NIH SCIENCE EDUCATION PARTNERSHIP AWARDS

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Cellular Universe: The Promise of Stem Cells

Audience

5th-12th grade students and their teachers; families with children ages 9 and up; adult public

Subjects Addressed

1) Cell biology, development and function, 2) Cell-based research, stem cell research, 3) Clinical trial processes, bioethics, 4) Your opinion and role in science research

Project Description

The purpose of this project is to help visitors learn about advances in cell biology and stem cells so that they will make more informed health-related decisions, explore new career options, and better understand the role of scientific research in health advances that affect people's lives. The goals of this project are to:

  1. Develop an inquiry-based exhibit on cell biology and stem cell research
  2. Develop an innovative model for presenting controversial science and its impact in informal learning centers
  3. Utilize hands-on, inquiry-based experiences and interactive exhibits to engage children with science, particularly those within groups currently underrepresented in health sciences
  4. Promote understanding of clinical and basic research in health-related advances that affect people's lives and increase the knowledge and impact of current science research through partnerships with world-class universities, public schools and underserved communities

Resources for Sharing

Front-end evaluation for "Cellular Universe," which includes feedback on general adult and student knowledge of cell biology and stem cells, interest in exhibition and attitudes about stem cell research and debates

Dissemination Strategies

  1. Distance learning and video teleconferencing will allow us to reach a broader audience of students and adults for seminars, presentations and discussion forums
  2. The companion website to "Cellular Universe" will introduce web visitors to the fundamental concepts explored throughout the exhibit, as well as provide companion interactive experiences and access to video and still footage of cells and their processes
  3. Through conferences and paper presentations, MSC will make the results of evaluations available to colleagues and partners, sharing what we have learned and developed in translating complex science and presenting controversial science concepts to the general and student public

Abstract

The Maryland Science Center (MSC), in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and Morgan State University (MSU), has sought the support of the National Institutes of Health SEPA (Science Education Partnership Award) Program to develop "Cellular Universe: The Promise of Stem Cells," a unique exhibition and update center with related programs that highlight the most current science in cell biology and stem cell research.

Visitor surveys have shown that science museum visitors are very interested in learning about stem cell research, but know little about the science of stem cells or cell biology, which form the basis of stem cell research. The goal of this project is to help visitors learn about advances in cell biology and stem cells so that they will make informed health-related decisions, explore new career options, and better understand the role of basic and clinical research in health advances that affect people's lives.

Topics to be covered include the basic biology of cells, the role of stem cells in human development, current stem cell research and the clinical research process. This exhibition will also address the controversies in stem cell research. Our varied advisory panel, including cell biologists, physiologists, adult and embryonic stem cell researchers and bioethicists, will ensure the objectivity of all content. "Cellular Universe: The Promise of Stem Cells" will be a 3,500 square-foot exhibition to be planned, designed and prototyped in Fall 2006-Winter 2009, and installed in MSC's second-floor human body exhibition hall in Spring 2009. This exhibition will build on the successful model of "BodyLink," our innovative health science update center funded by a 2000 SEPA grant (R25RR015602) and supported by partnerships with JHU and UMB.

Additional Info

"Cellular Universe: The Promise of Stem Cells" will include interactive exhibits, a wet laboratory, an updateable media center, and presentation space, and will be organized into four areas: Cell World The Cell Bio Lab Stem Cells and Human Development Stem Cells In the News/ Current Research and Issues. The exhibition will use interactive exhibit techniques and innovative programming to place stem cell research in the context of how all our cells function and the role stem cell research may play in helping scientists treat diseases and understand basic life processes. Programs will be created to complement the exhibitions and further engage museum visitors in the basic science of cell biology, the most current science of stem cell research, and controversies involving stem cells.

These programs will include: Live demonstrations led by graduate students engaged in scientific research; Live web connections to research scientists and bioethicists; "Teachers' Thursdays," an ongoing program for Maryland teachers that supplements their science knowledge, offers curriculum enhancement activities and offers professional development credit; A website that includes a teacher guide and pre- and post-visit activities for school groups; Community outreach by graduate students from three world-class universities that offer complementary expertise and resources in medical research, clinical practice and teaching. Additionally, special programming and program components will target groups underrepresented in science, including young women, minorities, underprivileged youth and low-income families. The public health impact of the proposed project will be to create exhibits and programs that will help millions of science museum visitors make informed health-related decisions, and to serve as a model for creating engaging, unbiased science exhibitions on controversial health-related subjects such as stem cell research.

Evaluation(s)

This project is still in its research, development and design phase, thus full evaluation has not been conducted. The stages that have been completed are described with their results and future evaluation described with respect to our comprehensive evaluation plan. The evaluation will consist of four parts:

  1. Front-end studies of museum visitors to determine adults' and children's baseline knowledge and preconceptions about cell biology and stem cell research
  2. Formative evaluation of prototypes of interactive exhibit components and programs
  3. Remedial evaluation of the installed exhibit and website to determine areas that need to be corrected and to implement needed changes
  4. Summative evaluation to assess the impact of the completed exhibit, including the student interns, and of the website

Front-End Evaluation: Focus groups were conducted in February 2006 to survey our target audience. The Maryland Science Center (MSC) convened groups of children ages 9-14, high school students, teachers of grades 5-12, and parents of children ages 9-18 to participate in these focus groups designed to survey their knowledge of and interest in cell biology and cell-based scientific research. Independent evaluation consultant Minda Borun (Museum Solutions) led these focus group sessions and was assisted by MSC project team members.

Several key issues were addressed in the response of focus group participants concerning the design and development of "Cellular Universe." First, younger participants demonstrated confusion between cells and atoms, both referred to as 'building blocks' by their respective curriculums. This highlighted a major need for an exhibit such as "Cellular Universe," and this need was underscored by comments from the teacher and parent groups. Second, all groups were supportive of an exhibit that would highlight the fundamental concepts of cell biology in a creative and interactive way to supplement the one-dimensional learning of most classrooms. The uses of microscopes and living cell footage were particularly well received. Third, the idea of an immersive cell environment was well received by all groups. Participant responses were consistent with broad preliminary MSC design themes. In general, focus group participants were pleased with the proposal to create Cellular Universe at MSC.

Formative and Remedial Evaluation:

  1. Exhibit: Prototype testing of mock-ups of planned interactive exhibit components will be a significant aspect of development of this exhibit. Museum Solutions will develop observation/interview instruments on the basis of stated prototype goals.
  2. Intern Program: The current intern program will be observed and assessed. This information will be used to shape the new stem cell intern program. The latter will be tested in the early stages of program development and feedback used to modify the students' presentations and responses.
  3. Website: Prototypes or early drafts of the web experiences will be tested for ease of navigation and effectiveness of communication. User response will inform website design.
  4. Remedial Evaluation - Once the exhibition has been fabricated and installed, remedial evaluation (post-installation formative) will take place in order to determine how the full exhibit is functioning and to uncover components that need alteration. The website will be included.

Summative Evaluation: Once the remedial alterations are accomplished, the impact of the completed exhibit, programs and website will be assessed. Summative evaluation will include tracking and timing of visitors in the exhibition and exit interviews. Exit interview questions will include measures of both cognitive and affective response to the exhibition. Summative evaluation will also assess the extent to which people's attitudes about stem cell research have changed as a result of seeing the exhibit and/or website.