How Studying Fruit Flies Enhances STEM in South Florida Schools

March 1, 2023

Students in six Palm Beach and Martin County public schools will get a STEM boost this spring, thanks to seven dedicated educators who participated in TEACHS at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI). 

TEACHS—Training Educators About Classroom Hands-on Science—is a free interactive workshop series led by renowned MPFI staff with expertise in leading neuroscience research techniques. Offered to middle school and high school educators, the goal of these professional development events is to support educators in sparking interest in STEM among their students. 

The February 20, 2023 TEACHS session was led by head of education outreach Dr. Ilaria Drago and education outreach coordinator Erica Eggerman, who have a combined 17 years of expertise in drosophila (fruit fly) genetics and behavior. The duo provided in-depth instruction to educators from five Palm Beach and Martin County high schools and one Palm Beach County middle school—the first middle school educator to participate in TEACHS.

Action-Packed Day of Learning 

The educators participated in hands-on workshops designed to fit within development guidelines and current curriculum. The genetics workshop covered key learnings, such as: 

  • Experimental design – creating hypotheses and methods of testing  
  • Statistical analysis of experimental data 
  • Discussion on the pros and cons of the most commonly used model organisms 
  • Inheritance patterns of observable traits in fruit flies and parallels of the same patterns in well-known human diseases 

Closing out the eight-hour training, Drago and Eggerman delivered lectures on some of the most recent and exciting techniques in the field such as CRISPR Cas9 gene editing and optogenetics, which involves monitoring and controlling cellular function with light.   

New Lessons, New Equipment 

Each teacher who participated is now equipped to bring important scientific lessons to life for their students, including: 

  • Predict the genotype of flies by setting up and observing test crosses 
  • Understanding phenotype inheritance patterns—dominant and recessive alleles  
  • Fruit fly climbing assay experiment —easily customizable for students to test their own ideas 

Educators who completed the workshop also get access to MPFI’s Lending Lab resources. These robust kits include microscopes for phenotypic analysis, fruit flies to use in student-designed experiments, and fly housing and rearing tools. Plus, each participant can continue collaborating with MPFI staff to support their in-class modules. 


TEACHS is funded by the Robert and Mary Pew Public Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that aspires to improve children’s access to high-quality educational enhancements.  

Educators applied through MPFI’s website and were selected based on specific criteria around their classrooms’ goals and their familiarity and interest in genetics. This year’s participants included: 

  • Susan Hahn, Eagles Landing Middle School 
  • Morgan Gaskill, Boca Raton Community High School 
  • Chelsea Cantwell, Santaluces Community High School 
  • Kendall Aldrich, Jupiter Community High School  
  • Ian Gagnon, South Fork High School 
  • Danielle Wertz, South Fork High School 
  • Sandra Gibson, Park Vista Community High School 

TEACHS is compliant with professional development standards and aligns with Florida’s curriculum. It’s MPFI’s goal to continue fostering appreciation and excitement for STEM in young people throughout the state and U.S.—empowering educators with the latest scientific approaches is an effective first step in nurturing the next generation of young scientists. 


For media inquiries, contact Katie Edwards at