Barcoding Life's Matrix: Engaging Students as Citizen Scientists in the Barcode of Life Initiative
The Barcode of Life Initiative (BOLI) is an international biodiversity collaboration that creates a genetic encyclopedia of Earth's plants and animals using short DNA sequences that uniquely identify species groups. The goal of this strategies project is to interest students in STEM careers by engaging them in an international project to provide identification of biological species. This work builds on prior successful extended activities that immerse high school students and teachers in the real work of the scientific community to do DNA barcoding of flora and fauna in the Channel Islands kelp forest and marine protected areas. Over the three year period, nine cohorts of ten students each learn about DNA sequencing and developing barcodes of select fish and invertebrate species found within the Channel Island kelp forests in week-long residential camps. During each program session, guest scientists and other professionals expose students to career perspectives from a variety of scientific and professional workplace settings. Six five-day teacher professional development workshops enhance teachers' content and technical mastery. In a second workshop, the teachers participate in the barcoding and practice their delivery of the content with students. At the end of the workshop, teachers receive the materials, equipment and supplies needed to guide students through the 16-unit curriculum closely aligned with state and national standards. These instructional modules describe how the concepts, tools, and skills are used to address basic questions, problems, and goals that characterize different segments of the 21st century workplace. They are implemented in high school laboratories, engaging another 2700 students. The connection between the student and teacher sessions will be varied to determine the most effective way to connect the teachers and the students. A Barcoding for Citizen Scientists Portal, a distributed bioinformatics platform, is developed to serve as a user interface for non-professionals engaged in DNA barcoding. Data that meet or exceed quality standards are eligible for export to the professional database. The evaluation measures the extent to which students increase their attitude toward science, their scientific knowledge, skills and critical reasoning abilities, and their ability to apply a variety of technological tools in scientific investigations. Also investigated is the increased ability of teachers to transform their science curriculum to engage students in the process of science and increase their interest in pursuing STEM careers. The project also provides the STEM community with new genetic tools, databases and instructional models for engaging in and teaching science.