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Great Diseases Project

How We Began | Great Diseases Project | Current Impact | Where We’re Headed


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In response the Center changed course and in 2009 proposed a project to the Science and Education Partnership Program at the National Institutes of Health to partner with teachers in developing and implementing a biology curriculum focused on health science-related topics inherently interesting to high school students. We predicted that once we had their attention, students would become engaged in learning and their scientific knowledge and critical thinking abilities would improve in concert, developing skills that would allow them to use 21st century knowledge manage their own health. The proposal was funded (2009-2014). The curriculum would be innovative both because of its subject matter – called “The Great Diseases” it focuses on health issues of global significance – and because of how it is designed.

We established a collaborative learning community with teachers from the Boston Public Schools and Biomedical Scientists from Tufts University School of Medicine, each partner contributing their own talents: Teachers bringing expertise in diverse pedagogical techniques while Tufts partners bringing their content knowledge about biomedical and health science and deep understanding of authentic scientific practice – a key element in the Next Generation Science Standards. The collaborative is designing a year – long curriculum in 4 modules, of which 3 (Infectious, Neurological and Metabolic diseases) have been completed and evaluated. The final module, Cancer, has been written and is currently being piloted. It will be available in fall 2014. The modules are focused on current issues in biomedical science, health and disease. They are built around Socratic discussion and use diverse, differentiated, pedagogical approaches designed for different styles of learners, enabling students to actively participate in authentic inquiry-based activities. We provide teachers with a comprehensive narrative that allows them to visualize and model the classroom discussions, as well as a complete set of lesson plans and materials.

The curriculum represents a departure from how health is normally taught in the high school classroom. Usually approached from a behavior modification perspective, it rarely focuses on incorporating current advances in biomedical research into health management. Yet in the 21st century, a science and health literate citizenry will need to know what these advances mean for their own health care management. Where better to teach these issues than in the high school science classroom – to students already intensely interested in their own health?

Since much of the curriculum involves content teachers are unlikely to be familiar with, the Center has also developed a novel professional development program called “Modeling for Fidelity” that pairs each teacher with a content expert mentor. Teachers participating in the program in advance of piloting the curriculum in their classroom are welcomed as partners, since their deep and unique understanding of how their own students need to learn is a vital component for success. The partnership allows each teacher and mentor to develop a relationship that not provides personalized in-depth content knowledge tuition, but also allows for ‘just in time’ interventions that both address teacher practice and uncover misconceptions before they reach the classroom.

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