Evaluating Educational Materials for Teaching & Learning Genetics

A suite of companion educational materials created by WETA can help middle and high school teachers and students better learn about genetics and genetics research

by Nicole LaMarcaJena Barchas-LichtensteinUduak Grace ThomasJohn VoiklisKathryn Nock
Sep 22, 2021

Key Findings

The genetics field is advancing rapidly with new technologies coming to market every year. Keeping up with this rapid growth is challenging for teachers and students alike. With support from the National Institutes of Health and in partnership with the Public Genetics Education Project, WETA developed a suite of educational resources for teaching genetics. These resources were developed as companion materials to a two part film by Ken Burns film based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s 2016 book, The Gene: An Intimate History.

Since the grant’s launch in 2019, Knology has evaluated the materials from the perspective of teachers and students. Among other things, the evaluation explored the effectiveness of the resources that WETA created as well as the ease with which teachers could incorporate and adapt the lessons into the curriculum and classrooms. The evaluation results indicated that the WETA materials are valuable supplements to the genetics curriculum in middle and high school classrooms, and that they can easily be adapted. These resources also provided opportunities to discuss some of the more controversial aspects of the genetics field.

For the first phase of the evaluation, Knology researchers surveyed recent high-school graduates and conducted focus groups with middle and high school teachers. The goal was to understand, among other things, what prospective audiences know and what they don’t, what misconceptions need to be addressed, and what language and terminology teachers and students best understand. Students’ responses indicated that they generally struggled with vocabulary, understanding the more abstract genetic topics, and making connections between concepts. For their part, teachers understood genetics concepts to varying degrees. Middle school teachers reported having a harder time teaching complex genetics concepts to their students.

During the second phase of the evaluation, which launched in Spring 2020, Knology gathered initial feedback from the teachers on the educational value of the curriculum materials. Researchers found that teachers liked the resources and could envision ways of incorporating them into their lesson plans. They also highlighted the value of these resources for teaching details of some of the newer genetics technologies that are not yet included in textbooks. Teachers also suggested modifications to improve the lessons to make them more appropriate for students.

The final phase of the evaluation assessed the effectiveness and impact of the final resources on students. The feedback here was largely positive. Teachers described the materials as useful and said that they connect well with their existing curriculum. Teachers could also speak to the feasibility and ease of using the resources in virtual learning environments since most learning was remote in 2020. They described the materials as accessible and useful for teaching in both in-person and online settings.

Let's Put it To Work

For Educators: The evaluation results suggest that these educational resources are useful supplements to existing middle and high school curricula. Overall, teachers and students liked using the materials including the videos, student activities, and manipulative models. The results also indicate that the resources can be used in both online and in-person settings - this flexibility is particularly useful for school districts that have hybrid learning environments. Additionally, these resources can be helpful for teaching and learning about some of the more recent developments in genetics, some of which have not been included in school textbooks.

About this Study

With funding from the National Institutes of Health (grant R25 OD020212-01A1) and support from the Public Genetics Education Project, WETA developed a suite of educational resources for teachers and students learning about genetics. Knology supported the development of and evaluated these materials. The intent was to use the evaluation results to inform the final design of the resources.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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