- Designed a STEM-oriented summer camp curriculum for elementary age kids, which included activities such as building their own structures, exploring local ecology, creating Arduino circuits, and making chemical reactions.
- Taught our STEM summer camp curriculum to children between the ages of 4-14, through a partnership with a local art studio.
- Led four genetic engineering workshops for middle school and high school students, where we discussed genetic engineering, included synthetic biology themed games and activities, and aimed to inspire an interest for studying a related field in post-secondary.
- Developed the "Plasmid Game" which helped students to understand conjugation in our aGROW project in an interactive setting.
- Created a "Gene Editing Workshop" which gave students a deeper comprehension of genetic engineering and its real life applications.
- Founded the AMS Synthetic Biology Club on the UBC Vancouver campus to spread knowledge, and dispel misconceptions about genetic engineering among our university peers.
- Produced videos for social media introducing the iGEM competition, talking about genetic engineering, and explaining our aGROW project.
STEM Summer Camp: Elementary-Age Kids
As a component of our community outreach and education, we partnered with a local kids studio who kindly offered their space for us to run a series of week long camps. One of our missions with outreach was to communicate science to audiences whose technical knowledge ranged from nothing to an advanced understanding.
We organized, designed and operated four week long camps to children of all age throughout the elementary summer break. Our team constructed a syllabus, filled with hands-on STEM related activities, as well as a written summary of each activity for parent’s or teacher’s guidance. This project outline can act as a comprehensive guide for future organizations and groups to use for STEM children’s camps of their own. One aim was to venture away from lecture style learning and foster an integrated and amusing learning environment where children are cognitively engaged and enjoy the activities. We wanted to encourage creative thinking and design wherever possible: when their designs were unsuccessful, children were inspired to troubleshoot the issues and find a solution. Each activity opened a dialogue about different STEM topics, and amongst giggles and a lot of clean up, we were surprised by the number of students who were actively involved and receptive to more and more advanced activities. An example of some activities is provided below.
Perhaps the most unexpected positive outcome was the crossover of information to guardians. Each week, kids took home projects and team leaders were often found in conversation with guardians at pick-up time as children enthusiastically explained what they had created and how it was done. It was encouraging to see guardians supporting the children in learning and taking pleasure in their own learning as well.Egg-drop
To introduce the campers to creative and critical thinking, we presented them with an egg to protect using any methods or materials they’d like. We supplied basic materials, such as cups, cardboard, and various recycled products (empty cartons, bottles, and packaging), as well as tape and rubber bands, however they were permitted to use any outside materials they found useful. Some used plastic bags as parachutes, others stuck to packaging in bulk. To test their designs, each vessel was taken outside and dropped from a ten-foot structure. The campers then each got to carefully disassemble their projects and evaluate their design based on whether their egg had made it through the test without being compromised.Silly Putty
Possibly the most popular project was the take-home silly putty. Campers were given basic ingredients and through their own testing, learned how to make the putty more or less viscous, as well as more or less sticky, to create their own individual putty design. Children added food colouring and were able to take their putty home.Arduino Coding
A large component of many new STEM positions include coding and hardware design. An important part of the aGROW project was the accompanied computer model. Therefore, we included a coding tutorial into our camps where the campers were able to build basic circuitry and learn arduino coding in small groups. This intricate activity required critical thinking and practiced logic.Microscope
In an effort to connect scientific learning with the real world and recognizable materials, campers were encouraged to view outside objects with a microscope. Not only was this a fun activity, but opened up a discussion about the ethics of disturbing the natural environment and the opinions surrounding using living specimens for research and understanding.Agar Plating
At the beginning of the week, campers pressed their fingers onto prepared agar plates, once with their unwashed fingers, and once again after they had washed their hands. Over the week the campers were able to watch bacterial thrive on the nutrients left behind by their fingerprints, not only before washing their hands, but also after! Even Lucy, the camp dog, was assigned a plate, and the campers were excited to watch the the paw’s extraordinary results.
Geering Up and RISE Conference: Middle School and High School Students
We wanted a reach a wide audience and work on a variety of education styles, using lectures and workshops to teach students between the ages of 12 and 18 about genetic engineering concepts and methods, the iGEM competition, and this year’s UBC iGEM project. Our team led three workshop sessions at Geering Up and a workshop at the RISE conference that consisted of a lecture and three activities based on genetic engineering. Geering Up is a kids camp hosted by the University of British Columbia created to inspire young students in science, technology, engineering and math. The RISE conference is created to guide students as they finish high school and enter university. The RISE conference was our teams first opportunity to practice science communication and education and the subsequent Geering Up workshops built off this initial experience.
