Authentic Bioinformatics in the Classroom (ABC Project)

With the growth of big data in biomedical research, there is strong demand for a diverse bioinformatics-prepared workforce. Addressing this need, a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institute of Health awarded $1.3 million to the ABC Project to support 70 South Florida teachers in integrating bioinformatics practices into instruction and classroom-based research experiences for students. This project will address the challenge of incorporating bioinformatics content and skills to the high-school curriculum. Due to the emergent nature of the bioinformatics field, bioinformatics tools and concepts receive little attention in most high school science classes. Unless all young students have the opportunity to learn and experience biomedical content in their K12 contexts, it will be difficult for them to be prepared to make choices to pursue further studies and successful careers in scientific research, biomedicine, or bioinformatics.

This project will transform high-school biology courses to integrate bioinformatics content around the COVID-19 context, including a scaffolded year-long course-based research experience. The ABC project will address the lack of high school bioinformatics engagement and aim to increase early access to improve students’ understanding of biological concepts and bioinformatics skills, while leading to better-informed college and career planning.

The objectives of the project include:

  1. Design high school curricular materials that use available scientific data and bioinformatics tools to carry out authentic research on infectious disease. The curriculum will be designed through a collaboration of K12 educators, bioinformaticians, and STEM education researchers and include rigorous feedback from in-service teachers.
  2. Develop and implement teacher professional development workshops to prepare teachers to implement the curriculum successfully by promoting bioinformatics knowledge and skills development, providing experiential learning access to the curriculum, and engaging in opportunities for practice, feedback, and reflection. 
  3. Support a community of teachers through their implementation of the curriculum by supporting a faculty learning community, providing consistent support from experienced undergraduate students, and allowing for structured feedback and consultation from team members. School year support is designed to be comprehensive with regular/weekly communication, preparatory meetings, and virtual and in-person classroom visits.
  4. Provide near-peer mentoring to high school students by promoting opportunities for students to engage with undergraduate STEM majors and providing opportunities for students to present their work alongside undergraduates. Additionally, the project will adapt the Learning Assistant (LA) model to high schools where experienced undergraduate students can facilitate learning in the classroom.
  5. Provide summer research opportunities for teachers at Florida International University. Project participants will have access to conducting research with faculty at FIU during the summer, utilizing biological data and bioinformatics tools.