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Projects of Interest to Middle School Teachers and Children

Addiction: Hijacking the Brain

Product Developed: a) educational opportunities for middle and high school students through Brain Power, a traveling van, b) speakers bureau for classrooms and community groups and c) a "Neuroscience of Addiction" curriculum for teachers, d) lectures for the general public; e) workshops for professionals in drug enforcement

Target Audience: middle and high school students and teachers; general public; professionals in drug enforcement

Goal: This multifaceted project sought to disseminate research based science information to a broad audience. The Brain Power program was delivered to schools in Washington and neighboring states where it reached over 30,000 students and 4,000 adults. The program consisted of 12 lessons and a materials kit which used engaging and fun educational materials and settings, to stimulate lessons on basic neuroscience and the biology of addiction. Additionally a detailed curriculum, "Brain Power: It's all in Your Head," was developed for middle school teachers and students. The curriculum contains engaging lessons on a variety of neuroscience topics, including drug abuse.

This grant also organized 140 volunteer professionals who traveled to schools and community groups to give seminars on a variety of brain and drug abuse research topics. The speakers all included the importance of animals for biomedical research in their talks. Countless numbers of students and adults have been reached through this program. WABR also held Amazing Animal Research Student Contests in which students submitted essays and posters detailing the importance of animal research.

Alignment with Standards: National Science Education Standards

Contact: Susanna Cunningham, Ph.D.
University of Washington

Cool Science Careers – Experience Science Firsthand

Product Developed: a website offering interactive, free online games in which students assume authentic tasks and learn facts related to careers in science.

banner from web site

Target Audience: middle school students

Goal: In Cool Science Careers, adolescents can experience what it's like to be a scientist. The website currently offers interactive games related to epidemiology, neuropsychology, toxicology, neurobiology, and neuroradiology. For example, players analyze results of MRIs, perform an animal experiment, replicate a memory test, conduct a case-control study, and evaluate the results of GC/MS analysis.

If students are unsure about which career to choose, they can take a career interest survey, which will match them with one of the careers on the website. The activities are accompanied by interviews with real scientists, information about educational requirements, and examples of related jobs, including those that do not require a M.D. or Ph.D. Plus, students can find answers to common questions about careers in science and ask their own questions.

Alignment with Standards: National Science Education Standards; Benchmarks for Science Literacy ; Technological Innovation and Learning Theory.

Website: http://coolsciencecareers.rice.edu/

Contact: Leslie Miller, Ph.D.
Rice University

Critical Appraisal to Improve Neuroscience Education (CAINE)

Product Developed: new educational materials for middle school students; teacher training programs

Goal: This project was developed to train teachers and develop a unique approach for teaching minority middle school students about the science of drug abuse and addiction. The project developed new educational materials that adapted concepts from critical appraisal of the literature to translate research reports into forms that middle school students may evaluate. Using tools created by scientist-educator teams, students appraise plain language versions of research articles and compare them to accompanying media reports to ascertain accuracy of science reporting. Novice science teachers from minority school districts received training in the curriculum as well as in the neurobiology of drug abuse. Students who participate in the program learned more about science, math, health, and the methods used to conduct research.

Contact: Michael Lichtenstein, M.D.
University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio

CSI: Forensic Web Adventures to Teach about Prescription Drug Abuse

Product Developed: Two online science education games as part of the award winning CSI: WEB ADVENTURES series that teach about prescription drug abuse

Target Audience: Middle school students and the general public

Goal: Two interactive online games were added to the highly successful CSI: Web Adventures:  The Experience.  These games were designed to  teach about prescription drug abuse in the context of a crime scene investigation. In order to solve a case, players need to perform lab analyses (e.g., gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, ELISA, spectrophotometry) and conduct research about the nature and consequences of prescription drug abuse, including addiction, alteration of brain functions, and the risk of dying from an overdose.

Alignment with Standards: National Science Education Standards; Benchmarks for Science Literacy; Healthy People 2010 and 2020; Technological Innovation and Learning Theory.

