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Team:Tuebingen/Education

PacMn

Education

Science communication is key when wanting to gain trust of the public in scientific progress. There are multiple approaches to science communication, ranging from information transfer focused platforms such as seminars to funny, sketch-based education via memes. For our education, we decided to employ the full range of science communication.

To enhance the effectiveness of our different educational platforms, we split our education in two topics, heavy metal pollution and SARS-CoV-2. Regarding the latter, we wanted to support the general understanding and at the same time clear up myths which have arisen around the disease. The central questions targeted concerning PacMn and heavy metal pollution were the following: Why is this topic important? What is our solution? And how does this relate to synthetic Biology?

Most of our science communication, the SARS-CoV-2 social media campaign, the water pollution social media campaign, the Experimenta Science Center collaboration and the interview with Prof. Kremsner, was already described on the human practice and collaboration pages. Therefore, we want to dedicate this page to go into detail about our Chile Class project and our reflections.

Colegio Alemán de Santiago - Chile class

Our first and longest educational project started with the German school “Colegio Alemán de Santiago” in Chile, where we held a total of nine classes of diverse topics related to synthetic biology. The Chile Class project and the experiences made in the single lectures are described in detail in the following sections.

Background

Aarón, is my name, and I am an ex student from the German school “Colegio Aleman de Santiago” in Chile. Thanks to my time there and my amazing biology teachers, I found my passion in science and decided to leave Chile and move to Germany in order to study Molecular Medicine. In school, I participated in the science club. This year the science club was suffering to stay alive due to the pandemic (all classes switched to an online-format, attendance was voluntary, the labs in the school were closed and the science initiative giving school students the opportunity to work in a private or university laboratory was also shut down). Upon hearing this sad news, I thought it is time to give back a bit of the passion. I enjoy every day since starting my studies. Thus, after talking to the rest of this year‘s iGEM team, we decided to revive my old school’s science club. This is how our adventure presenting classes for around 3 months began.

Of note, the mother tongue of the school students is Spanish while our team members mainly speak German or English, with some high-school Spanish remnants. Thus, we had the opportunity to teach: “classes in all three languages and this did not cause more confusion or problems” (answer taken from all students in their evaluation sheet about our classes).

Since our team members are students themselves without big previous experience in teaching, we took the opportunity to get direct feedback from the teacher and the students themselves. After each class, they completed an evaluation sheet, we went through afterwards and tried to improve the mentioned aspects. Additionally, we gave them some exercise questions at the end of each class to support deeper understanding. These were then discussed in the following class. Since attendance of all students could not always be ensured, we recorded all of them and shared the video, the PowerPoint presentation, the evaluation sheet and questionnaire, and any other used material, for interested students.

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Classes

What is synthetic Biology, and can it be applied in the field of Molecular Medicine?

While biology is a standard subject in school, synthetic biology does not appear much in the school’s curriculum. In this class, we tried to communicate the curiosity and creativity needed to to use this toolbox and apply it to solve contingent problems. When preparing for the class, my biggest fear was to not reach the students. I seeked to provide information in a way that teenagers can follow and are motivated to contribute. Luckily, all students, including the biology teacher, liked the class a lot. Anyhow, I tried to improve in the following class, where I illustrated how the course of my studies, Molecular Medicine, uses and needs synthetic biology. Following, Elias gave a captivating insight into the deep world of Bioinformatics.

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Is bioinformatics important and indispensable for synthetic biology?

My name is Elias and I am currently studying Bioinformatics (M. Sc.). First, I tried to give a rough overview of the field of bioinformatics in connection to synthetic biology to gather the subjects in which the school students showed deeper interest. Based on this, I intended to plan a second, more specific session, which unfortunately could not take place due to the development of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in Chile. Nonetheless, I appreciated today's possibilities to get in touch with these wonderful students from the other side of the world via the internet, only the different time-zones made it complicated to coordinate the classes.

