In 2014 many US adults lack key competencies in thinking analytically, evaluating and solving STEM-related problems, hence many STEM jobs particularly in life sciences and health go unfilled and more than 45% of the US population particularly from underserved communities, cannot manage their health care effectively. High school, where entire cohorts of the US population gather to learn together for the last time, is an obvious venue in which to develop these capacities. In response we partnered with teachers to develop a curriculum `The Great Diseases' for 10th-12th graders that targets these skills. No curriculum can be successful unless teachers have the skills to teach it, so we also developed a program in which scientists mentor teachers how to translate the science content of the curriculum into their classrooms. Teacher participants significantly increased student engagement and analytical and problem-solving abilities, and fostered confidence in learning about this kind of material - a critical element of health literacy. Importantly these gains occurred in a large number of diverse schools and were independent of teacher and also the gender and ethnicity of their students. In this project we aim to capitalize on the partnerships and evaluation tools we have already used successfully to create the curriculum and professional development model, to expand the scope of the curriculum by creating new activities more directly focused on the critical thinking skills we want to foster, and by expandin into new target audiences. We will therefore accomplish the following goals: (1) We will promote the analytical skills required for workforce preparation and health care management by developing three extensions to the core GD curriculum that will help teachers: address complex topic; stimulate claims evaluation related to health science research and identify valid new material they can incorporate into lessons to keep their curriculum current. (2) We will expand dissemination of the curriculum to pre-service teachers in collaboration with Bridgewater State University, the major provider of STEM and health education in Massachusetts by developing graduate level courses that will contextualize the content to classroom practice. (3) We will promote dissemination of the curriculum to in-service teachers nationwide by combining the curriculum and mentorship into a web-based course that combines online learning and virtual interactions between teachers and mentors. Then, in collaboration with Teach for America we will provide the course to teachers who work in challenging environments in urban or rural areas. We will evaluate the effectiveness of the program as well as knowledge gains and critical thinking abilities in program participants (teachers and their students). The proposed project is significant because teachers gain the skills to promote STEM competencies in their students, fostering workforce preparation and health literacy. It is innovative because The Great Diseases program provides a model for how medical school scientists can interact with teachers to influence curriculum and teacher development and because the web-based resource promotes nationwide dissemination.
This project is relevant to public health because it is framed by a curriculum that is focused on the real-world impacts of diseases of global significance - infectious disease, neurological disorders, metabolic disease and cancer. The curriculum provides teachers with information about how to teach effectively how these diseases arise, their effects, treatment and key challenges. The lessons help student's master critical health-related subject matter, develop their scientific reasoning skills, and increase their awareness of science and health care careers. This project will thus help participants make better informed decisions involving their health.