A Teacher’s Perspective on What It Means to Receive a Bright Ideas Grant

Dawn Hudgins has been an educator for 24 years with the last 21 years at Chestatee Academy in Hall County. She has taught seventh grade life science throughout her career and, for the last few years, has also taught honors directed studies. She is a multi-year recipient of the Bright Ideas grant program from Jackson EMC. Recently, Karen Ewing, Jackson EMC’s community relations representative and Bright Ideas program administrator,talked with Hudgins about the impact of the grants for her students.

Her latest grant, called “Digging Up Our Roots,” allowed students to research their family histories, and then explore the work of real scientists while observing the growth of cells by culturing bacteria and extracting DNA, including their own, from various organisms.

Jackson EMC: What does it mean to you to have Bright Ideas funding your project?

So many times throughout students’ educational careers, they ask the question, “When am I ever going to use this?” I love being able to show them how the study of cells, DNA, genetics, and heredity affects their lives every day. By learning basic microbiology techniques while also discussing issues such as the transmission of colds and flu, students may one day find themselves on the precipice of a medical career. The Bright Ideas grants are enabling my students to make those connections as they think beyond middle and high school toward careers that will fulfill them for a lifetime.

Jackson EMC: Tell us about the “Digging Up Our Roots” project for which you won a Bright Ideas grant. How does this engage students?

DH: It all started simply enough I wanted my students to conduct Foxfire-like research to learn about their families’ histories, cultures, and traits that were passed on to them. It really took off from that point with topics surrounding the concepts of cells, DNA, genetics, and heredity. Since these concepts can be very difficult for students to understand, I wanted them to do the hands-on, minds-on work of real scientists. Students have learned and practiced sterile technique, how to streak culture plates, and how to isolate and examine individual colonies of Halobacterium, a type of bacterium that causes no known disease in humans. Not only did this excite and motivate the students to learn more, but they began to ask very specific questions of an advanced nature. Fueling this fire-like curiosity was the book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the true story of a woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951. These cells have been one of the most important tools in medicine which have led to scientific and medical miracles of mind-boggling proportion. Through this reading, students have learned about the work of doctors, patient care, research involving cells, and why HeLa cells are still important today. Students have also being introduced to the topic of medical ethics and tissue ownership, and are able to discuss and debate these topics with thought and reason.

Jackson EMC: How did you decide what project to use in your application?

DH: I am always trying to find ways to make my lessons interesting for my students. I want them to WANT to know more and to feel the passion that I feel when I am teaching. Our unit on cells, DNA, genetics, and heredity is often one of the most difficult for students to understand. The more hands-on, active learning they can be involved in, the more they are able to remember and understand. These special materials have enabled students to practice and perform techniques they may not normally get to experience until college.

Jackson EMC: As a multi-year grant recipient, what have these Bright Ideas grants meant for your students? What are they able to do/see/experience that otherwise would not be possible?

DH: I love telling my students stories, but stories are not the same as actually experiencing the science themselves. The Bright Ideas grants have paid for materials whose costs were so beyond our science budget. The kids realize the cost of these materials and have been terribly grateful. Being able to actually practice the work of real scientists has been such a benefit to them. My ultimate goal is to teach students science concepts, but also to introduce to them career options that might not otherwise enter their minds. Jackson EMC has helped in doing just that.

Dawn Hudgins, Ed.S., NBPTS
7th grade Life Science and Honors Directed Studies
Chestatee Academy
Hall County Public Schools