Q&A: How are we modernizing genomics education?

Teaching the Genome Generation™ (TtGG) is providing a new way to teach genetics and genomics through the lens of personalized medicine. In TtGG™, students conduct classroom experiments, collect and analyze real data, and discuss the ethical complexities of research.  Through the program, students are learning about genetics and genomics in a wholly new and exciting way. What makes TtGG a success is the passionate teachers who work with JAX to share these lessons with their students. Throughout the year, JAX will feature teacher stories online to inspire other teachers and students. 

Meet Janet Belval, a South Windsor, Connecticut science teacher. 


Janet Belval (left) receiving Connecticut's Outstanding Biology Teacher Award in 2017

Teaching the Genome Generation is meant to modernize lessons in genomics. What has that meant in your classroom?

The curriculum took a unit that consisted of paper activities and research projects and made it an active lab unit. My students get to experience using real-life lab equipment that our school could never maintain and keep current. I have found that the students are excited to work on this. They love using the equipment that we receive as part of the curriculum – the micropipettes are a serious favorite! They get a real appreciation for lab work and working with very small substances. One year I did not do the entire curriculum with one set of my students, and they got offended that they did not get to do it.

What do you hope students take away from the TtGG experience?

I am pleased that the students are getting real-life lab experience, teaching them about the importance of protocols and small units of measurement. These are things that they can apply to their everyday life, and aside from science, they're learning about teamwork and resilience – working through something new and a little bit hard.

As a veteran science teacher, what still surprises you in the classroom, and what inspires you?

It always amazes me the misconceptions that students have, mainly through television and movies. Many have a futuristic point of view that is unrealistic, so I always am looking for current information to bring to the classroom. I want to expose my students to science in a real-life way that makes them look at the subject differently. Biology has many opportunities and applications in our lives. Genomics is impacting our students' lives directly, and this science will profoundly impact their future. They must have exposure and some foundation, especially for those who do not continue in science after the class ends. I also have had the students refer to the [TtGG] unit and topics much more than previous years. They use examples and apply them to other units as well.

Can you recall a moment, while using the TtGG curriculum, when you noticed your students became excited about science? 

A couple moments come to mind:

  1. Spitting into the tubes - collecting the DNA samples is always an amusing class. Either with students who are "quick" spitters or "slow" spitters.
  2. Unpacking and using the equipment - in particular loading gels and running them.
  3. Using the micropipettes - the students love to do the rainbow lab and get used to the measurements