Presidential praise for Jackson Laboratory science education initiative

Date: March, 11, 2011
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Bar Harbor, Maine — A Jackson Laboratory-designed program to teach the fundamentals of genetics has drawn praise from President Barack Obama during a March 8 visit to TechBoston Academy, one of six schools in the New England area piloting the Geniverse software.

According to the Concord Consortium, the organization that is coordinating the pilot use of the software in classrooms, the president commented to the TechBoston students, “I'm calling for investments in…educational software that's as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys stuck on a video game that's teaching you something other than just blowing something up.”

Geniverse started life in 2005 as GeniQuest, when The Jackson Laboratory teamed with the Concord Consortium and the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance to create a computer game that teaches science through science fiction. Using GeniQuest, students could conduct virtual breeding experiments with drakes, a kind of dragon, with one percent of the actual mouse genome standing in for the drake genome.

Randy Von Smith, Ph.D., now director of educational programs at The Jackson Laboratory, oversaw the design of GeniQuest while working in the Laboratory’s Center for Genome Dynamics, with funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the enthusiastic support of the Center’s director, Jackson Professor Gary Churchill, Ph.D.

Smith comments, “The strength of the learning experience comes from using real genetics and real data in a simplified environment that guides the students to learn genetics by conducting their own experiments in a safe virtual environment.”

For the next-gen Geniverse software, Jackson database expert Paul Szauter joined the team to develop the program to more closely match “real” genetic software. Students perform the kind of sophisticated gene mapping that full-fledged scientists use, and ultimately identify candidate genes for an inherited disease in drakes.

Together with The Jackson Laboratory and the Concord Consortium, the Geniverse team includes the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, TERC (Technical Education Research Centers) based in Cambridge, Mass., and BSCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study) of Colorado Springs, Colo. This team is currently in the second year of a five-year National Science Foundation grant that will continue the development of Geniverse and test it in a wide variety of classrooms.

“Educational software is an exciting way to introduce students to the methods of science,” Smith says. He notes that recent work at The Jackson Laboratory and the Center for Genome Dynamics has expanded the model of Geniverse to include two new programs. DrakeQuest, developed by a team led by co-op associate Keith Sheppard, is a web-based simulator that lets students explore eye color, coat color and metabolic diseases. GenetIF is an interactive fiction game designed for middle school students to explore genetics.

The Jackson Laboratory is a nonprofit biomedical research institution based in Bar Harbor, Maine. Its mission is to discover the genetic basis for preventing, treating and curing human diseases, and to enable research and education for the global biomedical community.

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Read the Concord Consortium press release on President Obama’s visit.

Contact(s):

Joyce Peterson, 207-288-6058, The Jackson Laboratory

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Media Relations, Communications Office
The Jackson Laboratory
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Phone: 207-288-6058 (journalists only)
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Email: news@jax.org