Support from the National Institutes of Health, Genentech to fund work with educators and museum visitors
Educators involved in professional development programming at the Exploratorium
SAN FRANCISCO (January 23, 2020)—The Exploratorium is pleased to announce that it has received two grants totaling over $1.3 million to support work with educators and museum visitors focused on deepening the current understanding of genetics and genomics. The goal of the Exploratorium’s The Phenomenal Genome is to create a model for increasing genomic literacy through Informal Science Education programming (ISE). The Exploratorium has received $1.1 million in funding from a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) provided by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of General Medical Sciences to support the project, which includes professional development programs for middle and high school educators, and museum exhibit development over a 5-year period. Genentech is providing an additional $250,000 to further support professional development work with educators.
“We are honored to receive this support from both the public and the private sectors, as we are at a critical moment for genetics that will impact many sectors of society,” said Kristina Yu, Director of Living Systems and staff biologist at the Exploratorium. “In the current era, the public is increasingly exposed to genetic information, and our goal is to ensure students and museum visitors can understand the complexities. The scientific community’s knowledge and appreciation of the interplay between genetics and the environment has evolved considerably in recent years, and more work is needed to communicate this new understanding to the public.”
Exploratorium staff scientists and educators Kristina Yu, Jessica Parker, and Hilleary Osheroff will lead The Phenomenal Genome for the institution, and designed the project to respond to the growing need for accurate representation of genetic information. Work to sequence the human genome was completed in 2003, and since then, improved technologies have made it possible to genetically modify organisms and purchase direct-to-consumer DNA tests that allow individuals access to information about their ancestry and risk of certain diseases. At the same time, much of the teaching and learning of the science of inheritance and biological variation has not evolved from past frameworks.
“With the vast amounts of genetic data we now have, the scientific community has been able to develop a richer and more complex picture of the determinants of human phenotypes,” said Hilleary Osheroff, staff biologist at the Exploratorium. “We know that human variation and health outcomes are extremely complex, and yet our students are being taught a simplified notion of inheritance. We are grateful for the opportunity to work to expand people’s ideas about what makes us who we are.”
The Phenomenal Genome project will take a multi-pronged approach that will include developing and testing phenomena- and inquiry-based activities to help teachers integrate the principles of contemporary genomics and genetics into their classrooms, exhibit experiences that support museum visitors in learning about contemporary genetics, and identifying and communicating the most promising practices.
“It’s very exciting that we will be able to work with educators on such an emergent topic,” said Jessica Parker, director of teaching and learning at the Exploratorium. “Teachers are ready for a more sophisticated approach to teaching genetics, and students are interested in developing a deep understanding of scientific concepts and new biomedical technologies. It’s an honor to be at the forefront of the work to help instill young people with a love of science and genetics.”
Working with educators through The Phenomenal Genome project will further enrich the professional development programs offered at the Exploratorium. Through summer programs, an annual STEM conference, and networks for teachers and teacher-leaders, the Exploratorium works with educators from across California and the nation. In 2019, the Exploratorium welcomed 1,000 teachers and 630 teacher-leaders to its professional development programs. Through these 630 teacher-leaders, the Exploratorium’s work and training in science education will reach approximately one million students.
Experiences in the Cells to Self exhibition
The Phenomenal Genome will also build on the institution’s research and development efforts around the best ways to exhibitize information about genetics and biological concepts. In October 2019, the Exploratorium opened a new permanent exhibit collection entitled Cells to Self: Exploring the Life Inside You. Through interactive exhibit experiences, demonstrations, and works of art, the collection allows visitors to consider the nature and function of cells, as well as how genetics and the environment intermingle in the formation of a complete self.
Through The Phenomenal Genome, exhibit developers and researchers at the Exploratorium will create experiences for the public to help address questions in an era of personalized medicine, gene-based therapies, direct-to-consumer personal genetic testing, and new biomedical technologies that will have far-reaching social implications.