Move over, Bill Nye

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Austin High School science teacher Josh Dumas looks at one of the placeholders of the hydroponic lab he and AHS students built last year. Dumas recently presented his lab and genetics lessons he's done at the National Science Teacher Association's annual conference. -- Eric Johnson/

Austin’s own ‘science guy’ teaches classes at national conference

Josh Dumas could teach old dogs new tricks if he wanted to. He just taught old science teachers a new way to approach biology.

The Austin High School science teacher, in his third year teaching, recently came back from the National Science Teachers Association’s annual conference where he presented on a hydroponic system he built to teach students how genetics works.

“It was really wonderful,” Dumas said. “The presentation I had, maybe 20 to 30 teachers came to. A lot of presentations had maybe five teachers watch. Lots of teachers came up afterwards, asking questions.”

AHS students help build Dumas's hydroponic growth lab last year.

Email newsletter signup

Dumas got the idea from his high school science teacher, who built a similar hydroponic growth lab. When plants grow using hydroponics, they do so without dirt, instead getting their nutrients from mineral-rich water.

Dumas and a group of sophomores spent several months in fall 2009 getting the lab set up and ready to demonstrate how genetics works. It took about a week to construct a growth system made from PVC pipe, a wire rack, special hydroponics lights and more, but it helped that several students volunteered to complete it.

“I basically just asked some students come in and help me build this growth system,” Dumas said.

He originally wanted to show how basic Mendelian genetic theory occurs by taking a variety of purple-colored plangs, growing them together, and examining the differences after three or four generations have passed.

Nowadays, Dumas’ growth lab is used by the entire science department. Part of the system’s lighting is used by the environmental science lab to grow several types of prairie plants for Mill Pond’s restoration project.

“It’s been a nice way to bring technology and biology together,” he said.