Capturing the attention of middle or high school students during science class can be difficult, but recipients of NIAID’s Science Education Awards are meeting this challenge with innovative teaching tools that are compelling for teenagers and complementary for science instructors. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) of 2009 also is pitching in, enabling NIAID to increase its funding for the further development of these tools, which promise to help groom the next generation of scientists and their teachers.
NIAID initiated its Science Education Awards program in 2005 with a grant to Leslie Miller, Ph.D., at Rice University in Houston, TX. Her team developed a free, Web-based game called MedMyst—short for Medical Mysteries—intended to make learning about infectious diseases engaging for middle school students. The game contains five missions. In each, players join a medical team that must control the spread of diseases, such as malaria, cholera, and smallpox, using the latest techniques in virtual labs.
“The MedMyst game challenges students’ reasoning, critical thinking, and technical reading abilities in a fun and engaging way,” says Lynn Gilbert, a seventh-grade life sciences teacher from Loveland, CO, who has used the game instead of a textbook to teach her students about bacteria and viruses.
Because of the success of MedMyst, NIAID decided to use some of its Recovery Act monies to supplement support for the science education program, which was renewed and expanded to four awards in 2009. Dr. Miller’s MedMyst development group received one of these new awards and is developing the next generation of the game, called MedMyst Reloaded. In this new version, which is slated for release in early 2011, players select one of three career paths—epidemiology, microbiology, or veterinary medicine—and learn what role that career has in solving an outbreak of an unknown disease.
“Interactive games and simulations are being used in business, military, and healthcare settings, so it is only logical that schools should also benefit from this new way of learning,” says Dr. Miller.
Melanie Stegman, Ph.D., at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, DC, received NIAID and Recovery Act funding to develop the online game Immune Attack, which teaches students about cell biology and immunology. Players navigate a nanobot—a miniature spaceship the size of a cell—through the blood vessels and connective tissue of a person with an infection. The object is to help the immune cells fight the infection and save the patient.
“This is a problem-solving game where players must decide if inhibiting a protein or copying a gene will restore health,” says Dr. Stegman. “After playing it, kids have a better sense of why it’s important that their immune cells work, while gaining a personal interest in the cell biology concepts they learn about in class.”
Version 2.0 of Immune Attack will be available at the beginning of 2011 and will incorporate the role of the adaptive immune system in fighting infection.
Nancy Moreno, Ph.D., from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Educational Outreach in Houston, TX, is using her Recovery Act award to develop an after-school curriculum on infectious diseases for students in grades 6 through 8. The complete Web-based curriculum will be available free of charge at BioEd Online.
“The materials could benefit undergraduate faculty and parents who home-school their children as well,” says Dr. Moreno. “We also work with Hoppa Mountain, which assists rural and Native American tribal leaders, to provide curriculum for underserved populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Great Plains.”
BioEd Online offers teachers’ guides, podcasts, lecture series, and demonstration workshops. Units currently available include those on heart and circulation, sleep, and muscles and bones. Under development are lessons on heredity and evolution.
NIAID and Recovery Act funding has allowed Samuel Silverstein, M.D., at Columbia University in New York City to expand the Columbia University Summer Research Program for Science Teachers to include three pilot programs at National Jewish Health in Denver, CO; University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Houston, TX; and Stanford University in Stanford, CA.
Secondary education science teachers selected for the program devote two consecutive summers to work in NIAID-funded immunology and infectious diseases labs. Under the mentorship of faculty, they learn research techniques and perform experiments. One day each week is used for professional development exercises, including faculty-led seminars, science museum visits, demonstration lessons, and teacher-led research presentations.
“Columbia's Summer Research Program was a great eye opener for me,” says Leela Raj, a participant in the 2010 program and teacher from Jonathan Levine High School for Media and Communications in the Bronx, NY. “It gave me the opportunity to conduct real research in a lab and increased my school's appreciation toward me and my work.”
“Engaging teachers in laboratory research gives them the confidence needed to implement hands-on science activities in their classes,” says Dr. Silverstein. “Students who participate in these hands-on activities achieve a much better grasp of science concepts and exhibit a higher level of academic performance in course assessments.”
Through projects like these, students can gain a better appreciation of what it means to be a scientist, which could motivate them to pursue science careers. For science teachers, NIAID’s Science Education Awards program provides valuable resources to help them engage and inspire their students. And because many of the materials are freely available online, they have the potential to reach classrooms and future scientists in all corners of the world.
Join the MedMyst team or navigate the Immune Attack nanobot.
Download the lessons from BioEd Online. Lessons for younger students are available on K8 Science.
Information on the Columbia University teachers’ program is available at Summer Research Program for Science Teachers.
Last Updated September 02, 2010
Last Reviewed August 27, 2010