Sharing ASSETs: Expanding Science Opportunities in K-12 Classrooms

  • Abstract

    ASSET (Advancing Secondary Science Education with Tetrahymena) is an NIH SEPA funded science education outreach program at Cornell University that is developing K-12 science education modules designed to stimulate inquiry-based learning of fundamental concepts in biology. ASSET lab modules use live, single-celled protozoa, namely Tetrahymena, that are safe, easy to grow and exhibit many of the biological characteristics of complex multicellular organisms to engage students in hands-on learning experiences. In addition to the laboratory exercises, ASSET is also developing cross-platform modules addressing the integral relationship between science and society. These modules highlight the importance of science in the real world, and are designed to engage students in science, social studies, and history classrooms in discussions of the impact of science, technology, and the environment in shaping society, and of the reciprocal effect of societal pressures on scientific endeavor.

    Science modules for elementary and middle school students
    Children are naturally inquisitive about the world around them. ASSET is developing modules for elementary and middle school students designed to nurture that innate curiosity by engaging students in an interactive, hands-on exploration of the world of biology using safe, easily manipulated live Tetrahymena. Each module introduces students to a core biological concept using an interactive approach that involves scientific observation, manipulation of experimental materials, and evaluation of results. Each module is a stand-alone unit, and is supported by a small equipment lending library that can provide teachers at under-resourced schools with the materials needed to carry out the modules. Comprehensive teacher guides and detailed student protocols are provided for each module to facilitate classroom implementation.

    Classroom research opportunities for high school students using Tetrahymena
    Every so often something in class will catch a student’s interest and imagination. The ASSET program hopes to capture that moment by encouraging motivated students to follow up on an idea that interests them. Using existing high school modules as a hands-on introduction to the use of Tetrahymena to explore biological phenomena, ASSET will provide an opportunity for independent investigation using the Tetrahymena system by motivated students, either individually, in small groups, or as part of an independent research class. With teacher guidance, students will frame and research a question of interest, develop and carry out an experimental plan, and present the results and analysis of their experiments as a research paper, a poster, or a multimedia presentation that can be linked to the ASSET website. Information and guidelines to help students develop a feasible project will be available on the website. Students will be encouraged to submit their work for possible publication in the Finger Lakes Journal of Secondary Science (, a journal dedicated to publishing student research papers. ASSET will also conduct a virtual science fair for Tetrahymena-based student projects each spring.

    Materials addressing the interaction of science and society for all grade levels
    Science and society are inextricably interwoven. ASSET is developing grade appropriate cross-curricula activities engaging students at all levels in a dynamic consideration of the inter-relatedness of science and society. The ASSET modules integrating science and society will provide well-researched and documented material suitable for use in both science and social studies curricula, addressing fundamental scientific issues with a direct relationship to life outside the classroom. Well-documented independent research addressing topics at the intersection of science and society will also be supported, and will be eligible for entry into the virtual science fair.

    Distance workshops
    To facilitate maximum use of ASSET materials at all grade levels, ASSET will offer short, interactive distance teacher workshops at local schools featuring hands-on training on the general use of Tetrahymena in the classroom, and the specific use of one or two modules of choice. Distance workshops will provide easily accessible training and professional development involving the use of all ASSET materials to larger numbers of teachers than is possible using the standard on-campus workshop approach. All necessary materials will be provided to workshop participants, along with live interactive instruction and follow-up support.

    Teacher Involvement in Module Development and Piloting
    The input of active teachers is critical to the development of all ASSET educational materials. ASSET will work with teachers to develop, pilot, and refine classroom modules. Teachers who have ideas for new modules, or who are interested in piloting and helping to refine existing modules are encouraged to contact the ASSET program.

    Equipment Lending Library
    ASSET will maintain a small equipment lending library that will loan materials free of charge for a 2-week period to teachers at schools lacking the supplies needed to implement the modules. Equipment requests are linked to specific module requests, and teachers are asked to request only materials that their school cannot provide. Some materials will also be provided to support ASSET related independent student research projects using Tetrahymena as a research organism.

    ASSET on social media
    To help keep us in touch with teachers and students and to develop a sharing community of ASSET users, the ASSET program has set up Facebook ( ) and Twitter (@sepaasset #assettetrahymena) accounts. A YouTube channel for ASSET videos has also been created to facilitate sharing of various ASSET informational and instructional videos. We also plan an ASSET blog to facilitate communication and sharing of ideas, results, and current scientific events that may be of interest to the ASSET community.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    Dissemination of ASSET materials and results will be carried out on multiple fronts. Information regarding the program will be distributed using various teacher listservs, including the ASSET database of over 300 teachers at schools with diverse demographics, ranging from small rural schools to large inner city schools in 28 states; the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers (CIBT) national teacher listserv; and other widely read teacher listservs like the Oneonta Teacher BioForum.

