Today, as Georgia tries to build its biotechnology sector, the state’s public schools face a major challenge: preparing workers for thousands of hoped-for jobs in the field. Continuing our series “Bio On My Mind,” reporter Mary Wiltenburg goes back to middle school to see how biotechnology could help to change the way Georgia teaches science. “Okay, good morning girls and boys….” This is not 7th grade science like you remember it. “…we’re doing a strawberry today rather than our own personal DNA, okay?” It’s not life science like Salem Middle School teacher Ann Marion was taught it. “I came up in the traditional setting where read, you write. I don’t even remember us having a lot of visuals.” It’s not the norm for Georgia students today either. But if the state wants a serious place in the nation’s booming new biotechnology sector, experts say, this is what the future of science education in Georgia has got to look like. “A ball of snot.” It’s Thursday morning, first period, and 20 DeKalb County seventh graders are trying to extract DNA from strawberries. They’re mashing the fruit to pulp, stirring in soap, filtering juice, mixing in alcohol, and squinting into test tubes, hoping to see clumps of snot-like DNA rising. “Oh, this is a good sample!” “I know.” “Ewww!” This lab itself is an experiment: part of a state initiative targeting science education and workforce readiness in an “Innovation Crescent” between Atlanta and Athens. These and other recent changes in the state science curriculum aim to reverse a trend that’s frustrated teachers and employers for decades. Juan-Carlos Aguilar, science program manager for Georgia’s Department of Education, says the way science has been taught, it’s losing kids. “When you are in elementary school, those kids are so eager to ask questions. And something happens when they lose that sense of wonderness about what surrounds them. And I think that was partly because we were pushing too much information into them.” These days, for a majority of kids, facts their parents used to memorize — “the protozoa and the mammals and the kingdoms and the periodic table” — all of that is just a Google search away, says Pat Marsteller, director of the Emory College Center for Science Education. Harder to acquire are the tools to make informed judgements about stuff they read online and hear on the news, issues they’ll encounter as voters in a couple of years. “Environmental remediation and cleanup, the impact of the droughts, all those kinds of things have biotechnology implications to them.” The priority for today’s teachers, Marsteller says, should be to get kids thinking critically about such issues. “We need to be preparing our students for that future where they’re part of the solution, not part of the problem, right?” Teachers say this is not rocket science. To engage Georgia’s future lawyers, nurses, and biotech workers, you have to harness their excitement with hands-on activities. Often, that doesn’t take much more than a strawberry, a Dixie cup, and a teacher who knows her stuff. “And guess what? Every living organism has that in their cells.” “So this is what tells my body to do stuff?” But in Georgia, it’s anything but a given. The No Child Left Behind act’s singleminded focus on math and language arts has edged out science. Funding’s a major obstacle too: schools lack such basic supplies, Marion had to buy all the materials for this lesson herself. Georgia’s biotech sector has grown 140 percent in the past 15 years. So far, training hasn’t kept pace. Marion says she’ll continue to spend her own money in class, if that’s what it takes to give her students access to this new world. “All we can do is teach them how to learn. I want them to know about biotechnology, because those are the jobs of the future.” “Are you excited?” “Ms. Marion, look!” “Oh, very good.” For WABE news, I’m Mary Wiltenburg.