Moreover, I noticed the student’s interests are very diverse. While some were caught by the wet lab part of synthetic biology, another group seeked to expand their knowledge in bioinformatics. Overall, we and the students considered this first class a success and agreed in continuing the project with several classes.

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“Why do I love biochemistry and how do I contribute to the iGem Team this year?” by David (09.06.20)

“I study biochemistry, my true love, and my name is David”. A conclusion from the first class held by Aarón and Elias was that it is sometimes hard for school students to distinguish the thousand science-related study courses. Furthermore, they believe and follow some (false) rumours about the curriculum and career paths that can be pursued. Taking a look back, I had misconceptions as well, so I wanted to give them insight into the wonderful discipline of biochemistry and offer advice at first hand.

The biology teacher studied biochemistry in her bachelors and masters, before becoming a teacher. From her and the students, I received the great feedback that the aim to dispel doubts arising about biochemistry was achieved. I hope all of them can follow their passion and find their preferred field, maybe biochemistry. In the second half of our class, I explained this year's project with the help of Aarón.

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What is the iGem Tübingen 2020 project?

We first assessed the students’ knowledge, with a game, where the students had to explain different scientific aspects. With ages ranging from 7th to 11th grade (13 to 18 years old), the level of knowledge was highly varied across different topics. As we did not know the extent and depth of required coverage, it was a challenge to prepare a presentation beforehand, which could be adapted to any level. First, we introduced the iGEM competition in general and then covered the different aspects of our project. Again, most important for us was that they can keep track and have fun, not to cite a whole book.

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Bacterial Cloning - One of the most important techniques in our project

Hey, David and Aarón again. Building on the student’s answers when asked what they want to hear about, we looked for a topic, we could provide knowledge and experience in. Finally, we decided on bacterial cloning, as this is one of the most important techniques regarding our wet lab work, while it is completely missing in the school’s curriculum. Following the proven method to evaluate the students’ level at the beginning of the class, and by encouraging them to participate, answer and question, we successfully taught them the basics of this method. For every theoretical input, we also introduced a practical example of how this will be applied in our project.

And we strongly aroused their interest: After the class, they stayed for another two hours asking questions, not only about cloning but also about student life, different careers or studying in another country. From this moment it was not only about answering in the best way we could, but there was real exchange between curious students. They now shared with us what they had investigated over the last year and explained their plans for the next science fair. For us, this was by far the best experience, talking about the common passion for science filled us deeply.

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How to write and publish a scientific paper or review?

This class was changed last-minute and spontaneously held by Aarón. Coincidentally, some days before the class, I published a paper as a co-author and got the acceptance of another review I co-authored in the last couple of months. Therefore, I decided to hold a class about literature research and how to write scientifically. In class, I did not only provide theory, but showed examples from my work and other articles covering synthetic biology. Nevertheless, it is hard to present article structure and search engines one can use in a fascinating way. To go beyond showing examples, I incorporated a funny story, using some animations/videos and let them propose structures before evaluating their attempts.

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“Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it isn't there. It's just waiting for the right time to show itself.”Emma Hart, Never Forget

I am Benedikt and while being part of the iGEM competition, I am working on my bachelor's thesis in Nano-Science. This is an interdisciplinary study program featuring courses in chemistry, physics as well as molecular and cell biology. Accordingly, I taught them about how small a nanometer really is, how nano-science already has an impact on their lives and what is to be expected in the future. We also looked at some concrete examples of nano-objects found in nature, such as gecko's feet or lotus leaves, which really captured the interest of many students. Interestingly, the students already knew of many nano-scale phenomena, albeit not knowing they were caused by nano-objects. Lastly, I introduced a fascinating example of applied nano-science, the optical tweezers, where small particles can be held in a laser focus and even be moved around inside a single cell or in a piece of tissue.

Overall, the students showed great interest in the field and did a great job of quickly understanding the complex concepts and ideas. Breaking these highly intricate topics down to the level of a high-school student, really helped me improve and refine my skills in teaching and science communication. It was a good practice on how to formulate complicated ideas concisely and in a manner that can be understood by a broader audience and I got valuable feedback from the evaluation sheets.