    Cornell’s rural location will be leveraged to facilitate recruitment from low-income rural communities. In addition, we build upon past collaborations with other educational outreach groups, many of which work with teachers and students in under-resourced schools, to recruit additional teachers that will help to insure that the program materials address the needs of all students.

    Current collaborations include CIBT, the SEPA funded Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) near-peer mentor program, and work with Dr. Geoffrey Kapler at Texas A&M. New collaborations will be forged with other outreach groups as the project progresses. We will also use existing educational infrastructure like the NY BOCES centers and district teacher centers, the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS), Science Matters, and the National Science Teacher’s Association to provide K-12 teachers with information about ASSET-related professional development opportunities and science teaching resources.

    Since the Tetrahymena research community has historically expressed a high level of interest in and support of the use of Tetrahymena as a teaching tool, we will also use the Ciliate Biology listserve to identify academic investigators at universities around the country who are interested in recruiting teachers and promoting the use of ASSET materials in nearby schools, mimicking a highly successful program already launched with Texas A&M. This approach will not only provide us with a broad geographic range of schools but will encourage the involvement of other Tetrahymena researchers in fostering the use of ASSET materials.

    Recruitment and retention of teachers participating in the program will be facilitated by the development of fully supported teacher and student protocols for each of the ASSET modules, by the availability of direct access by phone or email to ASSET staff who can provide expert help regarding ASSET materials, and by the use of distance workshops to provide training and professional development centered around ASSET materials.

    All completed modules and support information, including teacher guides, student protocols, instructional and demonstration videos, and all other accessory materials, will be made available on the ASSET website. Information regarding the ASSET program and availability of ASSET modules and materials will be presented at state and national teacher conferences, like the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS), the New York State Council for the Social Studies (NYSCSS), the Texas Annual Environmental Health Sciences Summer Institute, and the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA).

    Information regarding the program will also be presented via local and regional talks, posters, seminars, and hands-on demonstrations targeted to educators and others involved in educational outreach. Social media, including Facebook ( ) and Twitter
    (@sepaasset #assettetrahymena), will also be used to spread information about the program. Educational videos will be made available on the new ASSET YouTube channel. In addition to postings on the ciliate listserve, information regarding the availability of ASSET Tetrahymena-based materials will also be presented at meetings of professional societies using ciliates and protists as model organisms.

    Educational research results will be published in peer-reviewed journals, and articles discussing specific ASSET materials will be published in journals frequented by biology teachers, such as the American Biology Teacher. Timely and dependable dissemination of the live cells utilized in many of the ASSET modules will be assured by the presence of the national NIH-funded Tetrahymena Stock Center, an invaluable resource also located in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    Dr. Anna M. Waldron of Waldron Educational Consulting, LLC, who specializes in evaluation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educational programs and projects, will serve as the external evaluator and will lead formative and summative evaluation for ASSET. Dr. Waldron has been involved in STEM evaluation for over ten years.

    The evaluation of ASSET involves two stages:
    1) Formative evaluation includes working directly with teachers and scientists who are developing the curriculum and laboratory modules to ensure that the modules are: 1. Teacher friendly; 2. Student friendly; 3. Self-explanatory; 4. Scientifically accurate; 5. Pedagogically sound. It will include testing in diverse classrooms and will be an iterative process to support revision following teacher and student input.

    2) Summative evaluation will determine impact over time based on teacher and student outcomes utilizing data gathered through formative evaluation. Teacher outcomes will include: 1. Increase in use of inquiry-based science; 2. Increase in use of socio-scientific issues curricula. Student outcomes will include: 1. Increase in content knowledge of biological principals as evidenced in pre- and post-content tests; 2. Increase in general science skills as evidenced in standardized test scores; 3. Increases in awareness of socio-scientific issues as evidenced in pre- and post-content tests.

  • Resources for Sharing

    Distance workshops will be offered for small groups of teachers interested in using ASSET materials in their classrooms.

    ASSET staff members are available by phone or email to support teachers in the use of ASSET materials. Instructional videos will be available on the ASSET website and mounted on the ASSET YouTube channel.

    Following initial classroom testing, revision based on teacher and student input, and evaluation, all ASSET materials will be posted on the ASSET website and will be freely available to interested parties.

    Interaction among members of the ASSET community will be facilitated by the use of social media (Twitter and Facebook) and a dedicated ASSET blog.

  • Additional Information

    Publications Educational research results will be published in peer-reviewed journals and articles discussing specific ASSET materials will be published in journals frequented by biology teachers.

Project Audience

K-12 teachers and students, outreach groups providing K-12 science education materials.

Subjects Addressed

Biology; Science and Society