Mystery of the Crooked Cell 2.0: CityLab’s Next Generation Socioscientific Approach to Gene Editing

  • Project Description

    CityLab’s new NIH SEPA grant will enable the Boston University team and collaborating educators to develop a new curriculum supplement that uses hands-on laboratory investigations of genome editing to expand CityLab’s “Mystery of the Crooked Cell” (MCC) and create MCC 2.0.

    The MCC curriculum supplement, which focuses on the molecular basis of sickle cell disease, will be substantially expanded to create MCC 2.0 by incorporating gene editing as cutting-edge science content, socioscientific reasoning (SSR) as a pedagogical strategy for exploration of bioethical and diversity topics, and engaging digital media technologies. The curriculum will be implemented first at CityLab’s SummerLab program. In subsequent years, MCC 2.0 will be tested at CityLab, on the MobileLab, and at partner sites. Through this effort, CityLab will develop, pilot-test, refine, and disseminate MCC 2.0, a groundbreaking approach that will lead students to develop important science understanding, SSR skills, and attitudes and behaviors that promote diversity in STEM. CityLab will examine the impact of MCC 2.0 on fostering students’ science learner identity (SLI) as a measure of engagement in STEM. Ultimately, this SEPA project will develop and disseminate an innovative curricular approach to expand the diversity of the biomedical science workforce.

    1. build, implement, and disseminate MCC 2.0, a new laboratory-based SSR curriculum by expanding MCC to incorporate new lab techniques (such as restriction enzyme digests, PCR, and CRISPR), digital hands-on experiences (such as immersive games, augmented/virtual reality simulations, and the Case It! computer simulations of lab assays developed at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls), and explorations of the ethics of gene editing. MCC 2.0 will integrate issues of historical bias in science and medicine to raise awareness of attitudes and practices that promote equity, inclusion, and diversity in STEM. Throughout the development and pilot-testing phases, we will work closely with practicing science teachers to ensure that this innovative unit can be easily integrated into classes and meets the NGSS “High-Quality Design” criteria. After testing and refinement, we will begin national dissemination to encourage science educators to use this innovative unit in their classes. We will develop and share materials for use in face-to-face classes and online settings.

    2. use a well-matched comparison design to investigate the impact of the SSR curriculum on promoting science content understanding and increased SLI in diverse populations of students. We will determine whether the length of exposure to the SSR approach leads to changes in SLI and in attitudes towards diversity and inclusion that predispose students towards continued STEM education and, eventually, STEM careers. We will conduct a longitudinal study of participants to assess the extent to which this seminal STEM experience is associated with post-secondary education paths.

  • Abstract

    Boston University School of Medicine’s new SEPA project, entitled “Mystery of the Crooked Cell 2.0: CityLab’s Next Generation Socioscientific Approach to Gene Editing,” addresses the imperative that NIH’s pre-college activities focus on biomedical workforce preparedness, especially for underrepresented minorities (URM). This project will reach close to 600 local URM students and, through planned dissemination, will reach thousands of students. CityLab is partnering with five Boston-area high schools and two afterschool STEM/health professions enrichment programs to test the effectiveness of embedding a focus on socioscientific reasoning (SSR) to promote understanding of gene editing. An SSR approach places science content in a meaningful social context and motivates students to take ownership of their learning. SSR skills include realizing the complexity of the content and context of an issue, analyzing an issue from multiple perspectives, seeking out sources of bias in data, and considering how and whether scientific investigations can advance understanding of an issue. This project will expand CityLab’s “Mystery of the Crooked Cell” hands-on, inquiry-based curriculum supplement that focuses on the molecular basis of sickle cell disease (SCD) by incorporating state-of-the-art gene editing content that is suffused with SSR. The new curriculum supplement, Mystery of the Crooked Cell 2.0 (MCC 2.0), will seamlessly integrate three elements: CityLab’s curriculum storyline and laboratory experiences, computer simulations of molecular biology assays developed at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and immersive virtual reality simulations of gene editing for SCD therapies developed at UC Berkeley Innovative Genomics Institute. SSR will be embedded throughout MCC 2.0, as will awareness of STEM/biomedical science careers. CityLab will also build NextGen Scholars, a learning community that will not only engage students in advanced science content and lab applications using SSR but also foster attitudes that support equity and diversity in STEM. This project will demonstrate the feasibility and replicability of this pedagogical strategy; CityLab will then disseminate the curriculum widely and thereby sow the seeds for a diverse and inclusive future STEM workforce. The major objectives of the proposed project are: (1) to create MCC 2.0 in collaboration with high school teachers and students, (2) to build a diverse community of learners who use SSR to explore advanced science topics while gaining insights into the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice in science, health, and society, (3) to examine changes in students’ science content understanding, SSR skills, science learner identity, and attitudes towards diversity in the biomedical sciences and medicine, (4) to track student participants through college to understand the broader impact of this approach, and (5) to earn designation as one of the first “High- Quality Design” high school lessons that are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This new SEPA initiative is a unique way to pilot, refine, and disseminate a first-of-its-kind science education program that will increase the diversity of the STEM/biomedical science workforce.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    Eventual platforms for dissemination of materials will be determined at a later time.

Project Audience

Our initial audience in high schools in MA. In later years, the materials will be shared widely so that anyone can use them.

Subjects Addressed

Genome editing
Socioscientific reasoning
Diversity, equity, access, inclusion, social justice, and health disparities

Associated SEPA Project(s)