SPOKANE – Ants may be plentiful in California in February, but in Spokane, Lisa Woodard had to order some from a pet store.

She needed them for an elementary school science lesson that was developed in California and is being evaluated with the help of student pharmacists and faculty at Washington State University.

“Last week I had mealworms in my office. The week before it was crickets,” said Woodard, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy at WSU.

The live insects are being used to teach basic scientific principles to selected classes of second graders in two Spokane area public school districts – Central Valley and Spokane Public Schools. The students are instructed to read a book about the particular insect they are studying, and then they set out to make a hypothesis and test it.

Mealworms don’t like light, so the second graders will cover one side of a petri dish with black paper, hypothesize that the mealworms will seek cover under the paper, and then put the mealworms in the dish and see what happens, Woodard said.

Testing the idea

This testing of the curriculum is the second phase of a federally funded research project started by the San Joaquin County Office of Education in Stockton, Calif., which enlisted the help of a pharmacy professor at the University of the Pacific at Stockton, who in turn involved WSU Pharmacy Professor Raymond M. Quock.

The goal of the project – known as the HealthWISE program – is to determine whether health science instruction in the second and fifth grades can be improved by using student pharmacists in the classroom. The curriculum was developed in San Joaquin County last year and is being field-tested this year at WSU, the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy and the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy.

“Science education is an area where the U.S. lags behind and we are interested in changing that,” Quock said. He is one of the co-principal investigators listed on the project grant, which was awarded by the National Institutes of Health.

Benefit to pharmacy students

At WSU, Quock and Woodard have the additional goal of improving student pharmacist communication skills and if they like the results of this first class, they plan to continue to offer it as an elective.

The professors have five third-year pharmacy students in the class, which started in January and ends in April, and they spent about 9 hours of classroom time preparing them to go out into the elementary schools to teach. The preparation included meeting with the participating elementary school teachers.

The children are tested before and after they receive the science instruction, and the student pharmacists and school teachers also evaluate the experience. The data will be compiled and analyzed and disseminated to the researchers, including Quock and Woodard. The fifth grade curriculum is an introduction to the body’s immune system, Woodard said. “One lesson is about germs being everywhere,” she said. “The student pharmacists put glitter on their hands and high-fived the kids when they came into the classroom, and pretty soon there was glitter everywhere.”

The next step

The next step for the San Joaquin County researchers is to package the program and offer it to colleges of pharmacy around the county.

At WSU, Quock and Woodard both have a special interest in teaching and learning, and they may open the class to other health sciences students at WSU Spokane in the future.

“This study has been an opportunity for us to get this class going,” Woodard said. “We will find out more when the student pharmacists turn in their papers about how this class helped them achieve specific goals.”