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North Texas Students Conducting Their Own West Nile Research

GRAPEVINE (CBSDFW.COM) - Some young students in Grapevine have spent months studying mosquitoes and the West Nile Virus. Educators say it's an opportunity to turn scary health headlines into teachable moments -- with a goal of having students ask and ultimately answer questions.

"It's not a new way of learning," said Deanna Showalter, head of Grapevine High's Science Department.  "Socrates did the same thing... if I have you do it, then you'll learn it."

But, Socrates didn't have tablet computers.

In addition to having the latest technology at their fingertips, Grapevine elementary and high school students are using old-fashioned principles to learn everything they can about the West Nile Virus.

Student Carson Flusche said, "We took pictures of where we thought mosquitoes could lay their eggs in still water."

Fifth-grader Alondra Miranda has learned quite a bit so far. "There's already a vaccine for horses, but not for humans," she said.

With iPads in hand and questions at the ready, students at Timberline Elementary have partnered with seniors at Grapevine High School for a hands-on learning experience taking place at the GHS Ecology Center.

"We got to take samples of bacteria using fragment 176-191, and see a lot of insects and things like that," Flusche said.

Elementary student Ariana DeCross couldn't wait to tell about her adventures. "My team caught a water scorpion!"

"My seniors are here to help you, so you can gets lot of really good creepy, crawly things," Grapevine High science department educator Deanna Showalter urged students.

Teachers say the outdoor, living laboratory, equipped with a pot-bellied pig, pools of stagnant water, and chickens, keeps students engaged, because they learn to answer their own West Nile questions.

The school lesson plans are inspired by recent headlines and a Grapevine colleague who survived West Nile infection.

Timberline math and science teacher Julee Vorachard said, "I'm guiding them along the way, but they are the ones that are bringing the information to the table and saying 'Hey, look at this. Look at what we found.'"

Showalter said the same thing when it comes to her older students. "They ask the question that leads to the next question: that's what we live for. That is really what education is."

Grapevine senior Matthew Warren said, "It's not the teachers teaching us, we're teaching ourselves."

After gathering samples and identifying them with microscopes, the students will assemble their findings for a presentation later this month.

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