Pratt MST: Zebrafish teratogenesis and an inquiry curriculum

Jon Pratt
Zebrafish teratogenesis as a secondary-level science inquiry curriculum
Unpublished M.S.T. thesis, December 2006

A secondary-level zebrafish science education curriculum was designed and implemented with the Upward Bound Math Science program at the University of Maine in the summer of 2003. The six-week curriculum was designed to increase student scientific literacy in a program that integrates math and science education using inquiry- based methods. Scientific literacy is defined as knowledge of the nature of science, its concepts, and its human context: “A scientifically literate person is one who not only possesses a knowledge about these various aspects of science but also makes use of them in his or her ethical decision making and social participation in civic life” (NBPTS, 1997/2001). The zebrafish, Danio rerio, was chosen because it is a model organism in modern professional biological research. The zebrafish curriculum focused on biological development as a process that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, and the zebrafish development time of approximately 72 hours made it possible to conduct student designed experiment within a weekday-oriented education schedule. The students in the curriculum had completed their 10th, 11th, or 12th grade years in high school, and some had up to two years of prior experience in UBMS. The students were grouped so that all experience levels were represented, and groups developed, defended, implemented, and analyzed data collected in zebrafish development experiments using various environmental teratogens. The defense of the experimental protocol took place in front of a panel of experts, requiring students to justify the ethical fitness of their self- designed research because it involved the use of a vertebrate organism. Students used statistical tools to test the data they collected, and developed scientific explanatory models to interpret the results. Facilitators worked closely with small groups to promote participation in all aspects of the curriculum from all students.

Student learning in the curriculum was measured using formative and summative techniques that collected both qualitative and quantitative data. Formative assessment helped to fine-tune the curriculum while being implemented and summative assessment gave insight into student development via facilitator observations, student writing samples, and pre-post test score statistical analysis. The results of student learning were used to determine whether or not the zebrafish curriculum succeeded in increasing student scientific literacy, and the zebrafish curriculum was evaluated even further by comparing its fit with selected elements of the National Science Education Standards (NAS, 1995).

Analysis of student groups’ writing samples, group facilitator student evaluations, and of fitness with the NSES demonstrated that the zebrafish curriculum had a significant effect on the improvement of scientific literacy and a good fit with research based standards intended to guide the development of inquiry based science curricula. Statistical analysis of pre-post test data with students grouped by years of experience shows that the number of years of experience in UBMS also had a statistically significant effect on performance on the pre-post test. Suggestions are given for future iterations of the zebrafish curriculum, with emphasis on the importance of setting on the potential for success in raising student scientific literacy.