Using cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as a foundation, Iterative Design to Engage All (IDEA) Learners, will build the capacity of North Carolina’s STEM teachers, especially those in economically disadvantaged communities, to introduce current biomedical science and career opportunities to their students. Through professional development grounded in design thinking and active collaboration with PFAS researchers, IDEA Learners will increase their content knowledge while also improving their pedagogy. As a result, they will be positioned to promote the STEM opportunities that await students in the rapidly evolving biomedical research landscape, ultimately cultivating a more diverse biomedical workforce. This program is led by the Center for Public Engagement with Science in the UNC Institute for the Environment in partnership with researchers at the UNC School of Education.
In 2016, high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were discovered in eastern North Carolina (NC) in the Cape Fear River, part of NC’s largest watershed and drinking water supply for over 1 million people. More recently, PFAS were detected in central NC, in the Haw River, which supplies drinking water for Pittsboro, NC, and in Jordan Lake, a recreational reservoir that also provides drinking water for several cities in the Research Triangle area. Although PFAS contamination has been detected in 49 states, biomedical researchers in NC are leading the way nationally in assessing the extent of PFAS contamination in waterways and air and in conducting studies on the effects of PFAS on human and ecosystem health. These chemicals have been used since the 1950s in a wide range of consumer products and have been found in the blood of people and animals worldwide. Research suggests that PFAS are harmful to human and animal health, with documented immune system impacts that may influence individual susceptibility to COVID-19. Using cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research on PFAS as a foundation, the Center for Public Engagement with Science in the UNC Institute for the Environment, is leading Iterative Design to Engage All (IDEA) Learners, with a goal of building the capacity of NC teachers, especially those in economically disadvantaged communities and those impacted by PFAS contamination, to introduce current biomedical science and career opportunities to diverse students. We will accomplish this goal through three aims: (1) Apply design thinking and design-based research approaches to co-develop curriculum units featuring current research on the health effects of PFAS; (2) Increase teacher knowledge of current PFAS research and self-efficacy for incorporating biomedical science into classroom instruction; and (3) Support participating teachers in promoting biomedical research careers to diverse students. Over five years, IDEA Learners will result in two curriculum units with PFAS-focused lessons that have been designed for NGSS and incorporate research-generated data and science and engineering practices relevant to biomedical research careers. Through long-duration professional development (PD), 48 teachers will deepen their content knowledge and improve their self-efficacy, and an additional 48 teachers will participate in short-duration PD. The project will lead to enhanced capacity to offer inclusive learning environments and improved support for students who are underrepresented in STEM, ultimately cultivating a more diverse future biomedical research workforce.
This program will result in the development of two PFAS-focused secondary science curricula that will be made available on the program website and that will be disseminated at professional development workshops and practitioner conferences. Research findings and program outcomes will be shared through research conferences, academic journals, and practitioner-oriented journals.
North Carolina grade 9-12 STEM teachers and the students they serve are the primary audience for the IDEA Learners Program.
This program will address PFAS contamination of drinking water; systems biology; environmental health; toxicology; biomedical research.