Need: Genetics and genomic technologies are aiding a deeper understanding of life processes and helping address issues concerning agriculture, food production, human health, and ecology. Gene editing technologies based on CRISPR-Cas system have become part of the mainstream in the life science research environment. They are impacting human lives in many ways. Consequently, there are ethical, legal, and social impacts of these technologies. A clear understanding of the science and technology of gene editing will be useful to, and potentially important for, everyone in the society. An introduction to gene editing technologies at the high school and college level would not only be engaging to students but also give them a much-needed context, as they begin to actively participate in society and pursue careers employing genetic technologies. The current project aims to develop a pathway to increase curricular content knowledge and practical, hands-on research skills for high school teachers and basic science undergraduate students to introduce them to the foundations and advances in CRISPR-Cas technologies. Further, the project focuses on empowering them to create engaging and relevant high school classroom modules and provide support for effective implementation of those modules.
The guiding questions for this project are – (a) what kind of content and structure (conceptual knowledge and hands-on skills) will be effective, and (b) how professional development of high school science teachers alongside pre-service teachers and undergraduate researchers can likely create a strong cohort that can collaborate to develop and implement appropriate high school classroom modules for engaged learning of genetics and genomic technologies amongst students.
Outcomes: The project that began in late 2020 has thus far designed a course and has been successfully offered once in the summer of 2021. The course was taken by a cohort of 10 individuals that included in-service teachers, pre-service teachers, and undergraduate researchers. There were several outcomes of the course that saw an active participation of the students – (a) rigorous hands-on laboratory training in basic molecular genetics, (b) in-class discussions on how to create pedagogically sound high school classrooms, (c) course student engagement with high school volunteers for public engagement at the local science museum. At the end of the first year, course participants were able to mentor 12-15 high school students, who in turn shared their newly acquired knowledge of gene editing technologies with the public at large (including elementary and middle school level children) at a local science museum.
Broader Impacts: The project is working towards achieving a continuum of skill building and knowledge flow from the high school through the college by enabling 45 STEM high school teachers and 30 basic (undergraduate) researchers to gain some level of understanding and expertise with gene editing, and the issues it creates at the interface of science and society. We anticipate that the program will reach about 5,000 high school students and give impetus to undergraduate researchers to pursue STEM research careers while supporting high level biology education in high schools throughout their careers.
Anil Kumar Challa, University of Alabama at Birmingham; James Michael Wyss, University of Alabama at Birmingham