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Opinion

By Jennifer S. Logan, Ph.D., and Louisa A. Stark, Ph.D.
Co-directors, Genetic Science Learning Center, Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, University of Utah

How can high school teachers best prepare today's students to become tomorrow's educated patients and consumers of health care?

The most important thing a teacher can do to prepare tomorrow's decision-makers and consumers is to encourage students to analyze and question events in the world around them. Advances in bioscience research that impact medicine are frequently featured in the headlines. In order for students to make informed decisions about their health care, their lives, and society, they must be able to evaluate the significance of these discoveries and their potential impact on everyday life.

Today's students are growing up in a world where they are asked to process and filter an ever-expanding amount of information from a variety of sources. In the popular media, research findings are not always reported accurately and may be misstated or overstated, leading to misconceptions that are perpetuated as facts. Internet-based sources can easily represent themselves as impartial purveyors of information, while promoting a specific agenda. How, then, can students decide which sources to trust and which to question? By facilitating explorations of various sources and their relative reliability, teachers can prepare students to critically evaluate the information they gather throughout life.

Science teachers can introduce such explorations in many creative ways. They might ask students to explain the science behind a news story, identify common misconceptions surrounding the topic, and suggest reasons why the misconception came into being. Another approach is to take a science-related problem from the headlines - for example, antibiotic resistance or the spread of West Nile Virus - and design a research-based plan for solving it. Finally, evaluating instances of scientific fraud and controversy can help students understand how the scientific process works in research, observe how this process can go awry, and recognize science as a truly human endeavor. As students conduct research on the science and the issues raised by these types of assignments, teachers can guide them in evaluating their information sources.

Another timely approach is discussing bioethical dilemmas. Advances in bioscience research impact more than just our approach to health care; they also require us as a society to weigh challenging moral and ethical issues. Topics such as human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and genetically modified foods spark students' interest and provide opportunities to engage them in in-depth exploration. Through a multifaceted approach that combines science content knowledge with the discussion of related bioethical issues, teachers can help students apply what they have learned to real-life problems.

Implementing these approaches in the classroom requires teachers to stay current on their own knowledge of bioscience research - and here's where researchers and clinicians can play a pivotal role. Many teachers are seeking professional development opportunities, information, and curriculum materials to update their knowledge and to effectively facilitate bioethics discussions. They also seek science enrichment opportunities for their students. Researchers and health-care practitioners can support teachers' efforts to promote a scientifically literate society. For example, they can participate in teaching or provide guest presentations in courses and workshops for teachers or students, assist in developing Internet-based information sources, and participate in curriculum development projects. The University of Utah, the health sciences center, and teachers can all benefit by working together to educate tomorrow's patients and health-care consumers.

We always welcome your comments about the magazine. Address letters to: Editor, Health Sciences Report, Office of Public Affairs, University of Utah Health Sciences Center, 50 North Medical Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84132. FAX: (801) 585-5188. E-mail: susan.sample@hsc.utah.edu.

We always welcome your comments about the magazine. Address letters to: Editor, Health Sciences Report, Office of Public Affairs, University of Utah Health Sciences Center, 50 North Medical Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84132. FAX: (801) 585-5188. E-mail: Susan.Sample@hsc.utah.edu.

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