Monday, February 24, 2003

Scientific whodunits win award

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

MONTGOMERY - With biological warfare a threat, teaching students how to detect and control an outbreak of illness of unknown origin could be valuable.

Robert Seiple, a science teacher at Sycamore High School, has done just that for nearly a decade. On Tuesday he will receive a $20,000 cash reward for his educational ingenuity.

Only eight high school teachers of 100 national applicants will receive the Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) award, presented for the first time by the College Board in New York City, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J.

The ceremony will be in Chicago. "I just see myself as a team player and I'm not sure what to do with all these personal accolades," Seiple said.

Epidemiology is the science of discovering causes of illness and injury by interpreting patterns of their occurrence in populations, according to the YES Web site.

The anthrax attacks, the question of connections between cellular phones and brain cancer and even the predictive value of screening and profiling possible terrorists are examples of health issues that require epidemiological methods.

At Sycamore, the epidemiology curriculum is part of the Environmental Systems and Advance Placement Environmental Science classes taught by Seiple and three of his colleagues.

The two-week inquiry-based simulation, geared to sophomores, starts in May and involves the actual detection and eventual discovery of the underlying cause of a mysterious but real disease.

The goal is for students to understand the causes of the mystery outbreak, its propagation and severity in society, as well as its connection with man's modification of the environment.

"We break them into teams and explain what an epidemiologist is, then we give them the case study," Seiple said. "They're given symptoms that people are suffering from and they're given a series of choices, many of which are wrong turns."

Trying to determine the origin of the disease was among the most challenging aspects of the study, said Darius Campinha-Bacote, a senior from Blue Ash.

Among his choices:

• Was it in the water?

• Was it from the new people who moved into town?

• Was it animal transmitted by an attack on a person?

Seiple developed the curriculum in 1993 and won approvals for its use in secondary education from the Science Education Council of Ohio and National Science Teacher Association.

Each YES winner curriculum will be posted as a model for other teachers nationally.


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