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 OUTREACH AND TRAINING

The outreach component of this proposal focuses largely on expanding the science curriculum of Grades 6-12. An understanding and demonstration (in understandable terms) of how biodiversity can be useful goes a long way towards reinforcing the message that biodiversity is important and in need of preservation. In addition, we propose that there are ways to introduce continuous and quantitative variation at the earliest levels of introducing genetics that are neither confusing nor statistically intensive. These early introductions to the material can help students have a clearer understanding of the continuous variation they will encounter repeatedly, both in their continuing educations and in the popular press (for example, with regard to human genetics).

Purdue currently has outreach activities in plant sciences with area schools for Grades 3-4, Grades 6-8 and Grades 9-12, and NCSU has a program established through multiple NSF Plant Genome Research Programs awards to Dr. Ralph Dean (see attached letter). We will build upon these existing infrastructures. This program will have a direct impact on students from underrepresented groups at both levels proposed. Purdue has one of the largest international communities of any university in the U.S. and the local schools all reflect that diversity directly. In addition, schools that we will target through the NCSU program are located in the rural counties around Raleigh, NC and are multiracial (45% percent Caucasian, 40% African American, 9% Hispanic, and 6% Asian or other ethnic group). 

In efforts to expose students in rural counties of North Carolina to the science and technology being pioneered in North Carolina, Dr. Dean and associates created engagement activities that they present in high schools north and east of Raleigh. During the past several years, researchers from their program visited high schools in each of these counties over 20 times presenting their popular DNA Sequencing activity along with discussions on biotechnology and ethics. The response to these visits by students and teachers alike has been overwhelmingly positive. We will work with Dr. Dean to extend the supplemental curriculum they offer.

 BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

We propose two Outreach activities related to our research. The first is a Middle School (grades 6-8) level program demonstrating the value and the usage of genetic diversity using corn as the major example but introducing other species as well. The lower level materials emphasize food, where it comes from and the role plants play in that. The middle school materials add in how the nutritional aspects of plants can be evaluated, introducing the idea of enzyme assays for evaluating starch. The exercise takes varieties that differ in their starch content and demonstrates that starch digestive enzymes are still present even in lines that have little starch. 

Current curricula at the Grade 6-8 level often introduce the idea of biodiversity, particularly emphasizing biomes such as the rainforest, together with some of the problems associated with destruction of the rainforest. However, we are not aware of any curricula that go into how that diversity is utilized beyond saying that it can be and, perhaps, giving a superficial description of an example. We suggest that a closer look at how genetic information can be adapted from a storehouse of diverse germplasm can better introduce students early in their studies to the importance of both preserving biodiversity and to creating collections of and using that diversity. 

Briefly, these teaching modules will start with using a wide range of diverse types of corn to emphasize that two inbreds of maize differ as much at their DNA level as humans and chimpanzees. Using analogies to a person interacting with different groups of people with different sets of expertise, the idea of a gene will be introduced (or re-introduced!) as well as the notion that each gene acts in a context of lots of other genes that impact how it functions. Then, using corn and tomato, two familiar food crops, emphasis will be on genes introduced from wild relatives that improve disease resistance and nutritional quality in domesticated germplasm even if their effects in the wild species may be less noticeable. 

The materials will be assembled and tested in demonstrations at local middle schools in Indiana and in North Carolina. Feedback from both the students and the teachers will then be sought through written surveys on the materials and the presentation methods. We anticipate two iterations of these trials, and then materials will be made generally available, statewide and nationally, through the Purdue K-12 Outreach programs of both the College of Agriculture and the College of Science, the NCSU K-12 Outreach Programs and through the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers, Inc (HASTI), the North Carolina Science Teachers Association (NCSTA) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

 QUANTITATIVE GENETICS

Efforts are underway to add students performing the starch enzyme assays to the material described above for high school level. High school level outreach, through the Purdue Botany and Plant Pathology Dept., has also included lectures on the importance of agriculture, the debate over GMOs and on bioterrorism. We propose adding new materials for use in the high school curriculum. 

In addition to introducing the Dean DNA sequencing high school activity to Indiana, specifically, we propose to add to this activity by developing and then offering teachers an Analysis Module that will use the student’s sequencing data to demonstrate basic tenets of bioinformatics. We will develop a module based on analysis of allelic sequence diversity within maize and between maize and rice. We will provide computers running the sequence analysis software “Sequencher” (or similar). Students will take part in an exercise to assemble contigs and identify polymorphisms. Issues such as sequence quality controls and silent vs non-silent and conservative vs non-conservative mutations will be addressed. We anticipate visiting eight high school classes a semester, which will allow us to engage over 350 students and teachers a year. While it will be difficult to measure the long-term effectiveness of this program over the duration of this project we will gauge our success though teacher and student responses to a questionnaire. 

Furthermore, many high school biology classes now introduce basic Mendelian genetics but do not generally branch out into continuous variation, quantitative traits or how these traits can be studied. Part of this tendency away from such topics is a combination of the notion that students cannot handle the material, together with a lack of understanding of such material by the teachers. Genetics is thought to be difficult enough, without adding intensive statistics on top of it. However, basic discussions of quantitative traits can be handled with some basic statistical concepts (a mean and a standard deviation), some basic genetics and some basic introductions to the molecular biology involved in mapping, all of which are well within the grasp of both the students and the teachers. 

Given that continuously variable traits and their inheritance are becoming increasingly prominent in the popular press, particularly with respect to human genetics, we propose a program introducing the basics of these topics at the high school level. Again, corn can serve as the key model and the materials can draw on the studies we are proposing, introducing these students to the use of quantitative analysis for plant biology. In addition, examples and connections to analysis of human traits woven into the discussion can keep the material tightly linked to the interests of high school students. This approach will also emphasize how easily the analyses can be translated from one system to another. Again, the methodologies and materials will be assembled and tried out on local high school classes, both in Indiana and in North Carolina, which include schools with differing degrees of emphasis on science and mathematics and a broad diversity of student backgrounds, allowing us to sharpen the presentations to both types of audiences and adapt them for use by teachers in both types of environments. Feedback from both the students and the teachers will then be sought through written surveys on both the materials and the presentation methods and, again, we anticipate two iterations of these trials. As mentioned above, the materials and approaches developed will be made widely available through Purdue and NCSU’s existing Outreach distribution resources and through HASTI, NCSTA and NSTA.
 

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