University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR
Background: A four-year professional development program, Science Teaching Excites Medical Interest (STEMI), has provided high school teachers with resources, training, and collaborative networking with basic science investigators for the development and implementation of flipped classroom (FC) lessons. STEMI investigators at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) have established a partnership with investigators at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to organize the Mississippi Health Sciences and Wellness Academy (HSWA). Both programs include summer workshops providing detailed orientations for their newest trainee cohorts. HSWA represents all concepts included in flipped learning, making it an excellent match for STEMI. Methods: HSWA includes students from two high schools near the USM campus. STEMI investigators collaborated, providing information and assistance for a week-long Wolbachia-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) activity involving the Wolbachia bacteria which has potential to control insect populations and their abilities to transmit disease. This activity also engaged students in the STEM concepts of biodiversity, biotechnology, and bioinformatics. Participants in both the UMMC and USM summer programs also shared online resources in July of 2020. Since in-person events were cancelled with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, alternative engagement methods were developed, and students were provided with resources and instructional videos for hands-on activities. Results: Students followed instructions to construct insect traps to catch mosquitoes and isolated mosquito DNA using materials provided by the HSWA program, given lack of access to analytical instruments. Students used colored dyes to simulate a gel electrophoresis DNA fragment separation lab. Students were guided through basic bioinformatics, using the Internet to access a number of data bases and analysis tools. Finally, using online resources, students developed presentations to share with participants virtually. These performance-based outcomes demonstrate positive impacts that active learning methods have on student engagement and problem solving, especially during social isolation. Conclusions: The success of these modified activities encourage teachers to assess how they interface with their present circumstances and technologies. Teachers can identify and promote unique active learning competencies that convert their instruction from more passive, lecture-based approaches to the facilitation of varied, interactive learning events for students.