Partnership for Research & Education in Plants

Project Website(s)

  • Project Description

    PREP brings together high school teachers and research scientists to guide students in characterizing genes in Arabidopsis thaliana a plant used widely in life science research. Scientists provide wild-type (all functional genes) and mutant (one non-functioning gene) seeds and experimental know-how to students and students design and conduct experiments to examine the effects of abiotic stressors (e.g. drought salinity soil pH etc.) on wild-type vs. mutant plants thereby yielding insights into the function of each altered gene. Thus PREP goals are to: 1) Establish mutually-beneficial research partnerships among high school students their teachers and research scientists 2) Contribute to the body of knowledge about gene function in Arabidopsis thaliana 3) Expand student understanding of concepts in genetics genomics biotechnology scientific inquiry and the nature of science and 4) Investigate and document progress and impact with respect to these goals.

  • Abstract

    The Fralin Biotechnology Center at Virginia Tech in collaboration with university-based scientists and high school biology teachers seeks support for developing (Phase I) and disseminating (Phase II) the Partnership for Research & Education in Plants (PREP). PREP was initiated at the request of high school students and their teachers who wanted opportunities to collect ‘real’ science data and scientists who needed extra help in studying the ‘white mouse’ of the plant world Arabidopsis thaliana. In an effort to better understand plant biology scientists have sequenced the Arabidopsis genome. Now that the genome has been sequenced emphasis is being placed on systematically identifying the function of an estimated 29000 genes. One approach being taken is ‘knocking out’ each gene to determine its role in the growth development and physiology of the plant. This effort is creating an abundance of mutant plants which must now be examined to determine each gene’s function. In PREP scientists provide wild-type and knock-out mutant seeds as well as experimental know-how to students as the students themselves design and conduct experiments to study the differences between wild type plants and the previously uncharacterized mutants. Students then share their findings with PREP scientists at poster sessions and in lab reports. This partnership will continue to function as a collaboration with the following goals: to create a framework for sustainable partnerships between high school biology teachers their students and scientists; to share knowledge and research about biology; to provide students with opportunities to collect analyze draw conclusions about and share real data; and to add to the body of data about genetics genomics and physiology specifically of Arabidopsis thaliana. We propose to enhance and expand PREP in the following ways: improve student understanding of additional standards-based biology concepts (heredity and evolution as well asethical legal and social issues related to biotechnology) in the context of investigating wild-type and mutant Arabidopsis plants; increase the number of PREP scientist partners; enhance communication between geographically-separated PREP partners using web-based resources and technologies; disseminate PREP to a national audience via regional leadership centers and web-based approaches; and assess and describe the impact of PREP on participating teachers students and scientists.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    The national dissemination of PREP will begin this fall and involves the following: 1) Collaboration with institutions that have well-established biology education outreach and/or partnership programs to initiate and maintain partnerships among local students teachers and scientists (in year one: Cornell University the Danforth Plant Sciences Center (St. Louis MO) Iowa State University and University of Wisconsin at Madison). 2) Presentations at national science and education meetings including the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research as well as the annual meetings of the National Association for Biology Teachers the American Association for the Advancement of Science the National Association for Research in Science Teaching and others.

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    The evaluation of PREP including evaluation questions and methodologies has changed as the partnership progresses but we maintain a focus on investigating and documenting the progress and impact of PREP with respect to its goals using a mixed methods approach. Evaluation Goals – 1) Assess impact on students teachers scientists. 2) Assess usefulness usability and use of PREP Online Lab Notebook. 3) Assess how PREP activities contribute to the body of scientific knowledge. Methods: Surveys Written reflections Interviews Focus groups Student work Teacher lesson plans Classroom observations Project documents Results: 1) Two inter-connected layers of authenticity develop through PREP partnership: the authenticity of the science research and the authenticity of the relationship. 2) Three components of student lab reports are predictors of their discussion of the implications of their findings: (a) comparative language in their research questions (b) inclusion of the investigation purpose in their research questions and (c) comparative language in their conclusions. 3) Teachers’ main objective for engaging students in PREP is to develop their understanding of scientific inquiry. 4) Some students develop an understanding of genes gene function experimental design and use of controls. 5) Teachers’ assessments of student learning focus on measuring higher-order thinking skills as defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy. 6) Synchronous and asynchronous online communication can enable interaction between scientists and classrooms. 7) Active involvement of scientists is crucial for students’ and teachers’ to view their work and the partnership as authentic. 8) Students have made biologically significant observations. 9) Scientists are becoming increasingly involved as students’ work complement the ongoing research in their labs.

  • Resources for Sharing

    The following resources may be of interest to the SEPA community: 1) Making the Case for Partnerships through Authentic Investigations: A -proof of principle- marketing case that illustrates examples of learning successes scientific successes and benefits reported by students teachers and scientists. 2) PREP Online Lab Notebook ( This site serves as a hub for synchronous and asynchronous online communication among PREP partners.

  • Additional Information

    A secondary science teacher a research scientist and a university-based science educator have collaborated to create a guide for high school and community college students to design and conduct experiments collect and analyze data and share conclusions to advance their understanding of the nature of science plant biology and genomics. This program titled Partnership for Research and Education in Plants (PREP) brings together biology educators their students and research scientists to guide students as they design and conduct experiments to study Arabidopsis thaliana plants used widely in genetic research and one of the few organisms whose genome has been sequenced. Students examine previously uncharacterized Arabidopsis plants and share their findings with scientists interested in studying those plants. Students learn standards-based content about plant biology and genetics as well as standards-based skills related to biotechnology and scientific inquiry. Scientists learn about issues in pre-college education develop writing and public speaking skills and receive student-generated data.

Project Audience

High school life science students high school life science teachers life scientists

Subjects Addressed

genetics genomics biotechnology science inquiry nature of science student-teacher-scientist partnership