Friday, January 25, 2013

‘Keeping it real’ in Mr. Gustin’s biology class

Orofino High School science teacher, Jim Gustin, demonstrates one of the school’s new high-tech microscopes. which has a display screen on top. The microscope can be connected to a laptop computer with the results viewed by many students at once. The microscope can also take digital photographs of the slide display, allowing slide pictures to be shared among users.
By Alannah Allbrett

“Keeping it real” is what Mr. Gustin is all about, and he has been doing that for kids for 20 years in his Biology, Human Biology, and Environmental Science classes.

In warmer weather, 80 sophomores got to attend an “Aquatic Day” at Tunnel Pond and, with the assistance from the Nez Perce Tribe, were able to collect water samples there and study the environment. They were getting hands-on experience instead of just traditional textbook studying.

The students recently visited Orofino and Riverside’s water and wastewater treatment plants to conduct their own tests. Mr. Gustin said the emphasis for students this year has been on learning about Source Water Protection; where we get our water; and the issues and problems associated with protecting the sources for our drinking water.

“Some kids, when they start taking biology, don’t understand where our water comes from and need reminding that it is the bases of all life,” said Mr. Gustin. This program gives them the chance to study water quality firsthand, in a meaningful way, and using the latest technology.

OHS is in the second year of utilizing a $90,000 grant from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) which Mr. Gustin named the “Report Card for Streams.” He maintains that he is not an environmentalist, in the strictest sense. “It’s important that the kids understand how to use, not abuse, our natural resources, however.”

The high school provides the facilities, in an in-kind contribution for the grant which provides students with a Swift N10 digital light microscope and a National Optical digital dissecting microscope – two important tools. Most people know that by the time something is placed on a slide for examination, it begins to deteriorate. When two classrooms (100 students), need to view something interesting under a microscope, either because of time, heat, or other conditions – the organism on the slide may no longer be viable.

An HP laptop computer is part of the new technology package at OHS, allowing Mr. Gustin to connect it to the microscope so many students can view a slide at the same time.

Mr. Gustin prepares slide samples from the lagoons at Riverside (near Hidden Village) and said the kids get to find out about the interaction and interdependence of science and technology while learning “the marvels of the unseen world.”

Another invaluable tool has been the purchase of ground water model for students to be able to study ground water pollution and the various purifying aspects of aquifer layers. It resembles an ant farm, displaying different types of sediment layers compressed between glass walls. It demonstrates how water percolates through soil getting filtered in the process.

In partnership with Texas A & M University, Orofino students will be providing digital images of microorganisms to the Orofino and Riverside treatment plants and several universities. With their saved images, students were able to demonstrate their findings to their parents, at their last parent teacher conference.

Mr. Gustin was able to write into the grant, provisions for bussing students to field trips which, otherwise, have been curtailed by budgetary cuts. He extends thanks to Lon Blades (retired), Ben Jenkins, and the whole bus barn crew for helping get kids get to these outings. “They have been really great to work with,” he said.

He also acknowledges Anna Moody, of the Lewiston DEQ office and Trina Snyder, of the school district, who help administer the grants that make this kind of learning experience possible. Lastly, he wants to thank Michael Martin and his staff at the Orofino Water, Wastewater facilities; Chris Marvin, Scott Hasselstrom, Nancy Dawson, and Tracy Lubke of the Riverside Water & Sewer District; and Elmer Crow of the Nez Perce Tribe – all for helping “make it real” for the next generation of scientists.

Local science experts such as Entomologist, Richard Whitten, have been guest lecturers in the biology lab, bringing his knowledge of the insect world to life for the students.

Although Mr. Gustin says it is a work in progress, the students have a Facebook page which is appropriately entitled Orofino Maniac Biology. To see OHS biology students in action, visit their blog at: – a trip worth taking!
Jim Gustin shows off the school’s LaMotte Smartlink® Chemical Test Kit which students use to test water samples as part of OHS’s Report Card for Streams program. Mr. Gustin, who teaches Biology, Human Biology, and Environmental Science, was instrumental in obtaining a IDEQ grant to keep Orofino’s students up-to-date in technological advances.

Resembling an ant farm, this groundwater model allows students to study sediment layers and the manner in which water percolates through them. They can study groundwater pollution and the various purifying aspects of aquifer layers.

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