The first part of the talk focused on interesting anecdotes about genetics, DNA discovery and genetic engineering. The incentives for genetic engineering were explained through discussions of the insulin bioprocess. For one older group, the process of gene selection, restriction enzyme digestion, ligation and cloning was detailed to give them insight into the logical nature and simplicity of genetic engineering. Students were encouraged to join or create iGEM teams during high school or wherever they attended university.
Four original activities were designed entirely for the Geering Up Workshops and the RISE Conference: a gene editing workshop, a conjugation game, a version of headbands, and LB-Agar plate streaking art.
The gene editing workshop was designed to get attendees to think creatively about genetics and biology in order to solve both real world problems and fun fictional scenarios. Teams were provided with a worksheet detailing the problems, a list of potential host organisms, and a list of genes along with their functions. Using the problem descriptions, students would combine the required genes and get their solutions checked by one of our team members. Students enjoyed the fun scenarios and the problem solving. In the RISE session, the solutions were too detailed and took too long to solve, so for the final two workshops, the editing workshops were simplified so that all problems could be solved within a twenty minute time window.
The conjugation game was designed to teach our project interactively. All the participants stood in a group around a UBC iGEM team member, and a fraction of the students were handed a stack of coloured cards, either green or red. Cards could be passed between students when the student holding cards won a game of rock paper scissors, if the game was not won, the student with the cards could try again. Students with a red card were attempting to pass cards to the cards to the center of a circle to infect the UBC iGEM team member, while students with a green card were attempting to neutralize the students with a red card, by beating them in a game of rock paper scissors. If a student with red cards was beaten at rock, paper, scissors by a student with green cards, the student could no longer pass red cards. The students had a lot of fun with this game and although it took some time to explain there was time for several rounds to ensure everyone had a chance to participate.
To play the headbands game, biology terms were printed on cards and passed out to students. Students took turns holding the cards on their heads and attempting to guess what word they were holding.
Finally, to give students a hands-on experience of genetic engineering techniques, Agar plates, disposable cell spreaders, and culture tubes containing Escherichia coli BL21 were passed around to students. After explaining the steps for cell spreading, students were allowed to spread cells onto plates of their own and encouraged to “draw” with cell culture.
Feedback was taken each session and used to improve the following workshops. After the first session, the Geering Up coordinators mentioned that the teaching session could be made more interactive by asking a lot of questions. The coordinators enjoyed the workshop content overall. At the second Geering Up session, the students were given forms to share feedback directly. One common comment was a suggestion for some hands-on projects to complement the conceptual workshops. As a result, the Agar plating was added for the final session.
AMS Synthetic Biology Club: University Students
Several of our team members also came together to form a brand new club on our UBC Vancouver campus - the AMS Synthetic Biology Club. We decided to start this club in order to spread knowledge and awareness about genetic engineering to our peers on campus. We have many club activities planned for the rest of year, including a movie night, lab introduction workshop, and seminars with professors involved in synthetic biology. The primary goal of this club is to dispel the misconceptions about genetic engineering through outreach events, and celebrate the successes and technological advancements that have been made possible through synthetic biology.
Social Media Posts: General Public
It wasn’t only young kids and students we wanted to reach with our mission of science education and communication. We wanted to utilize a platform where we could share information about our project in an accessible way, that had the ability to reach a wide audience of our peers and the general public. With the help of our graphic designer and a few other enthusiastic team members, we created a video which introduced the iGEM competition and community, outlined the scientific principles behind our project, and explained the impact that aGROW could have in the agriculture industry. The script was written with no scientific jargon and designed with easy-to-follow graphics. This allows viewers, even without a scientific background, to be able to understand and appreciate the work we have done with aGROW. Prior to producing our videos, we did research into the optimal length the video should be for the maximum number of viewers. This way, our video could reach the largest possible audience. We found that the optimum video length is between 2 - 3 minutes and so we created a 3 minute video that fully explained our project. We also created a 3 minute video that described the iGEM competition, including the main parts of the competition, the jamboree at the end of the year in Boston, and past projects.
Another way we shared information about our project and interacted with a large audience was through individual iGEM team member biographies. Every week leading up to the competition, we posted short descriptions of each team member along with a photo on our Facebook page. This allowed anyone following the competition to be able to learn more and connect with the team members, therefore, making us more accessible to the public and our peers. The Facebook biographies were highly successful as many team members had over 1,000 views and many likes and shares on their post. Our Facebook page became our main interaction with the public as we would share interviews we conducted, articles we were featured in, and pictures of us in the lab. Through our regular use of social media, our team became more accessible and more connected to the general public.