Louisa Stark knows that it’s good to entertain the audience. That’s why she’s tailored her approach to science education, creating genetics lessons that are heavy on animation and interactive graphics.

Stark is director of the Genetic Science Learning Center (GSLC) at the University of Utah. The GSLC, whose mission is to make science easy for everyone to understand, has received several precollege education grants from HHMI. Under Stark’s direction, the center has gained a reputation for producing high-quality educational materials and professional development programs.

Early on, Stark realized that to increase scientific literacy and the number of students interested in science-related careers, learning had to be captivating and thought-provoking. As a result, the GSLC’s educational website—Learn.Genetics – features interactive, visually engaging materials that allow students to experience discovery first hand. Its companion website—Teach.Genetics—provides related resource materials for educators, including videos and classroom activities that build on the online materials. Some of the topics highlighted on the GSLC websites, which HHMI helped to fund, include the human microbiome, brain imaging technologies, and epigenetics.

To develop the websites’ content, Stark and her team collaborate with scientists and teachers, holding brainstorming workshops centered on specific topics. Stark teamed up with HHMI for a workshop on the 2005 HHMI Holiday Lectures. Incorporating ideas from the session, the GSLC created an evolution-themed web module that included several BioInteractive resources. HHMI’s Educational Resources Group has since adopted the center’s content development model for its workshops.

Although the GSLC’s target audience is students in grades 5–12, the online materials have gained a broad following: police officers use the site’s addiction materials, scientists come to learn about new techniques, and many nonscientists log on just to learn more about genetics.

Image: Paul Fetters

About BioInteractive

HHMI’s BioInteractive initiative opens a window on cutting-edge science through interactive web features, short films, virtual labs, and scientific animations. Since teachers play a pivotal role in launching the careers of future scientists and in helping the public understand the beauty and import of science, the BioInteractive team creates and actively engages with the teaching community to distribute media that is engaging and relevant to the science curriculum.