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Grant brings real-world science to Boston classrooms

BOSTON (October 23, 2009) A new curriculum called The Great Diseases will bring real-world biomedical research to students in three Boston high schools. The result of a collaboration between scientists from Tufts University School of Medicine and teachers from the Boston Public Schools, the curriculum presents current threats to global health through laboratory learning, multimedia, and case-based studies. Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the curriculum is designed to increase science literacy and generate enthusiasm for the life sciences among high school students.

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. Students will investigate diseases in five modules: infectious disease, cancer, metabolic disease, neurological disease, and cardiovascular disease.

"There is a gap between the way science is taught in our classrooms and the way it is practiced in laboratories around the world. With The Great Diseases curriculum, we aim to teach students how to think like scientists instead of memorizing facts from a book," said principal investigator Karina Meiri, PhD, professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, and member of the cell, molecular & developmental biology program faculty at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts.

"Instead of focusing on disease in older populations, we have selected case-based studies that are pertinent to teenagers, such as H1N1 flu, obesity, and cardiac arrest in elite athletes. The Great Diseases curriculum presents complex global health issues in ways that engage high school students," said Kathleen Bateman, co-principal investigator on the grant and director of the Boston Latin School science department.

Meiri and Bateman have already demonstrated success with developing scientific thinking in high school students; The Great Diseases is rooted in a mentoring program the pair launched in 2004, partnering individual high school students from Boston Latin School with scientists, engineers, and medical researchers. Since 2005, 90 percent of these mentored students have won prizes at Boston's science fair. Of the students participating in the state science fair, 75 percent placed, and the mentoring program has provided the state champion for three of the last five years. Students in the program have also been successful in national and international science events, garnering awards at the Siemens and Intel competitions. This year, three of the mentored students participated in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where two students won "Best of Category" awards. One of those students also earned an Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award, the competition's top honor.

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

The Great Diseases curriculum also promotes a larger, long-term goal of drawing more young people into the field of biotechnology and biomedical careers. According to Pam Pelletier, senior program director for science at Boston Public Schools, Massachusetts could benefit from an in-state pipeline of motivated and well-trained young scientists. "With The Great Diseases curriculum, our highly skilled and committed teachers will have the resources to connect students with science that matters to their lives, which we hope will translate into more students pursuing careers in the sciences," said Pelletier.

Jeff Goodman, a science teacher at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School said, "The Great Diseases curriculum will provide teachers with a way to hook the interest of our students and expose them to the wealth of opportunities within the field of science."

Tufts partners on the project include the School of Medicine, the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and the Wright Center for Innovation in Science Education.

Grant funding is provided by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the form of a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA). SEPA grants are designed to enable partnerships among researchers, educators, and community groups to promote enthusiasm for science and the sharing of knowledge with students and the public. Since 1991, they have funded projects at health science centers, universities, K-12 schools, science museums, and community organizations throughout the country. The Great Diseases curriculum is funded by a SEPA grant of $1.35 million over five years.


Contact: Siobhan Gallagher
Tufts University, Health Sciences

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