Biology and medicine are changing dramatically as we begin the 21st century. Sequencing the human genome, the blueprint for human heredity, has lead to fundamental changes in the way science and medicine are practiced. New information from the Human Genome Project presents striking social and ethical challenges as well as unique opportunities that require citizens to understand science to make informed decisions. Our previous project, Genes, the Environment, and Me, (GEM) resulted in two curricular units:
- What can we learn from worms? How the nematode C. elegans maintains balance in a changing environment.
- Type 2 Diabetes: A complex disease of gene and environment interactions
Our current project, Genes, the Environment, and Me: Health and STEM Network (GEMNet), will develop a cross-disciplinary approach for teaching and learning about type 2 diabetes in high school biology, health, and family and consumer sciences classes. A new instructional unit, Health, Nutrition, and Type 2 Diabetes has been developed and currently is undergoing field-tests in health classes. Genome Sciences Education Outreach at the University of Washington in Seattle develops innovative programs that bring leading-edge science to teachers and students in K–12 schools. These programs provide interdisciplinary, hands-on science curricula, teacher training, equipment, and support to promote systemic change in schools.
Through Genes, the Environment, and Me: Health and STEM Network (GEMNet), we will develop a model for teaching about type 2 diabetes (t2d) and engaging students in biomedical careers using a cross-disciplinary approach with high school biology, health, and Family and Consumer Science (FACS) teachers.
Diabetes is a complex condition that unites science and health concepts, and links these concepts to broader social issues, i.e., environmental influences, health care, scientific research, personal choice, access to resources, diet and exercise, social justice, and public policy. The nature of this complex topic lends itself to multi-disciplinary instruction in which students can benefit from exposure to different aspects of t2d in different high school contexts.
This project builds on our successful SEPA-funded project, Genes, the Environment, and Me (GEM). Through GEM, we have developed a strong community of high school science and health teachers primarily in the Yakima Valley, a rural agricultural region in central Washington. Schools in this region serve highly diverse students with high percentages of Hispanic and Native American students, many of whom are from high poverty families with limited English proficiency and low educational attainment levels. These are also populations that experience disproportionately high rates of t2d, which makes this a timely and important topic to integrate into high school curricula.
We will build upon our established community of high school teachers in science and health in central Washington, and expand our network and curriculum to other communities and disciplines, including teachers in the Seattle School District. GEMNet will produce standards-based curriculum to teach about t2d and related health issues for inclusion in introductory and advanced high school biology, health, and FACS courses.
Project components will include: 1) developing and piloting new t2d lessons specific to the different high school courses; 2) providing discipline-specific teacher professional development; 3) evaluating student outcomes following one or more exposures to the curriculum in different classes; and 4) disseminating instructional materials and strategies within our primary teaching community and to other regions of the state and nation.