ASSET: Advancing Secondary Science Education with Tetrahymena. A hands-on approach to teaching core biology concepts using live protozoa.



Presented by Mary Kay Hickey and Revecca Rodomski-Bish

This workshop is designed for middle and high school teachers interested in taking part in innovative, hands-on activities that address core science concepts in a fun and stimulating way – all featuring safe, easy to work with, live protozoa (Tetrahymena). Using the detailed teacher and student protocols provided with each module, participants will carry out several experiments using live cells and an array of equipment, including micropipettors, colorimeters, and simple microscope mounted digital cameras. All activities are structured for classroom use and designed to actively engage students in the scientific process.

Hands-on activities include the following.

  • Phagocytosis module: This lab uses Tetrahymena to investigate the processes of ingestion, phagocytosis, and vacuole formation in cells, and the effects of various factors on these physiological processes. Participants will monitor vacuole development during feeding using digital cameras to record the data. In the classroom, learning microscopy and data collection and analysis are an integral part of the exercise.
  • Chemosensory Response module: This lab addresses cell response to a variety of substances, from avoidance/attraction response to modification of ciliary beat, and presents optional sections to allow teachers to tailor module use to specific classroom levels. Participants will examine the attraction or avoidance response of cells to simple substances like herbs, spices, or citrus peel (middle school level protocol), and utilize 8 channel multipettors for a more sophisticated approach to chemosensory response (high school level protocol). This lab has been adapted for use in classes ranging from 4th/5th grade through AP biology.
  • Effects of Alcohol and Smoke module: This lab looks directly at the effects of alcohol (beer) on overall cell viability, motility, and behavior. The effects of various concentrations of beer and the non-alcoholic equivalent on Tetrahymena viability and behavior will be analyzed using digital image capture and cell tracking software. The smoking segment looks at the effects of cigarette smoke extract on cell viability, motility, and behavior, and relates the observed behaviors to ciliary activity. In the classroom, students are encouraged to discuss the biology behind the observed behaviors and to design their own experiments using the cells and methodologies provided.
  • Growth and Population module: This lab addresses questions of cell growth, including lag, log, and stationary phases in microbial cultures, but can easily be expanded to encompass questions of population density and sustainability relative to environmental resources. Participants will learn to use colorimeters to assess population growth in response to food abundance and shortage and the effects of environmental change (temperature, salinity, water quality, introduction of competitors, etc) on population growth and maintenance. In the classroom, students are encouraged to design their own experiments asking fundamental questions about growth, population, and sustainability.

Mary Kay Hickey has a BA in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Canisius College.She has done graduate work in biochemistry and genetics at SUNY Buffalo, and graduate work in education at SUNY Cortland. She was an instructor in the Department of Biological Sciences at SUNY Cortland for 10 years, and a teacher at Dryden High School, Dryden, NY , where she served as chair of the science department for 8 years. She has permanent NYS Teacher Certification in Biology, Chemistry, and GeneralScience, grades 7 – 12. Mary Kay has extensive experience both in attending and running teacher workshops, and has been instrumental in the development of the ASSET modules and the ASSET summer teacher workshops. She is a member of  the Science Teachers Association of New York State, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Cornell Institute for Biology teachers.


Rebecca Rodomski-Bish has a BA in Anthropology with a minor in Biology from Sonoma State University, and a MS in Environmental Science from Antioch University. She taught Biology and Earth Science at New Roots Charter School for three years before joing the ASSET team. She has participated in numerous professional development activities
to design and implement quality curriculum, including over 100 hours of training with Expeditionary Learning, extensive participation in the Cloud Institute, and summer workshops with the Cornell Institute for Biology teachers. Becca provides intensive support and information for teachers using the ASSET modules.