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Iterative Design to Engage All (IDEA) Learners Fellowship Program

Incorporating the science of PFAS into life science instruction

A long-duration teacher professional development program for grades 9-12 life science teachers






Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals that pollute NC’s water and air and impact human health. Participants will learn about this cutting-edge environmental health issue from biomedical researchers and receive teacher-designed and standards-aligned instructional materials. Featured activities promote student engagement with real-time, local, research-generated data and exploration of biomedical research career opportunities. Participants will have the opportunity to pilot activities during the 2023-2024 school year.


Fellows will:

  • Connect and engage with a variety of PFAS scientists from across the state of NC, including high-level scientists from multiple universities, the EPA, the NIEHS, and graduate students, post-docs, and emerging career scientists.
  • Gain knowledge and collect resources that align with the NC Essential Standards for Science (NCSCOS) and integrate science and engineering practices (SEPs) outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Fellows will receive:

  • 20+ hours of professional development designed to increase teacher knowledge of PFAS and its impacts to health and enhance STEM pedagogies. In June 2024, teachers will receive a certificate of completion documenting total contact hours of professional development towards Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits; EE Forms (Criteria III credit) for teachers enrolled in the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program will be available upon request.
  • Financial compensation (up to $500/year) for participating in the activities described below.
  • Opportunities to present and model lessons at relevant educator conferences (e.g., NCSTA) beginning in fall 2024 (travel support available).
  • Travel and lodging expenses to support in person attendance at the 2023 Professional Development Institute, which will be held on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, in adherence with Carolina’s COVID-19 Community Standards.

Fellows will be expected to:

  • Be a 9th-12th grade life science teacher in NC
  • Have access to working internet with audio capabilities to participate in virtual sessions.
  • Be available to participate in the following:

Summer Professional Development Institute | June 21-23, 2023 (UNC-Chapel Hill)

During this institute, we will learn about PFAS contamination in North Carolina from biomedical researchers through presentations, lab tours, and science-based activities. Teacher members of the IDEA Learners Design Team will model a curriculum they co-developed in summer 2022 using a design-thinking process. Participants will explore classroom activities that feature local PFAS data and online mapping tools, and promote biomedical research careers.

Pilot-testing of instructional materials | One-time during 2023-2024 schoolyear

Participants will be expected to pilot-test instructional materials with at least one class during the 2023-2024 academic year and participate in online check-in meetings about the pilots (January and June 2024).

IDEA Fellows Action Sessions | Quarterly in the 2023-2024 schoolyear

To support IDEA Learners Fellows in classroom implementation of project curricula, quarterly, 75-minute virtual action sessions will be offered. During these virtual sessions, we will explore a topic and discuss classroom integration strategies to support classroom application of program resources and materials and offer peer support in incorporating program experiences into instruction.

Participate in ongoing research & evaluation 

Fellows will participate in on-going research and evaluation, which may include administering student retrospective-post-surveys.

This project is administered by the UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility, with support from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Award Number R25GM142060-01.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

*The IDEA Learners Fellows are part of a research study led by Dr. Kathleen Gray and Dana Haine in the Center for Public Engagement with Science. The purpose of this study is to assess the extent to which engaging teachers in iterative design processes with scientists increases their content knowledge of and self-efficacy for incorporating current biomedical science into their teaching. This study includes a professional development program with a teacher-driven curriculum development component. During the study, teachers will be asked to complete pre- and post-interviews and surveys in addition to online lesson implementation reflections. Teachers who are selected as IDEA Fellows will be invited to participate in this research study and will be provided a consent form which more fully describes the research study and their rights as study participants. Participation in this study is voluntary, and participants may withdraw their consent at any time, without penalty. Teachers who choose to participate in the study will be asked to review, sign and return the consent form to the study team. We expect to generate useful insights about the extent to which engaging teachers in iterative design processes with scientists increases their content knowledge and self-efficacy for incorporating current biomedical science into their teaching. We expect to describe our research results, using generic descriptors, in professional settings (such as conferences) and in publications.

This program is part of a research study approved by the UNC Institutional Review Board (IRB) on October 8 , 2021 (Study #21-1627). For questions about the study, contact Dr. Kathleen Gray at 919-966-9799 or For general questions about the research process or about being a research subject, contact the UNC IRB at 919-966-3113 or