NORTH ADAMS -- Twenty-seven fourth-graders at Greylock Elementary School were up to their gills in science lab work this week.
Friday concluded a five-day program called BioEYES that Williams College presented in the school. The biology program focuses on learning about and implementing a study on a fast-breeding species known as zebrafish.
Williams College first brought the program to Williamstown Elementary School four years ago. This year, the college expanded the program to include a pilot program at Greylock.
"It’s amazing. It’s different," said fourth-grade teacher Susan Candiloro. "The kids have been very engaged and asked excellent questions this week. Not to mention they’ve been responsible about taking care of the fish."
Candiloro and fellow teacher Paul Narotski combined classrooms this week so Williams neuroscience professor Martha Marvin and students from her winter study course could run the BioEYES workshop with the kids.
BioEYES is a science education program for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, developed by Philadelphia-based neurobiologist Steven Farber and educator Jamie Shuda.
During the week, Marvin and the Williams College students helped the elementary school students to formulate hypotheses about genetics and then test their hypotheses by mating a male and female zebrafish. Zebrafish breeding is a model system for studying vertebrates and neuroscience because they develop from a single-cell embryo to an embryo with a functioning nervous system in less than 24 hours.
On Friday, the fourth-graders put their developing fish -- some creatures given names like "Squishy," "Squirmy" and "Nemo" -- under microscopes brought in by the college. Since zebrafish embryos are transparent, the students were able to observe organs, a heartbeat and blood flow in their specimens.
Audible reactions from the kids ranged from "whoa," to "eww" to "weird."
"I thought it was really fun to have fish in our school because we don’t get live animals here very often," said fourth-grader Connor Cirullo.
His work group was led by Williams sophomore Nitsan Goldstein. She said she appreciated being able to get off campus and into the schools; next week, the college students will present the program at Williamstown Elementary School.
"It makes you feel so much more part of the community," Goldstein said.
Greylock Elementary teacher Paul Narotski said his students enjoy working with the college students. Back in the fall, Williams helped conduct an energy unit and it will present a spring workshop on the study of waves.
Marvin, the Williams professor, said there are practical lessons beyond the novelty of working with zebrafish. On Friday afternoon, for example, she and her lab assistant, Williams senior Jonathan Wosen, shared their work at a zebrafish conference held at neighboring Smith College, which has a zebrafish facility in its Barresi Lab.
"With kids being able to work hands-on with science, they build a connection with science," said Marvin, who was inspired to join the field after dissecting a frog in second grade.
"Some of these students may go on to work in a STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] field, but it’s important for all of them to know a little bit about science as citizens," she said.
Learn more about BioEYES at www.bioeyes.org.