Expanding and Sustaining Hands-on Science in K-12 Classrooms using Tetrahymena

Principal Investigator: Theodore Clark

Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Sponsor: NIH-National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Grant Number: 1R25GM142070-01
Title: Expanding and Sustaining Hands-on Science in K-12 Classrooms using Tetrahymena
Project Amount: $267,671
Project Period: May 2021 to February 2022

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): 

This proposal builds on an existing infrastructure of the ASSET program (Advancing Secondary Science Education through Tetrahymena), to generate new teaching materials, reach new student populations, and ensure sustainability of the program by transitioning its overall functions from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York to Washington University in St. Louis. Over the past 10 years, ASSET has built a highly successful SEPA program that teaches core biology content to primary, middle, and high school students using a safe, easily grown, and behaviorally complex single-celled organism (viz. Tetrahymena). Tetrahymena provides an ideal platform for teaching basic principles of cell structure and function, genetics, evolution, sex, prey-predator interaction, cell signaling, etc. without engendering in students any of the conflicting reactions often evoked using live vertebrate animals. Additionally, Tetrahymena offers a graphic illustration of the deleterious effects of toxic and/or addictive substances on living cells in real-time, equipping teachers with a powerful tool with which to fight against substance abuse and promote healthy behavior. ASSET provides stand-alone laboratory kits that are easily integrated into existing science/health curricula, along with innovative co-curricular modules that address the intersection between science and society. The program helps science teachers educate students in under-resourced schools in rural and inner-city school districts, provides robust on-site and distance teacher development activities, while continuously being evaluated for pedagogical effectiveness. This new proposal will greatly expand the program’s current offerings by introducing new materials to existing modules, as well as new modules that address recently identified areas of high programmatic interest to SEPA, specifically, embedding math in P-8 teaching projects; exposing students to research-generated data; and, training students in informatics, bioinformatics, and data science. The Co-Directors have extensive experience teaching bioinformatics and helping students interpret research-driven data, while curriculum specialists at Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership are well-positioned to evaluate existing modules to identify opportunities to teach mathematical concepts using examples from biology and student generated data at grade appropriate levels. Finally, the move from Cornell to Washington University addresses an additional area of programmatic interest for SEPA, namely, adapting successful SEPA programs to new areas or with new populations. Through its Institute for School Partnership, Washington University is strongly committed to achieving equity in K-12 education bringing high-quality STEM teaching to >100,000 students in the Midwest through its various teaching programs. Incorporating the ASSET program under its umbrella expands its current activities, introduces ASSET to whole new populations of students, and provides ASSET a safe haven for continuing its long-term mission to enhance STEM education and, ultimately, the STEM workforce.