Detectives in the Classroom — Phase II Dissemination

  • Project Description

    The “Detectives” curriculum consists of five instructional modules that teach students how to answer five questions and develop the five enduring epidemiological understandings: Health-related conditions and behaviors are not distributed uniformly in a population. Each has a unique descriptive epidemiology that can be discovered by identifying how it is distributed in a population in terms of person place and time. Descriptive epidemiology provides clues for formulating hypotheses. Causal hypotheses can be tested by observing exposures and diseases of people as they go about their daily lives. Information from these observational studies can be used to make and compare rates and identify associations. Causation is only one explanation for finding an association between an exposure and a disease. Because observational studies are flawed other explanations must also be considered. When a causal association has been identified decisions about possible disease prevention strategies are based on more than the scientific evidence. Given competing values; social economic and political factors must also be considered. The effectiveness of a prevention strategy can be evaluated by making and comparing rates of disease in populations of people who were and were not exposed to the strategy. Costs trade-offs and alternative strategies must also be considered.

  • Abstract

    Our Phase II goal is to disseminate to a wider audience a curriculum that explores health-related issues relevant to students through the science of epidemiology. It is called “Detectives in the Classroom.” This will be accomplished by: Continuing to advocate for and prepare middle school science teachers to teach “Detectives” while also advocating for and preparing teachers in a wider range of grades (high school) and disciplines (mathematics and health) Advocating for and preparing teachers to teach “Detectives” in alternative educational venues: after-school and weekend programs summer enrichment camps and workshops and trips to science centers and museums Establishing investigation development teams consisting of an epidemiologist and an experienced “Detectives” teacher to update and create new “Detectives” investigations and in the process developing a broader base of “Detective” stakeholders Updating expanding evaluating and revising the “Detectives'” website Continuing to evaluate and publicize the effectiveness of “Detectives” in increasing student interest in science fundamental abilities in science as inquiry scientific literacy and knowledge of epidemiology

  • Dissemination Strategies

    Cross-age teaching Homeschooling parents and students Epidemiology and public health club After-school and weekend programs Curriculum relevant to high school Science Olympiad Disease Detectives event Hard copy of curriculum in English and Spanish Professional development workshops

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    Evaluation Goal – To test the effectiveness of a middle school epidemiology curriculum. Evaluation Design – The curriculum was field-tested among 7th-grade science students in an urban diverse New Jersey school district. Experimental teachers received a phased interactive training program in teaching “Detectives.” A quasi-experimental design tested hypotheses that exposure to the curriculum would improve students’ perceptions about their abilities and interests in science and their knowledge of epidemiology-related concepts and reasoning. The field test included in addition to the experimental teachers and 378 students 620 control students from other classes. Instruments Used and Data Collection – The test consisted of 62 items assessing five types of information. The basis for the 62 items is to address several endpoints that could reasonably be expected to improve with exposure to epidemiology teaching. Four areas were tested using Likert scales including: Students’ perceptions of their abilities in seven fundamental abilities of science as inquiry derived from the NSES Education Standards Fundamental Abilities in Science as Inquiry Students’ perceptions of their abilities in six indicators of scientific literacy derived from the Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy – Project 2061 Self-assessment of “Attitudes toward Science Inventory” using validated instrument Students’ perceived understanding of the”Detectives” five enduring understandings An additional 11 questions were given to test students’ epidemiological reasoning ability. These items developed by the investigators have common sense aspects to them in order to give students without specific training in epidemiology a reasonable chance of answering correctly. In addition to gathering the above information in pre- and post-tests we obtained computerized information from the school district on students’ demographics and school performance. Variables included gender nationality date of birth most recent final grades in science health and mathematics standardized test scores in science math and language first spoken language lunch code (free/reduced lunch) nationality special education status and number of unexcused absences in the previous school year. Results of Data Analysis – The 378 experimental students compared to 620 controls had generally higher post-test improvements in epidemiology-related outcomes and smaller increases in the other measures. A dose-response was suggested by higher scores among students exposed to 10 or more lessons. Strengths of this evaluation include a large sample and availability of data to account for differences in demographic and school performance variables. The study is limited by randomization by school as opposed to student the relatively short-term and generally self-reported outcomes and inconsistencies in proportion of the curriculum actually taught. These findings offer encouragement about the potential for “Detectives” to improve students’ perceptions of their science abilities and scientific literacy their interest in science and their abilities in basic epidemiologic reasoning. Further tests of this and other epidemiology curricula are needed to respond to the growing interest in teaching public health science to younger students. And while it is important to test near-term impacts an additional challenge from a curriculum evaluation standpoint will be to follow students over several years to examine longer-term outcomes such as subsequent classroom and career choices and successes.

  • Resources for Sharing

    The curriculum and supporting materials are posted on the Detectives website.

Project Audience

Middle school teachers of science mathematics and health

Subjects Addressed

The “Detectives” curriculum explores a variety of health-related issues relevant to middle school students through the science of epidemiology. These issues include HIV/AIDS acne backpacks and back pain violent video games asthma and diabetes.