AM Rounds

Beyond the pages of Academic Medicine, journal of the AAMC


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The Great Diseases Project: NIH or NSF – Who’s Got the Money and the Mandate?

Editor’s Note: The following post is the final part of a series on “The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools,” in which AM Rounds asked a few of the projects’ participants to share their thoughts and impressions on the collaboration.

By Karina Meiri, PhD, Professor of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Director, Center for Translational Science Edication, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA.

We were so excited to see news about our paper in Academic Medicine; within a couple of days, school districts around the country began contacting us about using our curriculum. We were particularly delighted because the fundable score on our National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) proposal would take the project to the next level – national dissemination using our graduate student and post-doc team to mentor teachers in the best way to implement this challenging new material in their classrooms.  The districts contacting us would begin this process, and maybe even start a legitimate career opportunity for PhDs who didn’t want a life at the bench but loved education. If even a few of the 100,000 new science teachers President Obama was proposing were already scientific experts trained in curriculum development, they could provide on-the-job support for teachers already in classrooms and hungry to learn about up-to-date health science.

And then the other shoe dropped. Grantees of our program, run by the Office of the NIH Director, were invited to a conference call. We were optimistic – the new K-12 science standards had effective health education up-front and center on the very first page of the rationale for why new standards were necessary in the first place. Was NIH planning to increase its commitment to health science education? Not so fast. The Deputy Director told us that NIH is pulling out of K-12 health education altogether. The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), getting a jump on the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s report and the President’s 2014 budget call to consolidate K-12 STEM education programs, is ceding NIH’s STEM programs to National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian. All funding would ‘pause’ while the logistics were worked out: This means axing all recently awarded grants and cutting off non-competitive renewals after 2013. To put this sequester windfall in perspective, these programs cost NIH about 0.001% of its budget, not much more than a single clinical trial.

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Behind the Scenes of the Great Diseases Project: Part V

Editor’s Note: The following post is the fifth part of a series on “The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools,” in which AM Rounds asked a few of the projects’ participants to share their thoughts and impressions on the collaboration.

Eugene Roundtree, MEd (principal piloting teacher and a teacher, Madison Park Technical and Vocational High School, Boston, Massachusetts):

I participated in this project because I wanted my vocational high school students to have an opportunity to learn in more depth about subjects they might have some familiarity with from their Biology I classes. The high-stakes testing environment creates tension between covering the wide range of topic areas in the state standards and exploring those topics deeply and in a way that engages students.  The Great Diseases Project provides meaningful opportunities for students to explore Biology content in new and exciting ways. Investigating these topics in more depth allows students to leverage their prior knowledge while learning new concepts and vocabulary. Teachers are under pressure to cover everything, and students are under pressure to learn the wide range concepts and vocabulary that they will be tested on. I participate in the partnership because I want to make sure that the curriculum utilizes multiple instructional approaches that my students engage with, make learning itself a collaborative experience. Like Aimee, I think teachers need support when they’re bringing on board new curricula, and I’ve valued having a hand in deciding what instructional support around the underlying science and the pedagogy is needed to deliver each lesson in the classroom.


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Behind the Scenes of the Great Diseases Project: Part IV

Editor’s Note: The following post is the fourth part of a series on “The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools,” in which AM Rounds asked a few of the projects’ participants to share their thoughts and impressions on the collaboration.

Aimee Gauthier, MEd (principal piloting teacher, Boston Latin School, Boston, Massachusetts and Massachusetts Biology Teacher of the Year 2012):

As the teacher in charge of piloting the first iteration of each of the modules, I stand between everyone’s great ideas and how well they go over in the classroom! I think it’s a tribute to how thoroughly the partnership was planned and is organized that things have gone so smoothly. All the nuts and bolts of the curriculum – teacher guides, materials and narrative are in place before I start, and they’re easy to use. Most importantly my Tufts mentors are always available for consultation via face-to-face meetings, phone email, and most conveniently Gchat. This means that I can check in any time and make sure everything is in order before each lesson. Of course, there are always challenges – most often timing – lessons that look so good on paper often take much longer in the classroom, and sometimes we need to tweak the flow and objectives, and make sure one is well connected to the next. But over the years of working with colleagues from all over the city we’ve achieved a very efficient working model.  I took part in the project because I wanted to participate in building a cohesive Biology II curriculum inspired by current research.  I’m most happy when I see my students so engaged in learning and full of ideas. I’m gratified by their consistent learning gains too.


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Behind the Scenes of the Great Diseases Project: Part III

Editor’s Note: The following post is the third part of a series on “The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools,” in which AM Rounds asked a few of the projects’ participants to share their thoughts and impressions on the collaboration.

