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University of Calgary master's student gets cracking with egg project

Shawn Dodd introduces egg experiments to Calgary high school biology classes
April 13, 2017
Shawn Dodd, a master’s student in the Cumming School of Medicine's medical sciences program, carries hundreds of eggs to high schools in Calgary and surrounding area participating in his four-year-old program. The program aims to inspire kids in science and help them understand some basic elements of early development. Photos by Laura Herperger, Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute

Shawn Dodd, a master’s student in the Cumming School of Medicine's medical sciences program, carries hundreds of eggs to high schools in Calgary and surrounding area participating in his four-year-old program. The program aims to inspire kids in science and help them understand some basic elements of early development. Photos by Laura Herperger, Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute

So far, approximately 3,000 eggs have been distributed to Calgary and area high schools. This is one of the incubators used to house the eggs before experimentation. Each incubator holds 72 eggs.

So far, approximately 3,000 eggs have been distributed to Calgary and area high schools. This is one of the incubators used to house the eggs before experimentation. Each incubator holds 72 eggs.

Eggs make a great tool for studying science at an introductory level. If you doubt this, just Google "egg experiments." There are examples of shrinking eggs, exploding eggs, and even folding eggs — you name it.

Now, Shawn Dodd, a master’s student in the Cumming School of Medicine's medical sciences program, is adding a new one to the list. He has developed a student-led non-profit organization that aims to enrich the high school biology curriculum through hands-on experiments. The experiments, using eggs, explore the effects of energy drinks on the developing circulatory system.

“By investigating the real-time effect of energy drinks on the developing circulatory system, students are provided insight on how substances common in society may affect immature and mature systems differently,” says Dodd, who is supervised by Suzanne Tough, PhD, a professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences, and member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Dodd's program may be introduced in Grade 11 Biology 20, where students are provided fertilized eggs at different stages to visualize the development and function of the circulatory system. The program continues into Grade 12 Biology 30 and involves investigating the toxic effect of energy drinks on the early cardiovascular system, through a series of controlled experiments.

“These experiments analyze relevant topics in the high school biology program, teach students proper lab skills, and encourage students to problem-solve and think critically when they compare their results, all in a fun and engaging way,” says Stephanie Bennett, a high school biology teacher at Cochrane High School, the first high school to participate four years ago.

Participation in UCalgary student-led initiative expands across Calgary

The master’s student now has six high schools in Calgary and two high schools in the Rocky View School Division enrolled in the program — called Research and Development in the Classroom to Advance Learning (RADICAL). In addition, Dodd has partnered with the Werklund School of Education’s Service-Learning Program. This partnership provides emerging teachers with additional in-class teaching experience. This year, 18 pre-service teachers volunteered with the program to gain teaching experience and encourage high school students to be passionate about science.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity and one that aligns really well with Werklund’s commitment to STEM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and building partnerships in the community,” says Michael Holden, the youth leadership facilitator at the University of Calgary.

Cairine Logan, PhD, a senior instructor in the departments of Cell Biology and Anatomy and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Cumming School of Medicine, and member of the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, helped Dodd develop the program during his undergraduate years in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program (BHSc).

“It’s really exciting to see how Shawn has translated his passion for research, an integral part of the BHSc program, and taken the initiative to develop an outreach program that helps fosters a love for science in a younger generation,” says Logan.

Dodd will complete his master’s program this year and plans to pursue a career in medicine. He also plans to continue distributing his eggs to high schools in Calgary as long as possible.  The program is funded by community donors who are thrilled to support this educational effort. And Dodd is thrilled to bring hands-on science to the classroom.