Awards: The existing CSI: THE EXPERIENCE website was the Winner of the 2009 Interactive Media Association Outstanding Achievement Award for Teens

Website: http://forensics.rice.edu/

Contact: Leslie Miller, Ph.D.
Rice University

Drug Abuse and Addiction: A Multimedia Approach

Product Developed: inquiry based curriculum materials and video

Target Audience: middle school students and the adults in their lives, including parents or guardians, teachers, school counselors, school health professionals and other school personnel

Goal: This grant developed inquiry based curriculum materials about the science of drug addiction, including a multimedia component, a web component and print materials specific for each target audience. The combination of web, print and multimedia approaches provides a coherent program focused on major drug abuse related concepts. Print materials for parents and guardians have been translated into Spanish. This project produced outstanding materials similar to the Office of Science Education/NIDA project developed for high school, "The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction", also developed by Dr. Westbrook.

Alignment with Standards: National Science Education Standards

Availability: The materials can be obtained at http://www.bscs.org/drugabuse

Contact: Anne Westbrook, Ph.D.
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study

Drug Scene Investigators

Product Developed: an educational game for middle school students about the biology of drugs of abuse

Target Audience: middle school students and their teachers

Goal: This project sought to educate middle school students about the biology of drug abuse through the use of a problem-solving game in which the students carry out research in a simulated real-life situation. The game involves a multidisciplinary approach that is designed to make materials comprehensible to a diverse group of learners.

Website: http://play.dsihome.org/

Contact: Rees Midgley, M.D.

Girls in Drug Abuse Science

Product Developed: a multiyear program for reaching Appalachian girls and increasing their scientific knowledge and confidence

Target Audience: middle school girls and their teachers and parents

Goal: This grant provided young Appalachian girls with an innovative multiyear program aimed at increasing their scientific knowledge and confidence to counter the under representation of rural girls who chose science and drug abuse research careers and to improve the knowledge of drug abuse research among rural girls. Girls in the program participated in Project Summer Institutes, Saturday Sessions, and scientific as well as community mentoring opportunities. The project also targeted middle school math and science teachers with professional development courses which focused on engaging girls in drug abuse research and science. In addition, the project included parental involvement through a series of workshops. This project is also developedi and disseminated a model curriculum to enhance teaching of science and drug abuse in rural areas, and a guide "Promoting Gender Equity in the Classroom" to enhance science education in rural areas.

Alignment with Standards: National Science Education Standards

Contact: Carl Leukefeld, Ph.D.
University of Kentucky

Planarians and the Pharmacology of Addiction: an in Vivo Model for Grades 6-12 Education

Product Developed: a series of lessons that use the living planarian flatworm to teach science concepts using the biology of drug abuse

Target Audience: Students and Teachers in Grades 6-12

Goal: This program was developed to provide an inquiry-based educational program for use in the classroom that provides lessons on the neurobiology and behavioral effects of commonly abused drugs (e.g. alcohol, nicotine) and caffeine, as well as natural rewards such as table sugar.  Planarians make an ideal subject for these lessons because they not only have a simple brain, but they also produce the same chemicals that contribute to addiction in humans.  In addition, they are cheap, easy to use, and amenable to employing hands-on inquiry-based lesson plans that enable students to quantify actual human-like responses to drugs of abuse.  These lessons allow students to simulate the roles of scientists by creating and testing their own hypotheses to study the science that underlies drug addiction. 

Availabilityhttps://medicine.temple.edu/sites/medicine/files/files/seadap_lesson_plans.pdf (PDF, 1MB)

Contact: Scott Rawls, Ph.D.
Temple University

Reconstructors – Travel into the future and reconstruct the science of substance abuse.

Product Developed: An award winning web site, The Reconstructors, that offers three independent science education games and supporting curriculum materials

screen shot from web site

Target Audience: Middle school students

Goal: The Reconstructors series provides an entertaining, student -friendly means of educating adolescents about the biological and social impact of drugs of abuse. In each of the thematic games, players are presented with a problem to solve. Within the game, they gather scientific evidence, collect and interpret data, conduct laboratory experiments, and consult with experts. They learn how classes of drugs affect the body, especially the nervous system, leading players to understand the reasons for avoiding drugs of abuse.

Each of thematic games consists of three to five consecutive episodes.