Berri Jacque, PhD (First author and  research assistant professor, Great Diseases Project, and codirector, Center for Translational Science Education, Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts):

Education has always been a priority for me, and as a graduate student I always sought opportunities to teach. So when the Great Diseases project advertised for grad students and post docs to participate in developing the first module on Infectious Disease, I jumped at the opportunity. It became clear to me early on that the program fills a big unmet need in the science and health literacy field. Federal policy initiatives such as the Affordable Care act recognize that improving health literacy is crucial and apply two principal approaches – either refining the process of delivering information patients, or health education. Both approaches have focused on adults – but what about students – especially high school students who are essentially a captive audience? NIH has begun to prioritize interventions designed to improve health education at the high school level.  But where can this important material fit into the already packed curriculum and who has the expertise to teach it?  I think the clear answer is to bring health sciences to the biology classroom, and the only way to do this is through interdisciplinary partnerships with scientists, clinicians, and educators. Because of this I did a post-doc with the Great Diseases Program and am now focusing my own research on designing and implementing these kinds of health literacy interventions.


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Behind the Scenes of the Great Diseases Project: Part II

Editor’s Note: The following post is the second part of a series on “The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools,” in which AM Rounds asked a few of the projects’ participants to share their thoughts and impressions on the collaboration.

Kathleen Bateman, MEd, (Great Diseases Project,Co- P.I., and director of science and math, Boston Latin School, Boston, Massachusetts):

It was clear from my own past experiences as a biotech professional that the K-12 notion of authentic science practice is often far from the mark. My goal for this project was to bring the students not only the most relevant scientific content but also twenty-first century skills in interpreting, analyzing and communicating that content verbally and in writing.  I was confident that the Tufts partners could bring the content piece, but I also knew that there are elements of the high school classroom they had absolutely no experience with. For this to work the teachers would need to be equal partners, because only they knew how implementing relevant, necessary and engaging content would be accomplished. I’m gratified at how it has developed. The partnership has really been one of mutual respect and support. Tufts faculty, post docs and grad students have participated to teach the novel content to the BPS teachers and the BPS teachers, in turn, have shown them what it means to teach developing adolescents and why the traditional lecture is not always the most effective practice. This is a rare partnership in which both collaborators have pushed the other beyond their comfort zone, and the ultimate winners are the students. I look forward to bringing this project to completion and where we, and Tufts, will go next.


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Behind the Scenes of the Great Diseases Project: Part I

Editor’s Note: The following post is the first part of a series on “The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools,” in which AM Rounds asked a few of the projects’ participants to share their thoughts and impressions on the collaboration.

Karina Meiri, PhD, (Great Diseases Project, P.I.):

I came to this collaboration after a very successful outreach experience – over 8 years we paired more than 350 high school students with mentors in local universities to do science projects. We produced the state fair winner each year as well as 3 Intel winners, including the overall Intel winner in 2009! That experience made 2 things clear – first, that we were only reaching kids who were already hooked on science, and more importantly, we weren’t involving their teachers, so there was zero impact on the classroom.  So Kathleen and I decided to try a formal intervention. It was clear to both of us that to really impact the curriculum, we needed a real partnership – not the usual model of university researchers dictating terms. The trust we had built up stood us in good stead, but when we approached the Boston Public Schools for formal approval they had more criteria – we proposed making a 2nd level Biology curriculum focused on diseases, but they needed to make sure it was accessible to all the schools in the district. They suggested constructing a collaborative learning community with teachers from Boston Latin (the elite college prep school) and the Vocational high school. Together they covered a lot of pedagogical bases. Remarkably the partnership endures into our 5th year -  we’ve lost a couple to retirement and grad. school but the core group remains.


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Sneak Peek from the May issue

Next week, Academic Medicine will post the published ahead-of-print articles from the May 2013 issue. To tide you over until then, here’s a preview of an article from Berri Jacque, PhD and colleagues:

The Great Diseases Project: A Partnership Between Tufts Medical School and the Boston Public Schools

Berri Jacque, PhD, Katherine Malanson, PhD, Kathleen Bateman, MEd, Bob Akeson, MEd, Amanda Cail, MEd, Chris Doss, MEd, Matt Dugan, MEd, Brandon Finegold, MEd, Aimee Gauthier, MEd, Mike Galego, MEd, Eugene Roundtree, MEd, Lawrence Spezzano, MEd, and Karina F. Meiri, PhD

Abstract

Medical schools, although the gatekeepers of much biomedical education and research, rarely engage formally with K–12 educators to influence curriculum content or professional development. This segregation of content experts from teachers creates a knowledge gap that limits inclusion of current biomedical science into high school curricula, affecting both public health literacy and the biomedical pipeline. The authors describe how, in 2009, scientists from Tufts Medical School and Boston public school teachers established a partnership of formal scholarly dialogue to create 11th- to 12th-grade high school curricula about critical health-related concepts, with the goal of increasing scientific literacy and influencing health-related decisions. The curricula are based on the great diseases (infectious diseases, neurological disorders, metabolic disease, and cancer). Unlike most health science curricular interventions that provide circumscribed activities, the curricula are comprehensive, each filling one full term of in-class learning and providing extensive real-time support for the teacher. In this article, the authors describe how they developed and implemented the infectious disease curriculum, and its impacts. The high school teachers and students showed robust gains in content knowledge and critical thinking skills, whereas the Tufts scientists increased their pedagogical knowledge and appreciation for health-related science communication. The results show how formal interactions between medical schools and K–12 educators can be mutually beneficial.

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