STEM & STEAM
U Arizona Develops High School Lesson on Vaccine Development
- By Dian Schaffhauser
at the University
of Arizona have worked with Tucson teachers to develop
a lesson that would allow high schoolers to learn about the use of
computational analysis for biological questions. The lesson is
intended to help teachers adapt the teaching of science without
having access to a classroom or lab.
developed before the pandemic, the lesson keys in on a question
especially relevant for these times: Would SARS-CoV-2 spike protein —
the one behind COVID-19 — be a good choice as a target for vaccine
of the lesson have been published in September 2021 issue of The
American Biology Teacher, a magazine published by the
Association of Biology Teachers.
recently, the researchers have added an addendum to the lesson, to
help teachers and students examine emerging variants using the
lesson plan has been tested in three Tucson-area high schools, where
some science classes studied proteins of all seven coronaviruses:
four that cause the common cold as well as the SARS, MERS and
the lesson, students learn how different vaccines work and conduct a
comparison of protein sequences. By looking at the uniqueness of
spike proteins, the students are able to see the "evolutionary
relatedness" of the seven coronaviruses from their computer at
home. By the end of the lesson, students have compared spike protein
sequences of different versions of SARS-CoV-2 to each other and seen
that the sequence similarity within the spike proteins make them good
work came out of the BIOTECH
Project, which has produced materials, equipment and
training to conduct molecular genetics experiments with high school
past school year was challenging for those of us in education.
However, lessons concerning SARS-CoV-2 were a natural direction for
virtual instruction since it combines the relevance of COVID with
at-home computer use for genetic data analysis," said lead study
author Nadja Anderson, an assistant professor of practice in the
of Molecular and Cellular Biology and director of the
BIOTECH Project, in a statement.
had the students looking at the protein sequences of the spike
protein — the protein on the outside of the virus that makes it a
prime candidate for your immune system to target and create immune
response," Anderson explained.
said that she said she hopes the lesson will help students gain an
understanding about viruses and vaccines and how they work: "If
[students] understand how vaccines work and are made, then they can
critically analyze information and hopefully they can weed their way
through all of the misinformation."
addition to providing online lessons during the pandemic, Anderson
and her team have developed kits for separating and analyzing DNA, to
help students experiment at home. More than a thousand of these "DIY
Electrophoresis" kits were sent to students in Tucson, enabling
them to analyze DNA from a number of lessons developed by the BIOTECH
Project, including mock crime scene activities and simulated genetic
said that as students "became advocates for safety at home,"
they also promoted the need for vaccinations. "The work from the
BIOTECH Project not only enhanced the education of these students,
but also of our community."
learn more, visit the BIOTECH
Project website and the Project
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.