Fostering Undergraduate Biology Student Engagement in Local High-School Biology Classrooms (Lead PI: Audrey Shor)

Fostering Undergraduate Biology Student Engagement in Local High-School Biology Classrooms

Students Reached:  28 high school students led by 19 undergraduate biology majors
Lead Researchers: Dr. Ann Williams, University of Tampa, and Dr. Audrey Shor, Saint Leo University
Lead Teacher: Ms. Denise Dennison,Wharton High School

Dr. Ann Williams of the University of Tampa and Dr. Audrey Shor of Saint Leo University trained undergraduate biology majors to lead hands-on, experiment driven modules for high school biology students. Ms. Denise Dennsion of Wharton High School taught the AP Biology class where the high school students learned from these undergraduates, and was critical in ensuring that the material was appropriate for this age group. All the material within these modules was designed to align with the Florida science learning objectives and to accommodate standard testing schedules.

The group from Saint Leo designed a module on molecular biology that was presented to the AP Biology class over two days during the spring semester of the 2013-2014 academic year, followed immediately by the module on microbiology designed by the group from the University of Tampa. Both modules focused on Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic plague, to make the lessons cohesive. The molecular biology module used the story of the PLA protease, the key virulence factor from Yersinia pestis, to cover the concepts of chemical bonds, transcription, translation, and protein structure. Students built 3D models of PLA and compared it to the structures of other proteins. The module on microbiology was presented the following two days. To build on the topics covered previously, this module addressed which bacteria cause illness, how to identify these bacteria, and how infections can be treated with antibiotics. The high school students performed experiments culturing bacteria in the presence or absence of antibiotics to further understand these concepts. On the fifth day, students from both university groups presented concepts and activities that connected to both previous modules to show how these fields are related.

Ms. Dennison mediated interactions between the undergraduate and high school students, helped the undergraduate students and Drs. Williams and Shor design the molecular biology and microbiology modules, and designed and administered the assessments needed to show the effects of this program. These assessments showed that the vast majority of students enjoyed the program and thought it was beneficial, at least 20% of the high school students gained a better understanding of the topics covered as assessed by testing, and the average AP exam score of this class increased by 15%. Of the 48 total students involved, 31 were from groups historically underrepresented in STEM careers and at least 17 (36%) of the students were from low-income households.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used to purchase the equipment needed for experiments culturing bacteria and the pieces needed to build 3D molecular models of PLA. The organizers plan to continue this program and to expand to more classrooms if they obtain sufficient funding. The undergraduate students from Saint Leo University presented this project at the ASBMB Annual Meeting in 2015.

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 Images capturing the students engaged in protein modeling and group work.