Partnership for Research & Education in Plants (PREP): Involving High School Students in Authentic Research in Collaboration with Scientists

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

A partnership between scientists, high school teachers, and their students provides authentic research experiences to help students understand the nature and processes of science. The Partnership for Research and Education in Plants (PREP) engages students in a large-scale genomics research project using classroom-tested protocols that can help to find the function of a disabled gene in the widely studied plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Here, we describe the framework of PREP in the classroom within the context of the National Science Education Standards.

Key Words: Arabidopsis; inquiry learning; authentic research; plants.

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Biology teachers must make a number of challenging instructional decisions throughout the academic year, including choosing what content is most important to teach, how to engage students and keep them focused during activities, and how to help students learn about science concepts as well as the nature and processes of science. The teacher-led demonstrations, laboratory activities with predictable outcomes, and "quick labs" found in most high school textbooks all have their place in the science classroom, but most fall short of providing teachers with ideal solutions to these challenges.

University and college scientists face a separate set of challenges. With increasing competition for extramural funding and the requirement by some funding agencies to participate in K-12 outreach, scientists are often looking for creative ways to meet outreach requirements that help them stay competitive for research grants and demonstrate the societal impacts of their research. In the last decade, genomic-based projects studying various organisms have become a main driving force for research across the country. The 2010 Project, for instance, was established to develop a comprehensive understanding of the functions of genes in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana by 2010 (National Science Foundation, 2001), in order to better understand how flowering plants grow and adapt to their environment.

The Partnership for Research and Education in Plants (PREP; Lally et al., 2007; Dolan et al., 2008) attempts to meet the needs of teachers and scientists by providing a framework for collaborative research to study gene function in Arabidopsis. PREP gives teachers a structure for their students to participate in a complete research project that has the potential to add to the body of knowledge about flowering plants. PREP allows both teachers and students to move away from "cookbook" labs and activities by conducting experiments with unknown outcomes that address the National Science Education Standards for inquiry learning (National Research Council [NRC], 1996). Additionally, PREP provides a framework for teachers to present unifying concepts and processes, which is a primary standard presented by the NRC (1996). Teachers can utilize PREP to present content topics such as systems, organization, models, and explanations, as well as measurement, form, and function. For scientists, PREP provides an opportunity to engage the public in their research.

One way to initiate PREP is for teachers to identify a university or college scientist (hereafter, "scientist") with whom to collaborate. Strategies for identifying partners are outlined in Table 1. The next step is to establish a plan for the project, including how materials will be acquired, who will be responsible for which aspect of the project, and what the timeline or schedule will be for the experiments and interactions among the teacher, students, and scientist (see Table 2). In most cases, materials for sowing and growing plants are provided by the scientist, whereas supplies and materials needed for certain treatments are acquired by the school, teachers, or students themselves. Teachers and scientists should agree on how and when the scientist will be involved in the project. Some teachers primarily involve their scientist partner as a source of seeds and plant-growth supplies. …