Exploring Databases: STEM learning and authentic research in the high school classroom

Exploring Databases involves high school students in carrying out authentic research using the Smoking Behavior database. It builds on a previous project, StarNet, that involved high school students in conducting an epidemiological study of smoking behavior. This study collected genetic and environmental data from 300 adult smokers and nonsmokers, which were entered into the Smoking Behavior database. In the StarNet Project, students wrote questions for the research questionnaire used to collect information about subjects' environment and smoking behavior and genotyped subjects' DNA at several candidate genes that may be associated with susceptibility to nicotine addiction. In Exploring Databases, students use the unmined database to answer their own research questions about factors that affect smoking behavior. Through this research experience, students learn about genetics, neuroscience, bioethics, the nature of science, and careers in science and technology.

Exploring Databases is a collaboration between the UW Department of Genome Sciences and the UW Institute for Science and Math Education in the College of Education. We are working closely with teachers from around Washington State to pilot and revise the curriculum and conduct research on the effectiveness of this educational approach on student learning of science concepts and understanding of the nature of science.

alt text Project investigators and advisory teachers met early in the project to discuss effective teaching strategies

With the change in focus of the student research experience from a wetlab (genotyping) to an online "e-science" experience (analysis of data in the database), we can now ask several significant educational research questions: Is the e-science research experience effective in teaching students about the nature and process of science, genetics, neuroscience, and bioethics? What elements of a technology-delivered curriculum are needed so students can formulate testable research questions and develop rigorous scientific arguments using the database? Will students and their teachers view e-science as real science? Will students gain an interest in and understanding of careers in science?

Benefits of the Project

  • We are developing and testing an innovative model for involving students as scientists in carrying out authentic research using scientific databases
  • There is potential for students to discover something new about how genetic and environmental factors influence smoking behavior.
  • Students learn about neuroscience, genetics, data analysis, statistical significance, and the process and nature of science in the context of doing research Students learn about different careers in science
  • The flexible curriculum design will allow Exploring Databases to be used in introductory and advanced high school science classes, and with many different learners
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GSEO Highlights for 2014

Science and Engineering Festival: GSEO and UW GEAR UP host the 2014 festival in Yakima, Washington. Click here to view the 2014 festival video, and click Read More for videos from the 2013 festival.


Paws on Science: GSEO and Genome Sciences students and postdocs participated in the 2014 Paws on Science at Pacific Science Center.


Exploring Databases awarded the July 2013 Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction. Click Read More for link to Science article.


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University of Washington Department of Genome Sciences
Education Outreach, Box 355065 ~ Foege Building, Room S-334 ~ Seattle, WA 98195
phone: (206) 616-4538 fax: (206) 685-7301