Providing the Platform for Discovery
Science Education and Literacy
To remain a world leader in biomedical research we must encourage and support students’ curiosity and interest in science throughout their education. NIH funds a number of science education and literacy activities from grammar school to undergraduate students. These programs support curriculum development, mentoring programs, outreach, and research experiences designed to recruit individuals with specific backgrounds to research careers or to increase the diversity of the biomedical workforce.
NIH takes an active role in pre-college (K-12) science education and in science literacy activities. These activities aim to improve the science knowledge and skills of students, attract young people to biomedical and behavioral science careers, lay the groundwork for advanced study, enhance public understanding of health science, and empower the public as consumers of science and health information.
Curriculum supplements—ready-to-use, interactive teaching units—are one of NIH’s most popular and effective science education efforts. Crafted through a unique collaboration of NIH scientists, teachers, and expert curriculum developers, the supplements are aligned with state education standards and are consistent with the National Science Education Standards. NIH has shipped more than 430,000 curriculum supplements upon request to K-12 educators across the nation. Topics covered include The Science of Healthy Behaviors, Cell Biology and Cancer, The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology through the Study of Addiction, and Exploring Bioethics. The newest additions are Evolution and Medicine for high school biology classes and Rare Diseases and Scientific Inquiry for middle schools.40
NIH’s Diabetes Education in Tribal Schools Project41 is a K-12 curriculum developed to increase the understanding of health, diabetes, and maintaining life in balance among American Indian/Alaska Native students; increase American Indian/Alaska Native students’ understanding and application of scientific and community knowledge; and increase interest in science and health professions among American Indian/Alaska Native youth. The project aims to change perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes about diabetes through classroom learning experiences that will empower students to adopt healthier lifestyles.
NIH provides other types of school resources as well. Findings42 is a semi-annual magazine targeted to high school and early college students that describes the excitement of cutting-edge research, the interesting people who pursue science careers, and the enjoyment they get from this work. A companion Web site offers videos, podcasts, and interactive games expanding on the printed material. NIH also offers topical publications and school resources, such as slide kits, online quizzes, and science puzzles that are used by teachers across the country to augment textbooks and enrich the classroom experience. Subject areas include cell biology, genetics, structural biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and computational biology. Classroom posters linked to selected publications also promote interest in science and research careers and continue to be tremendously popular.
NIH aims to engage students and the public in the wonders of biology and biomedical research through other programs, as well. For those who are interested in a career in the life sciences, NIH provides resources such as LifeWorks®, a career exploration Web site for middle and high school students, and their parents, teachers, and career guidance counselors.43 Users can search the site for in-depth information on more than 125 health and medical science-related careers and generate a customized list of careers that match their skills and interests. SciLife is an annual health and biomedical career-planning workshop for parents and high school students.44 NIH also sponsors a speakers’ bureau that provides engaging science professionals to talk to school groups and local and national organizations.
The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, a cooperative effort among 16 NIH Institutes, Centers and Offices that support neuroscience research, offers a K-12 Science Education Award.NIH Blueprint funded eight science education grants that seek to improve and enhance neuroscience education in grades K-12 as well as inspire future generations of neuroscientists. The grants focus on providing innovative neuroscience education to children throughout the U.S. through a variety of mechanisms, such as the development of interactive teaching modules that can be accessed on iOS devices (e.g., the iPad), innovative Web-based games for classroom use, and museum exhibits that include interactive components as well as classroom activities.
NCRR's Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program45 enables researchers, educators, and community groups to share their knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm about health and science research with K-12 students and the general public. SEPA-funded classroom- and museum-based projects generate resources, such as hands-on and problem based curricula, interactive health exhibits, films, and after-school and summer student intern and teacher professional development opportunities. The SEPA Web site, https://www.nihsepa.org , maintained by the SEPA community, provides universal access to educational resources, teachers training, health-based museum exhibits, and evaluation models that are developed by these SEPA-funded projects.
Individual NIH ICs also have science education programs focused on their specific missions. For example, NIDA supports a Science Education in Drug Abuse Partnership Award, modeled after the SEPA program. The purpose of the Science Education in Drug Abuse Partnership Award program is to fund the development and evaluation of innovative programs and materials for enhancing knowledge and understanding of neuroscience and the biology of drug abuse and addiction among K-12 students, the general public, health care practitioners, the media, and other groups.
40 These curriculum supplements are free to teachers and may be ordered at https://science.education.nih.gov/supplements.
41 For more information, see https://www3.niddk.nih.gov/fund/other/dets/index.htm.
42 For more information, see https://publications.nigms.nih.gov/findings.
43 For more information, see https://science.education.nih.gov/LifeWorks.
44 For more information, see https://science.education.nih.gov/SciLife.
45 On December 23, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-74). As part of this legislation, the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) is dissolved and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is established. Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA) is now part of the NIH Office of the Director, Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Research Infrastructure Programs.