Mentored Dissemination of a Model Curriculum About Infectious Disease
The goal of this project is to evaluate and refine a comprehensive training and support program to bring the Infectious Diseases (ID) curriculum of The Great Diseases Project to more schools around the country. There are many sources of ID material targeted for high school classrooms, much of it high quality, but the quality of the material is not in itself sufficient to ensure it will be successfully implemented in the classroom. Teachers need to have confidence in their understanding of the content, especially when it is novel; no matter how high quality the curriculum materials are they will not be implemented successfully unless the teacher has adequate support. This is especially crucial when the content encompasses complex topics, in our case ID information, that many teachers lack previous in-depth exposure to.
Teacher support for ID is often non-existent – it currently occupies such a small part of the high school curriculum that one of the most widely used high school texts devotes only ¾ of one of its 40 chapters to both IDs and the immune system, leaving it up to the teacher to weave this information into lessons. Most available materials also lack a clear conceptual framework and assume a significant amount of background knowledge. We asked our teacher partners how likely they would be to use these activities they all answered “Highly unlikely” or “Somewhat unlikely” giving as a reason “I just don’t have the time to go and look around for additional information if its not all there”.
Since this struggle is a key hurdle to implementation we focused considerable effort on understanding how to mitigate it. In doing so we developed the ‘Modeling for Fidelity’ approach. This involves assigning teachers to individual Tufts content experts and master teacher mentors who have experience in teaching the material. Using video conferencing, the teacher mentor interactions can take place at the teacher’s convenience and support can be customize/ individualized. This ensures that the support process has maximal benefit and efficiency for the teacher partner. The mentors are also available for ‘just-in-time’ consultation so teachers can query them as needed until they actually begin the lesson, and then de-brief after the lesson is over. For example, one teacher piloting the curriculum found her students were struggling with the concept of viral replication because their understanding of molecular dogma was inadequate. The teacher quickly worked with her mentor to put together a review ‘just in time’ for the next lesson.
All successful teachers adapt materials for their classrooms, which is why one of the mentor’s roles is to support teacher’s differentiation of lessons. However, this makes evaluating the fidelity of implementation (FOI) complex given that we expect the curriculum of each classroom to be personalized. To evaluate FOI while accounting for lesson adaption we measure a range of teacher and student outcomes. These measures include: how the teachers utilize the educative curricular materials we have developed in support of the curriculum, how the teacher organizes and presents the lessons, how the teacher interacts with the students, and how the students themselves interact with the material, their teacher and each other.