The Great Diseases: Bringing Biomedical Science to the High School Classroom

  • Project Description

    The goal of the Great Diseases curriculum is to engage high school students with the science behind their real world experiences. To do this, Tufts scientists and Boston Public School (BPS) teachers have collaborated to bring together the content knowledge and pedagogical skill needed to design such a curriculum. Each module consists of a 6-week course addressing topics related to a specific disease.

    Curriculum materials for each module include a teacher primer; teacher lesson plans, with minute-by-minute guidance each lesson; classroom materials for each lesson, generally including a powerpoint slide deck with embedded videos, handouts, activity materials, worksheets, and answer keys; and unit assessments. To prevent student access to assessments and the like, teacher curriculum material downloads are password-locked; request access by filling out the form to the right or contact us for a login.

    We offer free module-specific teaching support upon request. Connect with a scientist partner for Just-In-Time support, and/or browse our professional development offerings for online courses and in-person workshops.

    The student site for Great Diseases offers students immediate access to student workbook readings for each module, as well as a searchable glossary, links to recommended news items, related multimedia, and more.

  • Abstract

    In 2014 most job growth is occurring in fields that require the ability to think analytically and solve problems about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics, particularly life sciences and IT, while 90% of those life science jobs are in health-related fields The same analytic and evaluative skills required to participate in the life science-health workforce are required for managing one’s health care. Unfortunately US adults lack these capacities, so many STEM jobs in these fields go unfilled and more than 45% of the US population, particularly from underserved communities cannot manage their own health care effectively.

    It is clearly critical to educate young people in these skills, and high school, which is the last place entire cohorts of the US population gather to learn together, is an obvious venue. In response we have partnered with teachers to develop a curriculum ‘The Great Diseases’ focused on diseases of global significance targeted to 10th-12 th graders. No curriculum can be successful unless teachers have the skills to teach it, so we have also developed a professional development program in which scientists mentor teachers how to translate the science content of the curriculum into their classrooms. Teachers who participated were able to significantly increase student engagement and analytical and problem-solving abilities, as well as improve their confidence in learning about this kind of material – a critical element of health literacy. Importantly these gains occurred in a large number of diverse schools and were independent of teacher and also the gender and ethnicity of their students.

    In this project we aim to capitalize on the partnerships and evaluation tools we have used successfully to create the curriculum and professional development model, to expand the scope of the curriculum by creating new activities more directly focused on the critical thinking skills we want to foster, and by expanding into new target audiences.

    We will therefore accomplish the following goals:

    • We will promote the analytical skills required for workforce preparation and health care management by developing three extensions to the core GD curriculum that will help teachers: address complex topic; stimulate claims evaluation related to health science research and identify valid new material they can incorporate into lessons to keep their curriculum current.
    • We will expand dissemination of the curriculum to pre-service teachers in collaboration with Bridgewater State University, the major provider of STEM and health education in Massachusetts by developing graduate level courses that will contextualize the content to classroom practice.
    • We will promote dissemination of the curriculum to in-service teachers nationwide by combining the curriculum and mentorship into a web-based course that combines online learning and virtual interactions between teachers and mentors. Then, in collaboration with Teach for America we will provide the course to teachers who work in challenging environments in urban or rural areas.
    • We will evaluate the effectiveness of the program as well as knowledge gains and critical thinking abilities in program participants (teachers and their students).

    The proposed project is significant because it provide teachers with the skills to engage students and improve their abilities to think analytically about key issues in health-related science, thereby fostering workforce preparation and health literacy.

    The proposed project is innovative because The Great Diseases program provides a model for how interactions between medical school scientists and teachers can influence curriculum and teacher development. It is also innovative because combining the curriculum and mentorship program into a web-based resource removes barriers can be disseminated nationwide.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    Professional development for pre-service and in-service teachers in collaboration with schools of Education at Bridgewater State University, MA; Lesley University, MA; Teach for America; and Math for America. Materials available via website.

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    Program evaluation by Russell Faux, Ed.D., Davis Square Associates, 119 College Ave, Ste 41, Somerville MA.

  • Resources for Sharing

    • Full range of curricular materials available via website (
    • Training via professional development courses and on-line (see project website).
    • Internships available for undergraduates and graduate students who are (a) science education students wishing to gain experience in curriculum development (b) scientists wishing to gain experience in science education.

  • Additional Information


    1. Jacque B, et al., (2013). The Great Diseases Project: A partnership between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools to bring cutting edge biomedical sciences into the high school classroom. Acad. Med. 88: 620-625. PMCID: PMC4281152.
    2. Meiri KF, Jacque B, and Wyss JM. (2013) Putting Health Science into Health Education. Science. 341(6142): p. 128. DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6142.128-a. PMID: 23846889.
    3. Malanson K, Jacque B, and Meiri, KF. (2014) Modeling for Fidelity: Virtual mentorship by scientists fosters teacher self-efficacy and promotes implementation of novel high school biomedical curricula. PloS One. 9(12): e114929. PMCID: 4281152. Epub 2014 Dec 31.
    4. Jacque B, Koch-Weser S, Faux R, and Meiri KF. (2016). Addressing health literacy challenges with a cutting-edge Infectious Disease curriculum for the high school biology classroom. Health Education and Behavior 2016 Feb;43(1):43–53. doi: 10.1177/1090198115596163. Epub 2015 Jul 20.

Project Photos

Project Audience

High school biology and health science teachers; graduate students; high school students

Subjects Addressed

Infectious disease, metabolic disease. neurological disorders, cancer, decoding primary biomedical literature

Associated SEPA Project(s)

Associated Educational Resources

Associated SEPA News