Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
by Maya Wildgoose
Note: The following book review was written for the language and literacy class in the teacher credential program at the University of California, Davis. The author, Maya Wildgoose, (MS Geology, SS Science Credential) is student teaching at an urban high school in the Greater Sacramento area. – Rick Pomeroy, CSTA Past-President
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown Publishers, 2010, 330 pages) is a non-fiction book written by a biologist-turned-journalist who had a personal fascination with the woman behind the famous “HeLa” cells. HeLa cells are named after the woman from whom the cells came from, Henrietta Lacks, and are used in labs around the world to help scientists study human cells. Author Rebecca Skloot was a high school dropout who took a biology class at a community college. Skloot was surprised when none of her teachers could tell her about the woman behind the cells except that were from an African-American woman who had died of cervical cancer in the 1950’s. Driven by her wish to know more, the author researched Henrietta and her family. The story that emerges is one centered squarely on bioethics and how it was possible for her family to be in the dark about the use of Henrietta’s cells until 20 years after they had been taken and cultured in labs around the world. The book takes a unique perspective for a science book: the human side. Though the author goes into some detail about the science, it is really more of a story of the woman herself and the impacts the science has had on her family.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was written for a general audience, including those not familiar with the science involved in the story. Skloot does a great job explaining complex science in simple words and makes this book accessible for 9th grade readers and older. It would be very appropriate for a biology or anatomy class but could also be used in a social science or English class. The theme of bioethics provides a great backdrop to stage a debate on how it could have been handled differently. On her website, Ms. Skloot has a long (26 page) teacher’s guide to each chapter of the book, discussion/writing prompts for English, social science, and science classes. She also includes connections to the Common Core State Standards. With all of this additional material, it would be easy for a teacher to select which parts of the book would suit the needs of the class. Due to the length of the book, it would likely be necessary to choose appropriate sections to assign. There are some intense scenes and language in this book, including a chapter about the sexual abuse of one of Henrietta’s daughters. If one was to assign the entire book, it would require parental or guardian knowledge and signatures.
Overall, this is a fascinating book and one that could really help students make connections with bigger ideas and controversies in biology. Both the science and the bioethical aspects are well explained. One teacher who regularly assigns the entire book claims that the students absolutely love reading it. I can see why- it is hard to stop reading before you find out how the story ends!
Maya Wildgoose is a student in the Teacher Credential Program at UC Davis and is a member of CSTA.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…