Green Tick: Society for Endocrinology: You and Your Hormones web-based resources

Society for Endocrinology: You and Your Hormones web-based resources

Undoubtedly, many students struggle with the complexity of the human endocrine system, whether it is understanding the menstrual cycle at Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11-16) or the control of adrenaline secretion at A-level. The Society for Endocrinology has produced the website You and Your Hormones to help students and teachers understand the functions of glands and hormones, along with some of the issues surrounding hormones, such as obesity, IVF and the use of animals in research. There are 18 different factsheets for hormones, with a further 8 for glands, all providing scientifically accurate information. These factsheets follow a structure that describes the location of the gland, what it does, what it secretes and associated disorders. With respect to the hormones, each hormone is concisely described, covering what it is and how it is controlled, before detailing the impacts of imbalances. In addition to these resources, the subsection Hormones in the News and the podcasts Hormones: The Inside Story add contexts to a challenging aspect of the curriculum.

The podcasts are a particular strength of the resource. The informal conversation hosted by Georgia Mills brings in some notable experts, such as Dr Giles Yeo as well as PhD students, covering a broad range of topics across the (currently) six episodes. Accompanying each episode is a transcript, allowing teachers to scan through the episode to analyse the appropriateness for their groups. The language used in the podcasts is accessible to most students and will help to demonstrate how hormones interact and how they continue to be studied.

In episode 1, Are my hormones making me fat?, the complicated role that hormones play in the sensation of satiety is discussed. This would be appropriate for higher achieving students at Key Stages 3 and 4; however, the potential to link non-communicable diseases to careers and research may be better suited to GCSE students (ages 14-16). This discussion pulls in the role of animal models, genetics and behaviour in a light-hearted chat. Despite the level of science being discussed, the informal nature makes it engaging and accessible. With unfamiliar hormones being discussed, the topic page on Hormones and eating would support those students who want to know more without getting lost in a Google search. The individual hormone factsheets are of greater value to teachers who wish to enhance their subject knowledge.

Another gem within the podcast episodes is Are everyday chemicals harming my health? This particular episode would be great for use with higher-achieving GCSE students or even A-level biology students. It pulls in the concepts of bioaccumulation and reproductive biology and therefore would be ideally suited for synoptic application towards the end of courses. The plenary section of the episode discusses the idea of risk through named examples including natural and synthetic molecules.

As previously mentioned, the factsheets are ideal for teachers aiming to improve their own subject knowledge. Unfortunately there is not a continuous style with diagrams and many are merely illustrative rather than beneficial. With the regulation of hormones relying on negative feedback, many factsheets would be improved with carefully constructed diagrams to reduce the cognitive load and make these factsheets more accessible to students. This is particularly evident with The Menstrual Cycle, where diagram representation is not an improvement on Wikipedia or any Key Stage 3 or 4 textbook despite the similarity of content. As the menstrual cycle is such a key part of the curriculum, it would be good if the language could be matched better to the curriculum, rather than focusing on the scientific accuracy with respect to oestradiol rather than oestrogen. The complex terminology of the human endocrine system is made accessible to students through different tiers within articles and factsheets. The hover-over function gives a quick definition of a term; a more in-depth description can be found in the subheadings on factsheets and, in the body of each factsheet, there is a thoroughly detailed description of everything a teacher would need to know.

There is a very useful Topical Issues section for teachers containing another series of resources. For example, a description of potential and current male contraception focusing on the potential to interact with the hormonal system is an excellent article. This would tie in very well with the GCSE curriculum, providing a context in which to evaluate the effectiveness and suitability of different contraceptive methods in addition to those that may be present in textbooks. Navigating through the topical issues is very straightforward, with a concise and clear summary of the article on the root page. Of the 14 articles currently published, the majority relate to the human reproductive system, some of which deal with disorders that stretch and challenge students at Key Stage 3 or 4, or provide answers to teachers for those tricky questions from curious students. Within this section there are a couple of articles that provide good contexts for investigative design: Animal research in science and Hormones and conservation. The former would fit in very well with students studying the drug development pipeline at GCSE. As endocrine pathways are complex, the value of animal models is evaluated well and justified. This would aid the more able students in considering how drug targets are identified at the beginning of the discovery pathway. This page could be used in conjunction with the What are clinical trials page. With respect to the latter article, this would be an excellent discussion point for Key Stages 3 and 4 linking reproduction to conservation. It would be a good example of how science can be applied, and the careers linked to endocrinology. Mentions of the stress hormones are not dwelled upon and could be ignored where appropriate.

There are a small number of animations on the website. The What is Endocrinology? video accompanies the page on What is an Endocrinologist?, offering a very clear overview of the field and associated careers. This would be suitable across all secondary age groups. There is also a growing library of animations produced by university students. These short videos occasionally need to be treated with caution to avoid misconceptions, as some of them introduce contemporaneous research that challenges central theories at GCSE. In addition to these videos, there is a curated section of Hormones in the News, which provides a summary of the research and the links to the original article.

In summary, You and Your Hormones is already a valuable resource for enhancing subject knowledge for teachers, with a range of appropriate factsheets for A-level and GCSE students alike. As further podcasts and activities get added to the website, undoubtedly it will become even better. Every episode of the podcast is well worth the 20-30 minute investment for teachers and A-level students, covering a range of topics from performance-enhancing drugs to the biology of stress. Considering the website’s use for younger students, teachers will need to be more selective regarding what articles to signpost students towards. Fortunately, the themes are well mapped to enable teachers to narrow their selection according to the lesson theme.