Interactive virtual ScienceLIVE program builds in Worcester schools

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An interactive online science program for middle school students developed and presented by UMass Medical School researchers will deepen its partnership with Worcester Public Schools this fall, according to organizers.

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The UMMS ScienceLIVE team hopes to make the program more experiential, with hands-on experiments and activities that could be done either alongside the presentations or as follow-up activities.

ScienceLIVE (Learning with Interactive Virtual Education) team members say the Zoom modules by scientists from diverse backgrounds will help foster development of a life science workforce that includes people from traditionally underrepresented gender, racial and ethnic groups.

ScienceLIVE was launched last year by the RNA Therapeutics Institute, Department of Microbiology & Physiological Systems and Sanderson Center for Optical Experimentation (SCOPE) in partnership with Technocopia Inc., a nonprofit community makerspace in downtown Worcester, as an outreach program for students in Worcester-area schools or home schools. The aim was to foster educational opportunities by creating a program in which diverse graduate students and postdoctoral fellows facilitate exciting, hands-on activities for middle school students (ages 10-13), all designed for virtual teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Modules were presented to homeschooled students last fall as a pilot; but in spring, more than 1,800 Worcester seventh- and eighth-grade students, from four of the district’s six middle schools, participated, said Angela Messmer-Blust, PhD, assistant professor of RNA therapeutics and senior scientific advisor in the RNA Therapeutics Institute, who coordinates outreach for ScienceLIVE.

Mary Pickering, PhD’06, senior scientist in the lab of Nicholas Rhind, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, trained approximately 25 graduate students and fellows to teach the roughly 80 presentations.

“One hundred percent of the teachers who…