New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Using a Personalized Genetics and Genealogy Approach to Foster Adolescent Interest and Participation in the Life Sciences

Elizabeth Wright, Pennsylvania State University (United States)

Nina Jablonski, Pennsylvania State University (United States)

Heather Toomey Zimmerman, Pennsylvania State University (United States)


The U.S. faces two challenges related to development of national scientific expertise. The first is the decline in youth pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The second is disparate representation of African Americans and Latinos in STEM disciplines. We know that while students prefer curriculum that is personally and contextually relevant, teachers don’t often have the time to devote to getting to know their students deeply or personally. Furthermore, as diversity among students increases, the makeup of classroom teachers continues to hover around 80% white and female. With the advent of easy and somewhat affordable direct-to-consumer (DTC) DNA tests, bringing personal relevance to students through investigation of their own DNA is no longer the stuff of science fiction. We set out to develop a curriculum that drew upon the study of genetics, genealogy, and evolution, grounded in Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), that would ask young scientists to pose the most personal of personally relevant questions: “Who am I?” Our approach incorporates three core concepts: 1) That the study of personal DNA ancestry can provide an entry point for studying human population history, genetic diversity, and evolution, and that illumination of personal genetic history can stimulate curiosity and sustained interest in STEM subjects; 2) That the study of personal genealogy is simple, empowering, and edifying. It builds skills of logical inquiry and, when combined with instruction about genetic and world histories, creates transformative learning experiences; and 3) That the personal scientific pursuit of the “Who Am I?” question will catalyze continued interest in and formal commitment to STEM subjects, awareness of and engagement with computer technology, and appreciation of human diversity and interconnectedness. We present an overview of the design and implementation of the curriculum, outcomes, opportunities, challenges, and future directions.

Keywords: Curriculum Development, Personal Genetics, STEM Diversity, Equity in STEM;

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