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Alcohol Workshop Provides Learning Tools for Teachers

‘Think Before You Drink’ 2011

In April, the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research (NCABR) collaborated with faculty from the UNC Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies (BCAS) to create a day-long workshop for middle and high school teachers from around the state. The workshop, ‘Think Before You Drink,’ provided 20 educators information and learning tools for teaching students about birth defects caused by prenatal alcohol exposure and the importance of preventing these disabilities. Additionally, the significance of basic research for defining the full spectrum of defects that alcohol can cause was illustrated.

Attendees watched a newly created short film, ‘An Ounce of Prevention,’ that was developed by UNC faculty members, Drs. Gary Duncan, Marianne Meeker, and Kathy Sulik with funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The film is designed for middle and high school students, for presentation in parenting classes, and also as part of a hands-on science curriculum. The message of the film is that drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy, even at times before pregnancy might not yet be recognized, should be avoided.

Following viewing and discussion of the film, the teachers worked in small groups on an interactive experiment. Employing a virtual microscope they were able to visualize and analyze the deleterious effects of alcohol on developing fish embryos. By measuring and comparing the forebrain width in embryos that had been exposed to alcohol at very early stages of their development and those that had no alcohol exposure, the teachers were able to measure significant and lasting alcohol-induced effects on the fish brains. A post-lab slide show illustrating the relationship of the findings in the fish experiment to those conducted in other animal models and to people was shown to wrap up the curriculum presentation.

The curriculum which includes the film, the virtual fish embryo experiment and the presentation on its significance to humans is scheduled for completion within a year. Having the opportunity to introduce it to teachers for their feedback and to acquaint them with the subject matter and its importance is invaluable. It is hoped that when released the curriculum will be distributed not only nationally, but internationally.

After the curriculum workshop, the teachers visited the BCAS. Associate Director Dr. Leslie Morrow gave an overview of the research underway in the Center, highlighting the broad coverage of important work in progress. She noted how each research program is leading to new targets for medication development or new information that will be valuable for prevention of the deleterious effects of alcohol. The group visited several laboratories in the BCAS and viewed experimental procedures underway as well as the data generated by those techniques. The teachers learned about careers in research with examples from BCAS faculty and staff. Finally, the group discussed the importance of animal research for studies of alcoholism. At the end of the day, the teachers completed evaluations of the program and left us with their gratitude for having learned so much that will help them to teach and to inspire their students to learn.