Published: June 28, 2017

Example of posters designed by students who participated in the antibiotics unit. “How or why did this happen?”

This is the question CU researchers want budding high school scientists to be asking. Rather than lecturing to students, a partnership at CU is creating a new way of teaching science concepts that prepares young scientists to tackle the problems of our 21st century world. 

For nearly 10 years, the Inquiry Hub, or iHub, has been developing and testing a new model for helping school districts effectively implement student-centered curricula in mathematics and science. Their latest digital unit in biology, “Why Don't Antibiotics Work Like They Used To?,“ was recently recognized by Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit education organization that helped to develop the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The curriculum was awarded the highest quality rating given to date to NGSS-aligned curricula, an “image of the possible” for 21st century science teaching. Reviewers noted that it was “ambitious, comprehensive, and purposefully designed. Students are repeatedly challenged with rigorous content and expected to make important connections between and across storylines. Students also are exposed to and engage in authentic scientific research.” The unit will be released to schools and districts in the coming years for adoption into their curriculums.

To design and test the curriculum, iHub partnered with Denver Public Schools and Northwestern University to coordinate with high school teachers and teacher educators in Colorado, Michigan, and Illinois. Example of posters designed by students who participated in the antibiotics unit.After collaborating on the design, biology teachers took the lessons back to their students for “stress testing.” The teachers brought back their insights into what did and did not work about the lessons, and researchers used the data to further improve the unit.

The unit design revolves around a new “storylining process,” where a single storyline ties together different lessons to help students solidify connections between ideas. Using a narrative to learn about the natural phenomena of antibiotic resistance helps high school students understand the broader functions of evolution.

To support the NGSS standards, the unit incorporates a student design challenge and local community engagement. For example, this spring during pilot testing of the curriculum by Denver Public Schools, students in 22 local high school biology classes took part in a design challenge to create infographics that warned and informed the public about the increased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The students’ colorful infographics were later meant to be displayed in health clinics to help patients understand the science behind antibiotic-resistant bacteria and how they can change their behaviors to prevent the problem.

The long-standing Inquiry Hub project is funded through the National Science Foundation and the Moore Foundation. The partnership joins researchers from CU’s Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) and School of Education with Denver Public Schools (DPS) and the University Corporation for AtmosExample of posters designed by students who participated in the antibiotics unit.pheric Research (UCAR). ICS's Dr. Tamara Sumner is the Principal Investigator and the School of Education's Dr. Bill Penuel is Co-Principal Investigator.