Synthetic Biology Education through Comics
iGEM is a phenomenal competition allowing high school, college, and post-graduate students to do a deep dive into synthetic biology, enhancing their knowledge and furthering the field. However, there is a notable lack of knowledge about synthetic biology around the world, especially for younger children. To remedy that gap, our educational vision is to develop a creative and engaging curriculum for teaching middle schoolers the basic skills of synthetic biology. This will help middle schoolers prepare for future participation in iGEM. The attached video features the style of communication we envision in this future comic series that illuminates complex topics.
The first step is to create a comic book to stimulate interest in iGEM for younger students. A comic book would be a fun and engaging way for middle schoolers to learn about synthetic biology. In collaboration with Professor Vijai Singh, a leading authority and author of many books on synthetic biology, our team will create a set of comic book lessons to teach the principles of synthetic biology so that the initial cohort will be ready and eager to participate in iGEM once in high school. This comic book will teach middle schoolers our curricula in 4 units of 3 easy-to-follow lesson-booklets each, in the following subject areas: computer science, artificial intelligence, genomics, and a capstone unit on synthetic biology. We will probably have 12 parts three for each subject area of the four mentioned just here. The Cartoon Guide to Genetics by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis could be considered the Rosetta Stone for this communicative effort. We will publish the work online and encourage initial distribution in our respective school districts, and then to the wider San Francisco Bay area. This effort will be the first two years of the project to perfect, hone, and republish the material.
As a follow up to the initial work, we will write a workshop to be taught in San Francisco Bay area middle schools, possibly by video if the pandemic persists. Through creative storytelling, comics, and movies, middle schoolers will be drawn into the magic of synthetic biology, forming a farm team for iGEM. Each of the 12 comic lessons will be turned into a 20-minute short film discussing the concepts. Odigos team members will teach a 12-week after school program, possibly by video, in Bay Area Middle Schools; each workshop will consist of a 5-minute meet and greet, a 20-minute video, and a 20-minute Question/Answer time. Names and contact information of interested students, with parent permission, will be collected for follow up media information about upcoming iGEM events and teams once these students graduate to high school. This effort will form the next two years of the project timeline to spread the vision of iGEM to a wider audience. By this time, most of the initial crop of Phase I middle schoolers will already be in high school, ripe to participate in area iGEM teams. We also plan to work with Johns Hopkins CTY and Northwestern CTD to offer this seminar online to their younger students around the country.
In conclusion, we want to take iGEM from being a competition, to being a movement of even very young people joyfully participating in the adventures of science.