Two separate online learning events to be held on Tuesday, April 25, will take advantage of technology’s power to reach thousands of students from coast to coast in engaging ways, while also showing students the kinds of careers they can have if they study science.

The fourth annual National DNA Day will bring researchers and professionals from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, together with high school students via the internet to discuss genomic research and careers.

On the same day, as part of National Park Week, millions of students across the country reportedly will take part in what is being billed as the largest-ever simultaneous “visit” to a national park, thanks to live broadcasts from Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

Teachers and students can celebrate National DNA Day by tuning into a multimedia webcast presentation called “Genomics: Towards a Healthier You.” The webcast will explain why genetics is important to health and present information about genetic counseling as a career. The presentation also will be offered as a video podcast on the NHGRI web site.

In addition, NHGRI will host a live online chat from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), in which NHGRI researchers will field questions from students on a wide range of topics, including basic science, clinical research, genomic careers, and the ethical, legal, and social implications of genomic research.

The webcast, live chat, and other educational tools on genetics and genomics will be available free of charge on the National DNA Day web site.

National DNA Day began in April 2003 as a way to commemorate the successful completion of the Human Genome Project and the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953.

“The large amount of data being generated by genomics research is creating numerous opportunities for a new generation of students trained in everything from molecular biology to computer science to bioethics,” said Vence Bonham, chief of NHGRI’s Education and Community Involvement Branch. “National DNA Day allows students to learn from real-life genome researchers how they can join in the effort to use genomics to improve human health.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our researchers to engage students in our community and get them excited about pursuing careers in genetic and genomic research,” said Tim Hunter, manager of the Vermont Cancer Center DNA Analysis Facility and UVM Microarray Facility at the University of Vermont. University of Vermont researchers recently have become involved with NHGRI’s activities.

About 55 genomic “ambassadors” will visit a total of 70 schools throughout the month of April and the first week of May.

The majority of investigators and researchers that visit schools around the country tend to be younger, said Sarah Harding, the community outreach analyst in NHGRI’s Education and Community Involvement Branch. Harding recently traveled to two high schools in Maine to talk about students’ interests in science, genetics, and anything else they were curious about. Harding said the students also talked about the significance of National DNA Day and the implications of genetics.

“We get some great feedback,” Harding said of the students, who she said were interested and engaged in the topic. “The personal experiences of the speakers generate different questions than you’d find in [a] textbook. The teachers are very excited, and we hope to be able to follow up with them at different points in the year.”

Also on April 25, the National Park Foundation, Ball State University, and an estimated 37 million children and community members from 49 states and seven countries will participate in the largest-ever simultaneous “visit” to a national park during National Park Week. Part of Ball State’s Electronic Field Trip series, the virtual visit, called “Exploring Nature’s Plumbing System,” will include two interactive, 90-minute live broadcasts from Carlsbad Caverns: one at 10 a.m. EST and the other at 1 p.m. EST. The broadcasts will feature several scientists and national park experts.

By logging onto a web site and registering, teachers will receive a user name and password that will give them access to lesson plans related to the broadcast. Curriculum-based activities on topics such as reading, geography, and math will help prepare students for the field trip, so that when the broadcast occurs, they can ask well-informed questions. Lesson plans will be archived, so teachers can watch the broadcast with their classes and then use the lessons.

The broadcast is available through participating PBS stations and on the web at Ball State University’s Electronic Field Trips web site.

“Our nation’s parks were given to us as a gift with the expectation that we would safeguard them for future generations,” said Vin Cipolla, president and chief executive officer of the National Park Foundation. “There is no better way to celebrate National Park Week across the nation and around the world than connecting our children with our parks so that they can develop the sense of ownership and pride necessary to become the stewards of these great places.”

“Through the innovative use of interactive technology, millions of children will explore one of our national treasures, guided by leading experts and using web-based educational games and lesson plans based on national standards,” said Jo Ann M. Gora, Ball State University president.

Links:

National Human Genome Research Institute
http://www.genome.gov

National DNA Day
http://www.genome.gov/DNAday

National Institutes of Health
http://www.nih.gov

Ball State University Electronic Field Trips
http://www.bsu.edu/eft

National Park Foundation
http://www.nationalparks.org