A New Genomic Framework for Schools and Communities

  • Project Description

    The Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University in collaboration with the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan and other partners for this five-year project. The project is developing and testing new learning materials that blend formal classroom instruction and informal community-based learning to give both students and community members opportunities to apply ideas about gene-environment interactions, natural selection, and evolution to their lives.

    Two units for middle school are being developed and tested that can be used either in one grade level or across two grade levels.

    Unit I: What Controls My Health?
    Designed to meet NGSS and the new Michigan Science Standards, the unit is a coordinated set of classroom and community activities intended to give youth and adults an understanding of modern concepts in genetics using Type 2 diabetes as the real-world context.

    Unit II: How can looking for thrills make me miserable?
    This second unit dives deeper into gene-environment interactions exploring genetics, mutation, natural selection and evolution. Students investigate the brain’s reward system and why this system can lead to addictive behavior.

    High School
    This project builds on earlier SEPA project, “Education for Community Genomic Awareness,” which produced a high school curriculum addressing molecular genetics and genomics working in partnership high schools in Detroit and Flint. From this project, we learned that high school students would gain from more understanding of basic concepts in the gene-environment interaction. Thus, the development of a middle school curriculum was proposed.


    A key feature of this project is the extensive partnership it embodies. In addition to the collaboration between two universities, two school systems and Concord Consortium, critical to the development and enactment of the learning experiences are partnerships with other institutions — science and history museums, libraries, scientists, and community-based organizations in Detroit and Flint. This approach enhances student learning, interest, and awareness and engages their families in developing an understanding of the linked concepts of genetics, environment and natural selection and their role in health and disease.


    Collaborators in the project include the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Detroit Public School and Flint Community Schools in Michigan, and the Concord Consortium in Massachusetts. Community partners include the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Public Library and Friends of Parkside in Detroit, and the Sloan Museum, Flint Public Library, and Community Based Organization Partners in Flint.

  • Abstract

    This project provided an innovative contribution to the field of science learning by developing a new generation of learning materials that blends formal and informal learning experiences that relate gene-environment interactions to natural selection and ties these interactions to health issues of relevance to community members using the core ideas from the Framework for K–12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards.

    The digital curriculum materials, called Health in Our Hands, provides middle school students with a framework for learning genomics (including gene-environment relationships) and evolution. The materials use a project-based learning approach of science education incorporating multi-media materials and the use of interactive technology by students. Community action projects and health summit events link informal and community activities to those that happen in the classroom. The materials align with the Next Generation Science Standards and use three-dimensional learning that is the product of more than 20 years of science education research conducted by members of the project team.

    The project developed a model partnership joining the two universities developing the curriculum with the public school systems in Flint and Detroit as well as science and history museums libraries and community-based organizations in both communities.

    These informal science education activities strengthen student learning while advancing genomic literacy among the community. The project’s evaluation plan incorporated formative and summative evaluation as the curriculum was designed tested and iteratively revised with interim summative assessment at the end of year 3 and final summative assessment in year 5 as the curriculum and community efforts are packaged for broader use.

    The project’s dissemination plan includes publications, presentations, and an interactive web site to share the project’s design experience and findings both during its implementation and at the project’s conclusion. Since 75 percent of Detroit students and 96% of Detroit students are African American and Latino (combined) the project will reduce the achievement gap in science learning and stimulate interest among minorities to enter science and health careers.

Project Audience

Middle and high school teachers and their students

Subjects Addressed

STEM, genetics, environment, natural selection

Associated SEPA Project(s)