New science courses, innovation lab provide real-world experience for NHS students

by Michele Collins

Two new high tech courses at Nordonia High School are preparing students for careers in medicine, technology and project design. In the biotechnology course, students have done experiments such as analyzing DNA to study opioid dependence. The Innovation and Design Lab offers students the opportunity to work with their hands to design creative projects with real-world applications.

“Biotechnology is the use of living organisms or their parts [cells, tissue, DNA, proteins, etc.] to solve problems or make products,” said Aaron Coleman, Nordonia biology and forensics teacher. “The course is a junior/senior elective course that has a chemistry prerequisite.”

Coleman taught the course for the first time in fall 2022. She said all Nordonia students learn a little about biotechnology in their freshman biology course, but this course digs deeper into the field.

“We studied things like the science of opioid dependence, where we analyzed DNA to determine if there is a correlation between a specific gene and probability of dependence on opioids,” she said. “We did a GMO investigation where we analyzed plant and animal DNA of grocery store foods to determine if they contain genetically modified ingredients.

“We even looked at giant panda conservation, analyzing reproductive hormones and proteins to determine optimal ovulation windows for artificial insemination of female giant pandas.”

The course included 32 students for its first offering, and Coleman said she thinks it will become more popular once other students hear about the hands-on approaches offered in class. She added that it is a course students interested in entering the medical field might decide to take.

“Courses like biotechnology expose Nordonia students to theory, skills and application of collaborative, multidisciplinary scientific practices that will enable them to engage in medical research as early as their first year in college,” Coleman said. “Early exposure to innovative technologies makes Nordonia students highly competitive during their collegiate and professional careers.”

The class also offered a real-world experience to see biotechnology in use.

“Our biotechnology students spent a full day at MP Biomedicals in Solon. They toured the facility and participated in two lab simulations with MP scientists,” Coleman said.

The tour may lead to more opportunities for the biotechnology students, even after the class is completed.

“MP Biomedicals is very impressed with the skills of our students and hopes to support our students with internship opportunities in the future,” Coleman added.

Students at Nordonia who want to take advantage of other hands-on activities often find their place in the school’s Innovation and Design Lab, according to NHS chemistry teacher Kelly Nyzen.

“Currently, there are approximately 50 students that use the lab on a daily basis through the classes that I teach,” she said. “However, there are many students that come in during study halls to complete independent projects as well as other classes that come in to use the space and equipment.”

She said the school’s entrepreneurship class even used the lab to produce products they were selling as part of a class project to reduce costs and increase profits.

The lab, which first opened for the 2021-22 school year, is available to the entire district staff to use for projects and to learn how to use various equipment in the lab, according to Nyzen.

“Students first learn the software that is needed to design and interface with the equipment in the Innovation and Design Lab. Then students complete projects using each of the pieces of equipment in the lab,” she said.

One piece of equipment is a 10-needle embroidery machine, which students have used to embroider hats, sweatshirts and tote bags. Students have used an Epilog Laser and Glowforge Laser to make personalized leather journals, directional hallway signs for the high school, signs, keychains and ornaments for high school staff. Students have even engraved their own coffee cups with it.

The Computer Numerical Control machine allows students to create wooden signs, which they can individualize with designs and decorations. A Cameo system allows students to make holiday cards. Some students made cards for members of the high school staff, adding vinyl as well as other stickers. They also created heat transfer vinyl T-shirts.

One of the most popular pieces of equipment is the 3D printer.

“Students were tasked with designing and printing three cars on a locomotive train,” said Nyzen. “Students also designed and printed various items for a gingerbread house they had created, adding things like trees, windows, doors and stairs.”

Students then took to the sky and learned to fly two different types of drones, a Tello Edu and a DJI Air Mavic.

“Drone technology is one of the fastest growing areas of the tech world,” said Nyzen. “Students learn to code the Tello Edu drone using drone blocks. The curriculum we used is based on the content from the FAA Part 107 [drone pilot] certification test, enabling students to start that process.”

Students who are part of Nordonia’s robotic team also used the lab to create the equipment they needed for competition.

“The robotics team members are given approximately 10 weeks to design, build and program an industrial-sized robot with a standard kit of parts and complete challenges during match play,” said Nyzen. “Students competed last year as a rookie team at the Buckeye Regional in Cleveland where they received the Rookie Inspirational Award and the team was ranked 53 out of 59 teams.”

Nyzen said her goal is to make the Innovation and Design Lab available for more people to use.

“In the future I am hoping to open up the lab to the community … to come in and explore the equipment we have and even complete projects using that equipment,” she said. ∞

Students printed train cars using the
innovation and design lab’s 3D printer.
Photos courtesy of Kelly Nyzen.
NHS seniors Sara Makley and Jack Kuenzel
utilize the Shopsmith sander in the
Innovation and Design Lab.