I’m teaching the same microbiology class as last semester. Last semester, I worked on designing my second unit project in a way that would make it personally authentic for students. This semester, I want to revise my third unit project.

In the third unit, students learn about new research in microbiology that suggests that our modernized lives, full of cleaning products, antibiotics, sterile food, and more, have led to an ever decreasing microbiome. There are studies that suggest that this decreased microbiome is responsible for a rise in allergies and autoimmune disorders, as our poorly trained immune systems grow bored. Students look at data from these studies and use that data to create an argument around a variety of questions (ex: How clean should you keep your children?). I love that students are able to evaluate a variety of interesting, creative, current scientific studies and look at data directly published in scientific journals, as well as think about how to use evidence to support an argument. But, the ultimate product of a 5 paragraph argumentative essay felt inauthentic to the science discipline, overly structured, and didn’t seem to get students excited.

Based on this, I want to think of a more authentic product, but based on the same basic content and skill building blocks. I would like students to create something that allows them to be more creative, requires critical thinking, and ends with a product that also exists in the real world. My problem of practice is how might we transform the third microbiology project to have students create a product that is original, impactful, and reflects work scientists would do. I’ve always found it hard to develop authentic, rigorous projects in science classes that are not lab reports. But I’m looking forward to trying to tackle that problem this semester! As of right now, one idea I have is asking students to act as doctors with a “Dear Abby” style help column and respond to a variety of concerns from lay people about their health and behaviors.