Public Release: 

Biology Web sites tapped for prestigious prize by Science

Developed at Baylor College of Medicine, sites offer peer-reviewed, ready-to-use teaching materials to K-college science instructors

American Association for the Advancement of Science

In a great example of "paying it forward," science educator and researcher Nancy Moreno is bringing the fascinating experiences she had in high school biology to millions of students - through the BioEd Online and K8 Science Web sites.

Because of their excellence as ready-to-use teacher resources, the Web sites, created at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, are winners of the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE). Science is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

Moreno, who is the senior associate director of Baylor's Center for Educational Outreach, says the purpose of the two Web sites is to greatly expand the availability of high-quality resources to high-school and undergraduate biology instructors and K-8 science teachers around the country. These resources, Moreno says, "should give students authentic experiences in science and get them excited about science."

The Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE) was developed to identify and promote the best online materials available to science educators. The acronym SPORE refers both to a reproductive element adapted to develop, often in adverse conditions, into something new - and to the idea that these winning projects may be the seed of significant progress in science education, despite considerable challenges to educational innovation. Science publishes an article by each recipient of the award, which explains the winning project. The article about the BioEd Online and K8 Science Web sites will be published on March 26.

"We want to recognize innovators in science education," says Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science. "At the same time, this competition will promote those Web sites with the most potential to benefit science students and teachers. The publication of an article in Science on each winning site will help guide everyone to important online resources, thereby promoting science literacy."

Moreno grew up in Escanaba in Upper Michigan, in a family "with an appreciation of the natural world," she says. Her father was trained as a forester. By high-school age, Moreno knew she wanted to specialize in biology. The biology curriculum available to her as a high-school student was extraordinary. She had two and a half years of the subject by the time she graduated, including a summer field course.

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, she studied botany. Moreno then went to work in the Mexican city of Xalapa at what was then a new botanical research institute.

Moreno earned a PhD at Rice University in Houston, but it wasn't until she went to Baylor that she changed her focus from research to science education. In doing so, Moreno says she found an exceptionally long-standing tradition at Baylor of reaching out to students in grades K-12.

BioEd Online began in 2004 as an online resource for biologists making a career switch to secondary school teaching. Soon, however, it was clear to the site's developers how valuable the Web site could be to any life science teacher.

"That realization came quite early, and then we started thinking more broadly about what we could put online," Moreno says.

In 2007, she and her diverse team of editors, former science instructors, and Web experts launched K8 Science, which because it is geared to the earlier grades, includes science other than biology. "To do biology well, you need a strong foundation across all the sciences," Moreno says.

The sites' users, which numbered 1.5 million last year, often come to the sites when researching a very general topic such as "the muscles of the body," Moreno says. Their searches often brought them to the sites' science news sections or to the slides with notes. For the teacher looking for materials to use in the classroom, the sites can be a gold mine. They contain more than 120 lessons and science inquiry modules, which can be downloaded and used as is.

Those downloadable lessons, as well as other materials on the site, are peer-reviewed to assure their accuracy. Baylor researchers also field-test the materials designed for use in the classroom, even organizing comparison groups of students through school partnerships in order to confirm that the curriculum yields statistically significant gains in student knowledge. The subject matter is constantly updated to reflect advances in rapidly changing fields.

"It's a big challenge," Moreno says. "We're constantly adding to the site, but there's so much more to do."

"Science moves at a lightning pace," says Pamela Hines, an editor at Science. "With new discoveries every week, with new controversies arising and being resolved, with new technologies to apply, most research scientists find it challenging to keep up. For teachers, it's all the more important to keep up - and to send students on with the most advanced knowledge available.

"The BioEd Online and K8 Science web sites offer background information, lesson plans, video demonstrations, biology news, and other content, all organized by grade and topic. The online accessibility gives teachers an opportunity to meet instructional needs with fresh information."

Moreno adds that some college campuses don't offer a genomics class, for example, yet students who want to continue in science should get that exposure. In such cases, BioEd Online can help level the playing field for students everywhere.

More generally, Moreno and her team are beefing up professional development opportunities on the Web sites by offering more courses and workshops to teachers. This, too, serves to level the playing field for students across the country, since some teachers are too far from a university or a science museum to be able to participate in professional development in a classroom.

As Moreno puts it, "We make resources available that otherwise might not be."

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To visit the BioEd Online and K8 Science Web sites, go to bioedonline.org and k8science.org. This year's Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE) contest is accepting nominations until March 31; for more information on the contest, please go to http://www.aaas.org/aboutaaas/awards/spore/.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine (www.sciencetranslationalmedicine.org) and Science Signaling (www.sciencesignaling.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

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