  • In Uncommon Scents, students investigate a chemical accident and learn about the health effects of exposure to toxic chemicals. By learning about the accidental impact of toxic vapors, the player then discovers the serious consequences of intentional use of inhalants.
  • In Nothing To Rave About, students are asked to uncover why there has been a dramatic increase in the number of teens admitted to the emergency room after partying at a local dance club. During their investigation, they learn how ecstasy and other club drugs act on the nervous system.
  • In A Plaguing Problem, students “reconstruct” lost knowledge about pain relieving drugs such as opiates. They learn about concepts such as neurotransmission, the neurobiology and history underlying drug addiction, and pain management.

Alignment with Standards: National Science Education Standards; Benchmarks for Science Literacy ; Healthy People 2010 and 2020; Technological Innovation and Learning Theory.

Availability: Freely available at http://reconstructors.rice.edu

Translation: Two of the games (Nothing to Rave About and A Plaguing Problem) have Spanish versions.


  • Received an "A" review from Education World, an internet resource guide for educators.
  • The Exploratorium named The Reconstructors one of their Ten Cool Sites for February 2001.
  • Was named Hot Site of the Week at the Pacific Bell Knowledge Network.
  • Received the Talking Hands Award for web sites appropriate for teaching hearing impaired children.
  • The Science Teachers Association of Texas has recognized The Reconstructors Series as "Best of CAST 2003" (Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching) in the July 2004 issue of the Texas Science Education Monthly.
  • Was selected as a Digital Dozen site, which recognizes it as an exemplary web site for educators as chosen by the Eisenhower National Clearing (ENC).
  • Was awarded the Ed-Media 2004 Outstanding Poster Award for "Using Web-based Multimedia Narrative and Simulations to Teach Drugs of Abuse."
  • Web Page of the Month by Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.


  • An Online, Interactive Approach to Teaching Neuroscience to Adolescents, Miller, LM, et al., (2006) Cell Biology Education, Vol 5 p. 137-143.
  • Using Web-Based Multimedia Narrative and Simulations to Teach about Drugs of Abuse, Miller, LM, et al., (2004) Conference Proceeding of ED-MEDIA 2004: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia, and Telecommunications, Lugano Switzerland, Vol 2004, Issue, 1, pp. 3959-3961. (Recipient of the Ed-Media 2004 Outstanding Poster Award).
  • Using Narrative to Teach Neuroscience Concepts to Middle School Students Through a Web-Based Adventure Story, Miller, LM, et al., Proceeding of SITE 2002 Conference, Nashville Tennessee, March 18-23, 2002.
  • Teaching Neuroscience Through Web Adventures: Adolescents Reconstruct the History and Science of Opioids, Miller, L.M., et al., (2002) The Neuroscientist 1(8):16-21.
  • Flash Forward to Problem-based Science, Miller, L.M., et al., (2002) Science Scope 25(3):154-157.
  • Middle School Students and Technology: Habits and Preferences, Miller, L.M., (2001) TechEdge, Journal of Texas Association of Computer Educators 20(1):125-140.
  • Middle School Students' Technology Practices and Preferences: Re-Examining Gender Differences. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 10(2), 125-140, 2001.

Contact: Leslie Miller, Ph.D.
Rice University

SPARC2000+: Science Fair Drug Abuse Science Literacy

Product Developed: Minority middle and high school students and their teachers will receive training in how to conduct science fairs.

Target Audience: minority middle and high school students

Goal: This project used science fairs to improve science literacy and minority participation in science. To enable science teachers and adult mentors to get more students at middle and high school levels involved in science fairs, the project offered training in research methods, technical assistance regarding science fairs, and other resources to science teachers in grades 6-12 in New Jersey. Each summer teachers participated in a 5-week workshop to learn how to use research to study the effects of drugs and the nature of drug abuse and addiction. They also learned how to promote inquiry-based learning in their students and how to engage them in the process of doing science by producing interesting, novel projects for science fairs. Students had the opportunity to present their projects in elementary school, libraries, community centers, science expos, and at research luncheons. An on-line version is being developed.

Alignment with Standards: National Science Education Standards

Presentations: Long-term Outcome of a Science Enrichment Intervention: Evaluation of SPARC in Camden, NJ, USA. Presented at the Southern African Association for Research on Mathematics and Science Education, January, 2000.'

Contact: J. Bill Whitlow, Jr., Ph.D.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

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