High school teacher runs a molecular biology satellite center

Section: Capital Region,  Page: D3

Date: Friday, December 30, 2011

COLONIE -- High school students and teachers in the Capital Region will get a chance to learn college-level molecular biology in the South Colonie schools.

Jason "Jay" Goldberg, a science teacher at Colonie Central High School, was selected last year to attend a summer workshop at Princeton University on the subject. Now he has been granted approval by the Ivy League university to lead a satellite learning center where area educators can not only learn about experiments but borrow equipment supplied by Princeton for their lessons.

Goldberg, who is in his 14th year at Colonie High, said his brother-in-law heard about the Princeton program and told him about it.

"It just seemed too good to be true," he said. "It was a two-week program where you got to meet Nobel laureates. It just seemed like a great opportunity."

He was one of 19 teachers nationwide selected to attend. There he learned how to analyze DNA, create multicolored bacteria and make proteins glow in fluorescent colors. That last experiment enables students to see when certain genes are turned on and off.

"It was a pretty diverse group, people from all over the place," he said. "The whole goal of that workshop was to see what current scientists are doing."

After attending, Goldberg was able to borrow chemicals and equipment from Princeton to use in his classroom.

"Last spring, my students actually went through all the same protocols," he said. They performed experiments they would normally not get to do until college.

Princeton then asked Goldberg if he'd like to run the first satellite center the college has in New York state, one of 10 around the country.

"Twice a year, I'll have workshops for teachers up here," he said. "Those teachers will then be able to borrow the materials."

Goldberg hopes to build a network of science teachers who learn about molecular biology and can educate their students. He also got approval to add a course on the subject to the Colonie High curriculum next school year.

Ann Sliski, outreach director for the department of molecular biology at Princeton, said Goldberg showed a remarkable enthusiasm.

"Jay was one of those outgoing teachers who just wanted to do more and more and more with his classes," he said. "I asked him if he'd be interested in teaching other teachers."

Princeton provided $13,000 worth of equipment to Goldberg through a grant from the National Institute of Health's National Institute of General Medical Science. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute provides other support to the program.

"These teachers form a learning community when they share ideas as to what's successful in their classrooms," Sliski said. "Not only do they learn from Jay, they learn from each other."

Sliski said she is impressed people like Goldberg put extra time and energy into educating their students.

"To do these experiments with students, they have to come in early, they have to work through their lunches," she said. "There are outstanding teachers who do everything they can to bring cutting-edge experiments to their students."

Six South Colonie teachers participated in an October workshop, and Goldberg is planning another session in March for educators from other Capital Region schools. Participants get 10 professional hours credited from Princeton.

Among the equipment Princeton has provided is a thermal cycler, a polymerase chain reaction machine which enables him to amplify DNA from a single strand. He has eight gel boxes for gel electrophoresis, which lets students separate DNA on the basis of size or proteins on the basis of size and charge. Among the experiments the students can do is to test whether snack foods contain genetically altered material.

"It really is a great opportunity," Goldberg said. "It's not for every kid. It's pretty high-end material. They have to know their biology, math and chemistry. When I was in college, I was doing this in junior and senior year. Now I have kids in high school doing this. I hope the kids who are exposed to it when they get to college hit the ground running."

Reach Tim O'Brien at 454-5092 or