National Geographic encourages student citizen scientists to participate in their Genographic Project, which employs cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyse historical patterns in DNA from participants in an effort to better understand our human genetic roots. They have an emerging education focus that encourages schools to participate.
Last year I wrote about plans to personalise Big History by having students participate, as citizen scientists, in The Genographic Project. Today, my very excited and enthusiastic class, collected samples of DNA* from their cheeks (using the Geno 2.0 kits) and posted them to National Geographic.
It will take two months for their DNA to be analysed and the data to appear at their personalised page at the Genographic site. This will not only tell them the migratory paths ancient ancestors followed thousands of years ago and what percentage of their genome is affiliated with specific regions of the world but also if they have Neanderthal or Denisovan ancestry. They will also be assisting, as citizen scientists, to build on our total knowledge of the human journey by contributing the story from their DNA.
The students will be receiving their results around about the time they commence Threshold 6 of their Big History course which explores early humans and collective learning. This seems symbolically significant as the nature of citizen science is yet another example of the human urge to share and cooperate. The students will have a very personal connection with our earliest origins as they will be able to see their own genetic route out of Africa.
We are all very excited!
Today, this process of collecting DNA samples, has only been made possible through partnerships the school has developed. We are always enthusiastically forging relationships with the tertiary sector that benefit our students in many areas of life and learning. There are now many programs that result in a wide-range of workshops at school or at our local university that prepare students for tertiary education. There are a variety of experiences, such as mentoring programs and academic extension opportunities too, on offer.
Professor Bert Roberts, Director of the Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong, funded the Geno 2.0 kits so it was free for the students to participate. Usually, there’s not much change from US$200.00 to complete the testing so it is highly appreciated by the students and our school that the university has financially supported this initiative. I know Professor Roberts is hoping to gain some some great students for his course who are deeply engaged with archaeological science from an early age and these students during next term will learn a great deal about prehistory and also how aDNA (Ancient DNA) can inform our understanding of the past.
We have commenced planning for an exchange with a school in Indonesia, potentially on the island of Flores, and Professor Roberts has indicated it is possible for the students to visit the cave where Flores Man (‘The Hobbit’) was discovered. Students studying Big History could really broaden their experiences and start to understand the complexities of archaeological excavation in the 21st century.
My proposed study tour will focus on forging closer links with key innovators, academics and institutions that can assist NSW teachers with processes and support to engage students with significant, intellectually rich opportunities to learn by creatively and innovatively employing new and emerging technologies in the classroom. The opportunities to personalise concepts in NSW syllabuses, especially in the subjects of science and history, are extensive and exciting as students are connected with the Big Picture of our shared human journey.
I have applied for a NSW Premier’s Teaching Scholarship in an attempt to make it easier for students and teachers to become citizen scientists with the Genographic Project. Currently, it is quite a challenge to fund and even ordering the kits from the USA is much more difficult than it should be for a range of practical reasons. I hope to meet with the Genographic team and it would be fantastic if Dr Spencer Wells could be a supporter of citizen science in NSW schools.
It would be fantastic if all students had a chance to study the fabulous Big History course and to personalise their learning with support from National Geographic.
* The testing is a non-medical DNA test and will not reveal information about potential illness.