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Information for Interested Teachers

Information For Interested Teachers

Overview: The WSSP is a yearlong program that engages high school biology teachers and their students in a challenging scientific research investigation.  The philosophy of our program has always been that “students learn science best by doing science.”  To this end, we work with teachers and their students to carry out authentic inquiry-based activities in the fields of molecular biology and bioinformatics using a combination of “wet” laboratory experiments and computational technology in the high school classroom.  We define “authentic research” as work on a scientific problem with an unknown answer, which is open-ended, ongoing, is of interest to the scientific community, and generates publishable data. We have developed a research project (Link to research project page for teachers) in which high school students use many of the same tools and techniques that are currently being utilized by practicing scientists. In performing these projects students gain an understanding about how experiments are conducted, how their outcomes are analyzed, and in general, how knowledge in the biological sciences advances.  This kind of project promotes student inquiry. As a result, students directly participate in the scientific enterprise by making genuine contributions to the scientific community, thereby encouraging them to pursue STEM careers.

Participation in the WSSP for new teachers begins with a two-week summer Institute in July and continues back at their school throughout the academic year.

Summer Institutes: New teachers are required to attend a two or three-week summer Institute at the start of the first year that they are involved in the program.  The summer Institutes provide teachers with the background content and experience to conduct the research project back at their high schools during the academic year.  WSSP faculty and staff at each summer Institute location present a series of daily seminars on bioinformatics and molecular biology. They also supervise the laboratory activities. Teachers work in the laboratory, learning the research techniques essential for the project and how to trouble shoot challenges they may encounter at their school during the academic year. Additional activities focus on career opportunities for students, and ethical and social issues in the biological sciences. Teachers also participate in professional development workshops led by science educators and experienced teachers in the WSSP, in which they discuss their practical experiences with integrating scientific research into existing high school curricula.  Teachers are encouraged to attend the summer Institutes at the beginning of their second and third year in the program to reinforce the concepts and gain further experience in conducting the research project.  In addition, the extended interaction provides opportunities for networking, sharing experiences, learning new techniques, and modeling instruction.  The 2017 Summer Institute based at the Waksman Institute, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ will be held 7/5/17 to 7/21/17.  

Although new teachers can participate in the summer Institutes on their own, many attend with one or two students from their schools that apply to the program. These students learn the concepts and laboratory techniques required to conduct molecular biology and bioinformatic research, while gaining leadership, communication, and presentation skills.  Many of the teachers involved in the program have commented on the important roles that students who attend the summer Institutes have during the academic year.  These students often serve the function of teaching assistants, helping the teachers set up the laboratories and mentoring the other students.  The teachers have reported that this experience has helped the summer Institute students develop into leaders and further increased their interests in science.

Teachers and students attending the summer Institutes will be provided with copies and access to all of materials needed to learn and conduct the research project. The summer Institutes are currently supported through a grant from the National Science Foundation. Teachers will receive a stipend for attending the summer Institute and there are no costs for students participating in the program.  A competitive application process is used to select teachers and students. 

Contact Sue Coletta for the 2017 WSSP Applications.  Application deadline is March 27, 2017.  

Academic Year Activities: While the summer Institutes serve an important role in providing teachers and a few of their students with the background content and practice in conducting the experiments, the continuation of the project throughout the academic year plays a key role in expanding the number of students can participate in the project.  Commitments from the teacher and their school to conduct the project during the academic year are therefore essential for participation in the summer Institutes.

Teachers begin each academic year by recruiting additional students to participate in the project in either a class or club setting.  Teachers then introduce the basic concepts in bioinformatics and molecular biology, taking advantage of resources that we have developed, including lecture and laboratory notes, video tutorials, slide presentations, games, and associated problem sets and quizzes. Students perform a series of integrated molecular biology experiments on DNA samples in the laboratory and then analyze the gene sequences using the same online bioinformatic programs used by research scientists. The students’ analyses can then be published on the DNA sequence databases at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) after they are vetted by their teachers and program staff.  Both the molecular biology and bioinformatic components require the students to develop critical thinking skills to analyze their data.  Each student’s data is unique. Therefore students can learn the general concepts of the analysis together but individually apply this knowledge to their specific findings.

Depending on their needs and resources, teachers have the flexibility of conducting all or part of the WSSP research project.  For example, they have the option of conducting only the bioinformatics component of the project, which just requires a computer with internet access.  If time, laboratory space, and equipment (link to equipment page) are available, teachers may chose to conduct different modules of the molecular biology laboratory experiments (link to Lab modules page).  

Teachers and schools are also flexible in the context they decide to conduct the research project.  For example, some teachers have chosen to incorporate the research project into an existing class, such as Honors or AP Biology, or as the basis for a research course.   Other teachers offer the project in the context of an after-school club.  Schools conducting the project have had as few as four and as many as 120 students participate in the research project.  

Similar to what occurs at scientific meetings, academic year follow-up meetings are conducted at the summer Institute locations to provide opportunities for students to report their progress on the project. These meetings are important because there is an open exchange of ideas where the students, teachers, and staff work together to solve similar challenges that occur at the different schools. Students also gain experience in presenting their work and defending their conclusions in front of their peers, teachers, and program faculty, skills that are important for STEM careers.

The following are the requirements for Schools, Teachers and Students who want to participate in the program.  

Requirements for Schools participating in the WSSP program:

  • Schools agree to provide teachers with facilities and a secure work area so that their students can conduct the research during the academic year.
  • Schools agree to support the research by providing direct, ready access to computers and communications technology, including communications software and Internet access.
  • Schools are encouraged to support the work of their teachers and students by offering a research course or an official club in conjunction with the project during the academic year.

Requirements for Teachers participating in the WSSP program:

  • Teachers from schools that are new to the program must attend one of the summer Institutes to learn the background material and experimental procedures
  • During the academic year teachers must arrange and supervise the laboratory experiments conducted by the students
  • Teachers agree to review their students’ laboratory work and bioinformatic analyses.
  • Teachers must participate with their students in academic year follow up meetings.

Requirements for Students participating in a summer Institute:

  • Students must be from a school that has committed to conducting the program and has identified a teacher that will attend the summer Institute and coordinate the project during the academic year.
  • Students must have completed at least one course of high school biology.
  • Students must be entering the 10th, 11th or 12 grade for the next academic year.
  • Students must commit to attend each day of the full two-week summer Institute.
  • Students attending the summer Institutes are expected to participate in the academic year part of the program at their high schools, acting as leaders in their class or club.