2006–07, the program sent 14 Reed undergraduate student-teachers into three Portland public schools. The student-teachers earned a modest hourly wage teaching a plant unit (in the fall), and an amphibian unit (in the spring), to 292 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. In 2007–08, a fourth school will be added to the program; a total of 330 elementary school students will be taught by 18 Reed student-teachers in the coming year.

The biology outreach curriculum has been developed to reflect the department’s approach to its own intro classes—Biology 101 and 102. Faculty members write curricula directly related to their fields of research. So, for example, for the past 12 years, Kaplan’s lab has focused on the ecology, genetics, and development of the Asian fire-bellied toad, Bombina orientalis; Kaplan devised the unit on amphibian ecology that was taught this past spring. Keith Karoly, who studies the evolution of plant mating systems, created last fall’s unit on plant ecology. Department chair Janis Shampay, a molecular biologist who directed an outreach program in the early 1990s that hosted students on the Reed campus, put together the unit on molecular biology and genetics.

With the help of outreach coordinator Linsey Arnold ’07, Reed’s student-teachers then implement the curriculum in the classroom. The student-teachers work two or three to a classroom, spending one hour per week with each class for an eight-week module during each semester. Although the public school teachers try to relate the outreach material to other schoolwork, the hour spent in outreach each week may be the only hands-on experimental experience the pupils get during years of standardized science lessons.