Students listen to a guest speaker

Vancouver Home Connection students discuss cancer risks and treatment options with nurses/podcast hosts Deanna Berger and Meredith Pena.

“It has made me more aware of the risks of cancer, how it’s caused and signs to look for.”

—Vancouver Home Connection student

Sticky notes with student questions“Cancer is a topic that is difficult, but important to talk about with students,” said William Baur.

Baur is a science teacher at the Heights Campus, a school that houses several programs including Vancouver Home Connection. Having lost an aunt and a former student to cancer, he knows the stakes of the disease. “Teaching about cancer is my way to honor my memory of them,” he said.

To help navigate the topic, Baur is field testing a new high school science curriculum that is under development by the nonprofit OpenSciEd. Baur and his students’ feedback will eventually play a role in refining the curriculum before it becomes available to educators all over the world.

Over several weeks, Vancouver Home Connection students in Baur’s high school biology class are learning about who gets cancer and why, as well as how treatment and prevention efforts should be focused.

The class analyzed graphs to identify which cancers are the most commonly diagnosed (breast cancer) and which are the most deadly (lung cancer). Students examined cancer rates relative to human height and mammal body size, and studied which states have the highest cancer rates. The class also generated a list of guiding questions that they will revisit throughout the course as they discuss with one another, analyze data and learn together.

Future lessons include learning more about how healthy cells become cancerous, genetic and environmental causes of cancer and local cancer rates and risks.

On March 15, the students met with Meredith Pena and Deanna Berger. The Vancouver-based nurses host a podcast about their experiences with breast cancer. Students had an opportunity to ask Pena and Berger about everything from genetic testing and treatment options to side effects and the path to becoming a nurse.

Among the most important outcomes of the course is knowledge of cancer prevention. Said Baur, “A large percentage (42%) of cancers are preventable. … By teaching about cancer, I hope students gain a greater awareness of who is at risk of developing cancer and why. This knowledge will help them take steps to detect cancer early when they or their loved ones are most at risk of developing cancer.”