Drugs, Drug Targets and You is a multi-faceted project aimed at engaging high school students in an active exploration of the molecular basis of drug use and its consequences on their bodies. Through the use of a variety of innovative, student-centered instructional tools, the project will engage students in an active investigation o how drugs - small molecules with defined 3D shapes - bind to specific active sites on target proteins to modify their normal function in the neurotransmission of signals that control our every thought and action. To insure the usefulness of these instructional tools in high school classrooms, we use a backwards design process in which (i) carefully articulated learning goals drive the development of each instructional tool, and (ii) each learning goal is explicitly tied toa fundamental, foundational concept in the life sciences. As a result, students using these materials become actively engaged in constructing their own knowledge of the molecular consequences of drug use, as they layer this understanding onto foundational concepts of chemistry and physics. This project will complement and enhance currently existing instructional materials by drawing students into an active exploration of the topic using student-centered instructional tools, including: (i) physical models of drugs and the proteins to which they bind (created by 3D printing technologies), (ii) hands-on construction kits in which students create a model of a synapse or the action potential generated in a neuron and (iii) unique cellular landscapes that present these drug target proteins in their cellular context, and transition students'thinking from the macroscopic - to the cellular - to the molecular level. The use of these unique visual and tactile instructional tools then leads to the use of interactive computer-based visualization tools that build upon the initial concepts established with the hands-on tools, and allow for the exploration of more sophisticated concepts in the computer environment. We will study the impact of this molecular approach to drug abuse education using a quasi-experimental study design in which two matched cohorts of high school teachers are trained to use the materials in their classrooms. Finally, in the later stages of this project, we will engage 9,000 high school students in 48 states in a consideration of the molecular consequences of drug use as they participate in a Protein Modeling event as part of the national Science Olympiad competition.
Drug use among today's high school students continues to be a serious problem that threatens this country's economic viability. Drugs, Drug Targets and You is a project that engages students in an active exploration of the molecular consequences of drug use on their bodies, through the use of innovative, student-centered instructional tools --- including tactile, physical models of drugs and the proteins they target.