78 September/October 2014 | BethesdaMagazine.com
education’s new model
heaton High School
What should they call
the new body organ they’d invented to
solve common digestive problems such as
acid reflux and peptic ulcers?
Perched on stools in a biology lab one
morning in early May, the team bandied
about a few ideas. How about “the potato
organ,” suggested Sarah, a freshman in
Wheaton’s biomedical magnet program
who wants to be a doctor. No one bit.
Then Elise, a sophomore in the engineer-
ing magnet, came up with the more med-
ical-sounding “esophageal gland.”
But a quick Google search by Luke
on a classroom laptop revealed that the
esophageal gland already existed. Think-
ing fast, Elise suggested that he try “mac-
Luke, a freshman also studying engi-
neering, tapped out the letters. No hits.
Now the team had a cool name to go
with the fantasy organ that they created
out of deep-red modeling clay in the
shape of a hot dog. Weeks of research led
them to envision that the organ would
make sodium bicarbonate to help the
pancreas neutralize stomach acid, reliev-
ing the symptoms of troublesome diges-
“Basically, it’s your own biological
Tums,” Sarah says.
The three students were nearly ready
for May 21, when all of the teams in Talia
Turner’s honors biology class would present their ideas for improving the human
body to a panel of AP biology students.
The prize wasn’t that important—the winning team would receive lunch at Chipotle—but hopes of earning good grades and
impressing the upperclassmen who sat on
the panel had raised the stakes.
“The AP bio students are gonna try
and nitpick and see if we’ll crack under
pressure,” Sarah warned her team.
Honors biology student Mimi Ho attaches
labels to a model of a human leg.
“The AP bio students are scary,”
In mid-April, Turner told her biology
students that their final project would be
on body systems. But the students were the
ones who decided on the driving question:
How can you make the human body run
more efficiently in today’s environment?
Students were required to research the
body’s eight systems, pick one and then
form a team with other students inter-
ested in improving the same system. The
teams would spend the next five weeks
researching ideas on classroom laptops
and in textbooks, developing solutions
and preparing for their final presenta-
tions. The work would require problem
solving, critical thinking, communica-
tion and collaboration; team members
were assigned jobs, including project
manager, graphic designer and engineer.
Using those skills and technology to
investigate an open-ended query or to