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Science Educators and Librarians Benefit from NLM’s K-12 Resources!

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) has a long, respected history of providing resources for health professionals, scientists, and researchers, but it may come as a surprise that it also offers quality, unique materials for K-12 science educators. NLM’s Specialized Information Services (SIS) division is working diligently towards creating resources that are fully vetted and tied to national education standards. A recent webinar presented to NN/LM staff by Andrew Plumer of SIS highlighted numerous resources that include lesson plans for middle and high school students. These freely available educator resources help students make the connection between scientific concepts and community health, environmental quality, natural and human-caused hazards, and other issues. While these resources are geared towards educators, school and public librarians will also benefit from knowing the breadth and depth of what is available.

A “One-stop Shop” for K-12 Resources
The K-12 page gives teachers one place to go for almost all of NLM’s K-12 resources. The K-12 Science and Health Education page includes numerous categories; such as Biology, Careers, Environmental Health Science/Chemistry, Forensics and Medical Technology, General Health, Genetics, HIV/AIDS, Lesson Plans, Projects, and more!

The SIS Approach for Developing K-12 Resources
Considerations for resource development are based on focus groups, as well as discussions with teachers at conferences and others who have collaborated with NLM. In addition, conversations with teachers helped to determine needs, and subject matter experts were consulted to insure that resources are rich, with the right types of materials and content. By including teachers in the developmental and evaluation process, SIS is creating lesson plans and curricula that meet teacher needs.

Environmental Health and Toxicology Content
This article will focus on several free environmental health and toxicology resources for K-12 teachers and librarians. Andrew summed it up in three words: “vetted, vetted, vetted.” Based on consultations with educators, NLM learned that offering web sites containing quality information wasn’t enough. Teachers need ready-to-use, grade appropriate content, but the critical factor for use and implementation was that the lesson plans and curriculum units be tied directly to national and/or state science education standards. SIS worked with teachers and subject experts to review the materials for quality, age appropriateness, and science standard correlation.

ToxMystery (Grades 2-5)
ToxMystery was created by NLM to help children learn about household chemical hazards. Toxie the Cat helps students find the hazards hidden in each room and offers hints when needed. This resource uses a child-friendly, interactive game interface to get younger students to think and learn about household hazards. The sound effects are fun; turn on your speakers and move your mouse to the front door on the home page for an example! The “For Teachers” section includes lesson plans and activity pages. ToxMystery is available in English and Spanish.

ToxMystery screenshot

Environmental Health Student Portal (Grades 6-8)
The Environmental Health Student Portal provides a safe and useful resource for students and teachers in grades 6 – 8 to learn how the environment can impact health. The site explores topics such as water pollution, climate change, air pollution, and chemicals. It includes a Teacher’s Page with resources to engage students in active learning, a Homework Help page, and a section about careers in the environmental sciences.

This site was developed based on teachers’ input. It addresses the “what’s in it for me” of why students should care about the environment, and keeps students engaged with hands-on activities, games, videos, experiments and projects. SIS has plans for future web site improvements and enhancements.

Enviro Health Student Portal Screenshot

Tox Town (Grades 6-12+)
Tox Town is a guide to commonly encountered toxic substances in a colorful, graphic interface. Teachers can integrate science with literacy skills, by enabling students to engage in teacher-developed expository reading and writing activities. The site can be used for Earth Day activities, and can also test Spanish language/reading skills. It ties an environmental science curriculum with the effects on human health. Tox Town is designed to provide information on:

  • everyday locations where you might find toxic chemicals
  • non-technical descriptions of chemicals
  • links to selected, authoritative chemical information
  • how the environment can impact human health
  • Internet resources on environmental health topics

Tox Town screenshot

Tox Town is also available in Spanish. Here is the interactive Southwest page in Spanish:

Tox Town Southwest Spanish screenshot

Tox Town-Based Curriculum Units/Science Club (Grades 6-8)
Discovering the Connection: Your Environment, Your Health is an after-school science club curriculum for middle school students. It can also be used in a science classroom or in an interdisciplinary program that connects science and society. The curriculum sequence consists of six units. Each unit introduces one environmental health topic and includes three to four 50-60 minute lessons. It is an excellent resource for multidisciplinary education, as it combines science, social studies, and language arts, an important component of the Common Core State Standards for education.

Lessons and activities of the curriculum combine research on the Tox Town website with hands-on experiments, communication, and social action activities. The objective is to introduce middle school students to environmental health issues in their everyday lives, emphasizing the relevance of science to informed citizenship. The curriculum was developed as a collaboration between the National Library of Medicine, University of Maryland College of Education, and an inter-disciplinary group of middle school teachers. It is based on National Science Education Standards and is grounded in problem-based learning.

To discover the usefulness of this resource, the curriculum is currently being field tested in six schools nationwide. Some schools are implementing the curriculum as part of environmental science, physical science, or life science classes; others are conducting it as an after-school club, and one site is utilizing a hybrid of after-school and classroom activities. All schools participating in this project are diverse, with large representations of underserved minority populations and academic scores below their state average.

Tox Town Curriculum screenshot

TOXMAP (Grades 9 – 12+)
TOXMAP helps users create nationwide, regional, or local area maps, showing where Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) chemicals are released on-site into the air, water, and ground. It also identifies the releasing facilities, color-codes release amounts for a single year or year range, provides multi-year aggregate chemical release data, and trends over time. Since 1988, TOXMAP has provided the capability to overlay TRI and superfund data with disease prevalence data, thus helping to show relationships between environmental toxins and human health. Teachers use TOXMAP to supplement chemistry and environmental science classes, to help students make the connection between science and social issues, advocacy, and discussion of social justice.

Tox Map screenshot

Additional Related Sites
The following sites do not offer materials specifically for teachers, but are useful for certain classroom situations.

Household Products Database (Grades 6 – 12+)
Learn about the potential health effects of chemicals in common household products.

ToxLearn and Toxicology Tutorials (Grades 9 – 12+)
Written at the introductory college student level and teaches basic toxicology principles.

ChemIDplus (Grades 7 – 12+)
View and manipulate chemical structures for over 388,000 chemicals. Create SIS and TRANS models, conduct structure similarity searches, and view chemical synonyms.

Science educators and librarians are reaping the benefits of the Specialized Information Services’ efforts to provide high quality K-12 resources. To stay informed about new offerings, consider subscribing to NLM’s K-12 listserv. And watch for future articles that will cover additional resources in other topic areas, plus unique materials from NLM that will engage students!

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