In our survey, the best-rated lectures were genetics and neuroscience. According to their needs and interests, we held the next class about gene regulation on a molecular level, followed by a lecture about neuroscience.

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Gene regulation by Aarón and David

“Hey I am Aarón” “and yep I am David... and today we would love to tell you something about genes, the DNA code and how nature can control it over a dozen different mechanisms”. This is how the probably most difficult class we had started.

In eukaryotes, gene regulation happens on different levels, through different proteins and pathways. In order to cover them all, we would probably need more than a lifetime. And, of course, we first had to start with the general knowledge about transcription, translation up to protein biosynthesis. We tried to visualize this with many images, short videos and animations. However, we expected this to be a tough class, since this is normally taught in the university and not to students in 8th grade. Hence, we mainly focused on examples from our project such as polymerases and their proof-read function, regulative sequences and riboswitches, the heart of our project. On the other hand, it was gratifying to finally see them understand our project and come up with questions we had ourselves during our project. Their analysis was different than ours, outside the box and creative. Even more impressive was that some of the questions led us to improve, change and adapt our project.

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“Neuroscience may seem complex, but if you feel passionate about it… go for it”

I am Katja and I studied Molecular Medicine (B. Sc.) in Tübingen. I just started my master’s degree in Medical Neurosciences at Charité in Berlin. For our Chile class project, I held an online introductory class about neuroscience, where we covered the very basics of neuroscience, such as the different cell types (neurons, glial cells) in the brain and the different brain lobes with their respective functions. Additionally, I introduced the methodology of optogenetics since it is a well known method in neuroscience based on synthetic biology. This year, our team works on a biosensor for manganese. Since chronic exposure to manganese can lead to neurological symptoms, it was very important for us to include a neuroscience course in one of our human practices projects. During the class, the students recapulated their knowledge about the different neuroscientific topics that they already had prior to our class. In addition to the content that we taught during our classes, the students got familiar with listening to presentations in English that cover more detail than their regular school classes. This gave interested them the opportunity to expand their knowledge in fields that they have not yet had the chance to encounter. In previous classes, the students mentioned in their evaluation that they would appreciate a more interactive environment. To ensure this, I asked different questions throughout the presentation and ended the class with a kahoot quiz.

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Conclusions

Our project focuses on heavy metal pollution and its impact on nature. However, environmental pollution with manganese in Europe cannot be compared with the issues of a mining country like Chile, with less regulations and environmental laws. Living in this country, the kids have a totally different experience with environmental pollution and, of course, their perspective was distinct to ours. We cannot relate to how many times they made us think about our project from another angle, making us aware of even more issues or even giving us ideas on how to design, change or adapt in our wet lab work.

A great part of what was learnt through this experience was later on applied to a project planned with the Experimenta, where we also were supposed to give classes combining theory and practice over a whole week.

Half of the team was directly involved in teaching and some helped behind the scenes with ideas, material and feedback. After this, we all have changed, learned something new and developed into a new person with new perspectives.

Available Materials

The project did not just finish... now it is available for everyone!

If you want to hold some classes but you lack material go to the links below. Also, if you need advice or you want us to hold a class just contact us.

  • Evaluation sheet to get feedback and improve your classes here
  • What is synthetic biology and its relation to Molecular Medicine and Bioinformatics:
    Find the PowerPoint here.
  • What is synthetic biology II and its relation to Biochemistry:
    Find the PowerPoint here.
  • Bacterial Cloning:
    Find the PowerPoint here.
    Example from two students notes 1 and 2.
  • How to write and publish a scientific paper or review?
    Find the PowerPoint here.
    Questions after the class to enforce better understanding here.
  • What is the relation of synthetic biology and Nanoscience:
    Find the PowerPoint here.
    Questions after the class to enforce better understanding here.
  • Gene regulation:
    Find the PowerPoint here.
    Questions after the class to enforce better understanding here.
  • What is the relation of synthetic biology and Neuroscience:
    Find the PowerPoint here