Anonymous gift will help teach the genome generation

Teaching the Genome Generation | Lincoln Academy

On location at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, Maine

Thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor, The Jackson Laboratory’s (JAX) flagship high school STEM program, Teaching the Genome Generation (TtGG), will create online modules for students and teachers, allowing them to explore the science of human genomic diversity. The gift will help JAX Genomic Education reach as many as 30,000 additional students per year.

Through TtGG, JAX Genomic Education has developed partnerships with teachers and schools across New England. Now, a $75,000 gift will allow TtGG to expand to teachers nationwide through the creation of an online course in personal genomics for high school STEM educators. The new gift will also fund the creation of a set of highly engaging genomics laboratory simulations for high school students.

Instilling confidence in STEM educators

Launched in 2014, TtGG provides instruction for high school STEM teachers in topics relevant to teaching modern genome biology such as bioinformatics, molecular genetics, and bioethics . To date, TtGG has trained more than 190 high school teachers and reached 14,000 students, primarily in Maine and Connecticut. “Through rigorous evaluation, we know that teachers who participate in TtGG are more confident teaching genetics and genomics content to their students and implementing laboratory protocols in their classrooms,” says Charles Wray, Ph.D., vice president for education at The Jackson Laboratory.

“My students get to experience using real-life lab equipment that our school could never maintain and keep current,” says Janet Belval, a veteran science teacher from South Windsor, CT who has used the TtGG curriculum in her classroom. “I want to expose my students to science in a real-life way that makes them look at the subject differently. Genomics is impacting our students' lives directly, and this science will profoundly impact their future.”

“TtGG brings human genetics and genomics and ethics to life, making these important topics relatable and personal to students and teachers alike,” says Wray. “We are thrilled to be able to expand the program thanks to this generous gift.” In its first year, Wray estimates that 1,200 high school STEM educators will enroll in the online TtGG program, ultimately bringing modern genetics and genomics education to approximately 30,000 students.

Operating in a “digital sandbox”

The gift will enable the development of new interactive lessons, virtual lab experiments and simulations, and teacher professional development modules, while also retaining nearly all existing genomics lessons.

The team will create three all-new virtual lab simulations that can be taught in any high school in the U.S., even those that lack laboratory equipment. The simulations, created with a collaborative partner, will guide teachers (and subsequently students) through the steps necessary to identify and analyze DNA sequence variation in the human genome. The simulations will allow students to perform, on their computers, the hands-on laboratory procedures needed to diagnose a disease on the basis of genomic information.

Rigorous science through video

The JAX education team plans to also redesign the TtGG website so that teachers and students nationwide will have access to online resources, and teachers can download genomics lessons for classroom use.

Two new modules will be available to complement TtGG’s rigorous classroom content. First, a series of student-facing videos — “Genomics and Genetics Career Chats”— will be expanded. “Career Chats” will showcase a variety of career opportunities in genomics and celebrate the successes of diverse scientists and STEM professionals. Second, a set of teacher-facing narrative videos will highlight how TtGG is implemented in the classroom.

The future of Teaching the Genome Generation

In the future, and with additional philanthropic support, JAX Genomic Education hopes to establish an ambassador program that will bring in-person professional development to curriculum leaders around key regional hubs in the United States. As the online TtGG program is broadly disseminated, TtGG ambassadors will be trained through regional in-person courses, and ambassadors will then become TtGG trainers in their own schools and districts. TtGG ambassadors will access real-time support and resources, including new online resources. 

“Ultimately, this gift has an incredible multiplier effect: it will allow TtGG to reach thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students with engaging content built to increase STEM literacy and promote entry into STEM careers,” says Wray.