Nearly half the US population are functionally health illiterate – unable to articulate their healthcare needs or to understand how to obtain and use optimal services – with huge social and economic consequences. We believe that engaging students in 21st century health sciences while they are still in high school is a critical first step for promoting the health literacy that will enable them to make informed decisions as adults. Incorporating health sciences into a rigorous life science curriculum, where they are rarely found today, will reap additional benefits – health and disease are inherently relevant to students’ lives, so we reason that seeing the science behind their real world experiences mirrored in the classroom will also foster deep engagement with life sciences, thereby priming the pipeline of future biomedical researchers and health-care professionals. We therefore set out to develop a rigorous high school biomedical/health science curriculum.
Our initial challenge was to overcome the institutional segregation between biomedical scientists who are content experts but who rarely interact with high school teachers or their students, and teachers who are pedagogy experts but who are rarely trained in biomedical science. Through support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) we have built a collaborative learning community whose members are scientists from Tufts Medical School in Boston and teachers from the Boston Public Schools. In partnership we are designing and building a comprehensive, inquiry-based modular curriculum targeted to 10th – 12th grade Biology students. Focused on the ’Great Diseases’ that impact global health, six week modules on Infectious Disease, Neurological Disorders, Metabolic Disease, and Cancer challenge students to think critically and to participate in active discussion and problem solving about 21st century health science topics. The modules are aligned with the new frameworks for science education.
After each module has been developed, piloted, revised and evaluated we distribute it to teachers outside the partnership. We realize that supporting teachers as they introduce novel material into their classrooms is critical, and therefore we provide two levels of mentorship: The downloadable materials available on this website comprise a comprehensive set of vetted and evaluated resources for both teacher and student. Teacher resources include a teacher text for thorough background preparation, complete plans for each lesson including an embedded narrative to guide classroom discussions, power points, video clips, readings and assessments. Student resources comprise workbooks that accompany each lesson and a website that contains additional readings and blog capabilities for questions and answers.
The second level of mentorship comprises real-time structured tutorials, in which each piloting teacher is paired with a Tufts content specialist who answers their content questions and provides help in translating this novel material into the classroom and modifying it for their specific students, providing teachers with confidence in their implementation. It is because this implementation is so critical to student success that we ask any teacher interested in using our curriculum to contact us first (rather than just download the material). That way we can help make the process go as smoothly as possible.
In this way our collaboration has allowed us to couple curriculum and professional development, producing both novel curricula and the teachers prepared to teach it.