November 4, 2009

Real-world Science Comes to the Classroom

Tufts faculty team up with Boston high school teachers to develop a curriculum focused on biomedical research

Students in three Boston public high schools will learn more than textbook lessons in biology in the next few years, thanks to a collaboration between scientists from the School of Medicine and teachers from the Boston public schools. They will be testing a new curriculum, called The Great Diseases, which will bring real-world biomedical research into the classroom through laboratory programs, case-based studies and multimedia presentations.

The goal is to increase science literacy and encourage interest in the life sciences among high school students. They will study diseases in five modules on infectious disease, cancer and metabolic diseases such as obesity, as well as neurological disease and cardiovascular disease.

Funded by a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the curriculum will be taught to 11th and 12th graders at Madison Park Technical and Vocational High School, Boston Latin School and Boston Latin Academy over the next five years. The first module, on infectious disease, will be tested next year at two schools, before being rolled out to all three.

“There is a gap between the way science is taught in our classrooms and the way it is practiced in laboratories around the world,” says principal investigator Karina Meiri, a professor of anatomy at the School of Medicine and a faculty member at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. “With the curriculum, we aim to teach students how to think like scientists, instead of memorizing facts from a book.”

“We have selected case-based studies that are pertinent to teenagers, such as H1N1 flu, obesity and cardiac arrest in elite athletes,” says Kathleen Bateman, director of the Boston Latin School science department and co-principal investigator on the five-year NIH grant. “The Great Diseases curriculum presents complex global health issues in ways that engage high school students.”

The new curriculum is rooted in a mentoring program Meiri and Bateman launched in 2004, matching high school students from Boston Latin with scientists, engineers and medical researchers. Since 2005, 90 percent of these mentored students have won prizes at Boston’s science fair. Students in the program have also been successful in national and international science events, garnering awards at the Siemens and Intel competitions.

After Meiri saw the effect of the mentoring program on the Boston Latin students, she says she was driven to bring real-world experiences to the high school science classroom, where more students could benefit.

Teachers are interested, too. “The Great Diseases curriculum will provide . . . a way to hook the interest of our students and expose them to the wealth of opportunities within the field of science,” says Jeff Goodman, who teaches science at Madison Park High School.

In addition to the medical and Sackler schools, partners on the project are the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Wright Center for Innovation in Science Education, both at Tufts.

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