Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

January 1, 2009

From Partnership to Product: The Birth of a Textbook

From Partnership to Product: The Birth of a Textbook

By Kirk Brown (CA '99), Science Department Chair, Tracy High School, Tracy, California

In the spring of 1994 I attended a gathering of science educators organized by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The purpose of the meeting was to explore the resources that LLNL had to offer and how they could be put to use in the classroom. While at that meeting, I met a number of scientists that lived in Tracy, CA, the home of Tracy High School where I currently teach IB Biology and Biotechnology. They described a Department of Energy program that placed teachers in research laboratories for the summer. I applied and was offered a position in Greg Lennon's gene discovery lab for the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the human genome project. Over time, a biotechnology-based educational outreach program to provide teacher trainings was developed at LLNL. It was through these trainings that I met Ron Mardigian of Bio-Rad Laboratories, who envisioned an educational outreach program at Bio-Rad. Fellow LLNL teacher intern Stan Hitomi and I helped Ron organize the first Bio-Rad teacher workshop in 1996. Over the years, a tremendous partnership evolved among Bio-Rad, Tracy Unified School District and me.

Kirk Brown with students

"Students develop skills by experiencing the fundamental protocols and tools used in a modern biotechnology laboratory."


Since that first workshop in '96, Bio-Rad's Biotechnology Explorer™ Program has grown into a key business unit at Bio-Rad with a 10-person team. My involvement began as a teacher facilitating workshops at science teaching conferences in California. It has expanded to being a biotechnology educator/teacher consultant traveling to significant conferences across the United States and to international sites, such as China, Singapore, Korea, Canada, Taiwan and Japan. Besides giving teacher training workshops, I help to generate ideas for new products, facilitate students conducting field tests, and consult on curriculum development. Over time customers using Bio-Rad's Biotechnology Explorer kits expressed interest in a cohesive curriculum organized around the kits.

In fall 2009, Bio-Rad approached me with the idea of writing a textbook using my course as a model to integrate their kits into a comprehensive, skills-based biotechnology curriculum. The idea to integrate the background reading and laboratory activities into one hard-bound text was very appealing to me as a teacher. Students and schools have a hard time purchasing separate background texts and laboratory manuals in these tough economic times.

Biotechnology: A Laboratory Skills Course outlines an approach to teaching biotechnology that is based upon the students developing skills by experiencing the fundamental protocols and tools used in a modern biotechnology laboratory. The textbook has four types of vignettes in each chapter: Bioethics, Careers In Biotechnology, How To…, and Biotechnology In The Real World. Students are encouraged to use an industry- standard laboratory notebook in order to develop their skills documenting the work that they complete while working in a lab.

Biotechnology: A Laboratory Skills Course

  • The first chapter focuses on defining what biotechnology is, surveying the biotechnology industry, and a variety of careers that are possible to pursue within the field.


  • Chapter two focuses on the development of basic laboratory skills: Highlighting personal and laboratory safety, rules and regulations involved in a laboratory setting, proper documentation of work in a laboratory notebook, how to identify and use standard laboratory equipment. Activities in this chapter provide for basic skills development and include making solutions which are then used in later chapter activities and pipetting.


  • Chapter 3 is an overview of cell and microbiology. Both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells are used in research labs and this chapter focuses on the fundamental skills required to work aseptically and how to safely handle microorganisms. Laboratory activities begin with the essentials of proper media preparation, progress to quantifying the number of bacteria in an unknown sample, and culminate with an activity utilizing Koch's postulates in disease identification.


  • Chapters 4 and 5 cover the basics involved in analyzing DNA using horizontal gel electrophoresis and forensic DNA fingerprinting as well as recombinant DNA technology, how to insert DNA into bacteria, and then how to purify that DNA once cloned.


  • Chapter 6 highlights the Polymerase Chain Reaction and its revolutionary impact on molecular biology. Activities incorporate the evolutionary, forensic and Genetically Modified Organism detection applications for this technology.


  • Chapters 7 and 8 are related to biochemical analysis of proteins and their uses. Activities range from quantifying and identifying proteins, visualizing protein structures by their X-ray crystal structures, to biofuel enzyme assays and antibody based tests.


  • Chapter 9 culminates by helping students develop the skills to conduct a research project that applies the techniques they learned throughout the course. Topics range from application of basic skills to exploring more complex research questions and utilizing the skills learned in order to address them.


"Mr. Brown's courses have led me to appreciate biology as a critical study that is constantly evolving and bettering modern society. He gave me the courage to present my skills to professional research laboratories — and actually secure a student internship for the summer before I enter UC Berkeley!

"With a stable foundation in the concepts of biology, as well as practical experience in biotechnology, I have managed to find my own way of giving back to the scientific community."
   — Qiran Xie, Senior
       Tracy High School

As an educator, one of the most unique aspects of my work is the partnership that I have forged with Bio-Rad Laboratories. I believe the willingness of a biotechnology company to work with educational consultants like myself in such a team-oriented environment speaks volumes about Bio-Rad. They are helping to support the school district with research quality equipment and supplies, while providing experiences for the students to truly understand the nature of the field in which they have shown interest. I believe that any company with a research and development department (or one that conducts scientific research in any way) that is willing to partner with a local school district and forge these types of relationships can be a part of something just as big. This type of synergistic relationship where both groups benefit is the secret to lasting relationships.

My own teaching experience will be deepened through another visit to Hong Kong Polytechnic University as I train teachers to use Bio-Rad's educational kits. Millions of young people are experiencing and doing biotechnology using the same kits that I have helped train their teachers to use. My hope is that the textbook will enable students to learn the skills that instill the confidence to pursue degrees that will help the world in ways yet to be conceived. Teaching is a field that builds skills and capacities in others. No one knows where one's influence ends...

For questions, email Kirk Brown at Click to watch Kirk Brown's Milken Educator video.


Don’t miss any new articles and updates from Milken Educator Awards:   Subscribe Now