Science Educator Profile | Anne Westbrook

Featured work: Diabetes Education Curriculum K-12

How long have you been with BSCS?

I started at BSCS in March, 1999. My first project at BSCS was the NIH Curriculum Supplement, The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology through the Study of Addiction.

What is your area of emphasis?

At BSCS, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects—mostly in curriculum development. I have worked on several of the NIH Curriculum Supplement Series modules including units ranging from early elementary through high school. As part of those curriculum modules and other projects, I have had the opportunity to develop both print and web-based activities for students. I worked on revisions of BSCS Biology: An Ecological Approach and BSCS Biology: A Human Approach, and I've worked in professional development, both face-to-face as well as the development of some online professional development materials that are part of WGBH’s Teacher’s Domain. One of the best things about working at BSCS is the chance to work on projects that span a wide range of topics.

How/when did you become interested in the field of science education?

Looking back at my science education in elementary school, junior high, and high school, it is, in some ways, surprising that I ended up in a career in science. Like many other students, my science classes involved lectures and maybe some labs to confirm what the lectures had told us. And, like other people may remember, science was a lot of vocabulary. It was really when I got to college and then into graduate school where I got “hooked” with the discovery of research and the idea that science helped you figure out how things worked.

As I was nearing the end of graduate school, my advisor received funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) for the Program for Minority Advancement in the Biomedical Sciences (PMABS). Part of that program involved summer workshops for high school teachers in North Carolina and undergraduates at historically-minority universities in North Carolina. The goal was to increase interest in biology. As part of that program, I developed and taught a two-week intensive session on developmental biology. It gave me the opportunity to help participants experience the fun of scientific research and discovery.

What is your education background?

I received my B.A. from the University of Colorado, Boulder in Environmental, Population, and Organismal Biology. I then went on to earn my Masters degree from Purdue University. My research there focused on the role of hormones in triggering behavioral changes during development in insects. I then went on to complete my Ph.D. work at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. My research there was in developmental neuroendocrinology. I then did postdoctoral training at the University of Utah. The interesting thing about my educational background and research training is that it spanned from the behavioral and organismal level to the cellular level to the molecular level of investigation.

Why is science education important in our lives?

I think science education is important to all of our lives because we all need to make everyday decisions in our lives that relate to science. Almost every day, we hear claims about products on television or the internet about food, health, medicine, or the environment. Some of the claims are valid and some may have less support. The critical thinking skills that science can help develop can help people evaluate those claims. 

People are sometimes confused when they hear scientific findings that seem to contradict what they have heard previously. Scientists continue to learn more about the world around us. As they learn new things and gather more evidence, doctors and scientists may change their recommendations for people’s health or interactions with the environment.

What are you working on at BSCS right now, and with whom?

Currently, the main project I am working on is the Diabetes Education Curriculum K-12 (DECK-12) project. This project is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. Through this 3-year project, we are developing seven curriculum modules for students ranging from kindergarten through high school. Each module includes print-based and web-based activities. We are also developing an outreach component to help students link what they learn in class to what happens in the lives outside of school. When completed, these curriculum materials will be free to all teachers who are interested.

The DECK-12 project involves a team of talented BSCS staff members, including Brooke Bourdélat-Parks, Mark Bloom, April Gardner, Connie Hvidsten, Betty Stennett, Molly Stuhlsatz, and Jon Adams.

In addition to BSCS staff, the DECK-12 project involves many other talented people. Red Hill Studios is working closely with us to develop the web-based activities for the modules. We also count on our project advisory board members, senior consultants, and design team members to share their expertise in the science of type 2 diabetes, health literacy, science teaching, and educational technology to make these materials as good as they can be. The input from all of these experts, along with the BSCS team, helps ensure that the curriculum materials will be accurate, age-appropriate, and feasible for use in the classroom.

Who will this work benefit and how does this help bring our mission to life (for you)?

Type 2 diabetes is an increasing health concern in this country and around the world. Most people are affected by the disease in some way. They have the disease or know someone who has it. Some estimates are that over one-third of children born in the year 2000 will develop the disease at some point in their lives. Some people are at higher risk than others. Type 2 diabetes is a greater burden in the African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and Native Hawaiian populations. However, the good news is that type 2 diabetes is often preventable.

A goal of the DECK-12 project is to help students understand how the lifestyle choices and decisions that they make can influence whether they get diabetes or not (now and in the future). Each of the modules in the DECK-12 program includes information about what happens in the body when a person has type 2 diabetes, information about the risk factors that help explain why some people are more likely to get the disease than others, and information about how lifestyle choices can help prevent the disease. From the pilot test of the curriculum, we know that students see the relevance of this topic in their lives. It gives them a better understanding of how science—and scientific evidence—provides information that can improve their lives.

Learn more about the Diabetes Education Curriculum.

This project is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health.