Since creating the Synthetic Biology Curriculum in 2015, we have had a lot teams from iGEM contact us to ask us to send it to them. We had not updated it since its creation, but since it is still being used, we decided that this year we would work on updating it and making sure it can be a more effective teaching tool. We had the particular aim of making the activities good resources for other iGEM teams, synthetic biologists, and teachers.
Toward the beginning of our iGEM project, we arranged a meeting with a project specialist from the STEM Education Alliance to learn more about connecting with teachers and how to improve the Synthetic Biology Curriculum for teachers. He suggested splitting it into three separate parts (K-5, 6-8, and 9-12) and making sure it has activities that are similar to the Standards of Learning (SOLs) for Virginia public schools and the AP requirements.
In response to this meeting, we removed and replaced a few activities to better adhere to Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) and AP standards. We also split up the activities booklet and changed its format from images to a pdf file, which means we can continue to edit it in the future. We wrote up a document that details which activities fulfill specific SOL and AP requirements, which we can now give to teachers when they request the booklet. We also chose to change the name of the project from the 2015 team’s “Synthetic Biology Curriculum” to “Synthetic Biology Teaching Booklet,” as “curriculum” has a very specific connotation for teachers and our activities are meant to be relatively short and only include a small amount of background information.
Because we also want this project to include iGEM teams, we created a survey for teams who request our booklet and submitted it to our IRB (Institutional Review Board). We were approved to conduct research on the efficacy of the activities booklet and plan to do it until next August, which is when our IRB approval expires. Based on the results, we will again update the activities booklet.
We distributed the activities booklet to teams who contacted us and requested it, to teachers at the teacher focus group meeting, and also posted them on our social media accounts.
We compiled a searchable Outreach Database that can be used to find all the outreach projects from gold medal teams from the past two years. It is a long-term resource that can be used by teachers who want to find synthetic biology education activities for students. It includes educational material developed by past iGEM teams that can be a valuable resource for teaching in the classroom. Learn more about our outreach database.
Database Excel File
Summary and Next Steps
Based on our conversations with science teachers and the science coordinators from our two local school districts, we realized there is a need for general STEM and biology resources, not just synthetic biology. While our main goal is to educate on and start a dialogue about synthetic biology, we attend an institution with extensive STEM resources and with a wide variety of people who are interested in outreach. During the past year, we have been fortunate to collaborate with professors and students from our school who enjoy outreach, as well as people from the School of Education. However, most of the those associated with the College work independently, and currently, the infrastructure does not exist to adequately address the needs of teachers in our area. Hence the need for a platform with a general STEM focus and not just a more narrow focus on synthetic biology Although our PI, Dr. Saha, will continue to advise us in our outreach efforts, we also are working to involve other collaborators and undergraduate students in this organization.
We are currently in the process of establishing a recognized student organization to help conduct STEM outreach with local teachers and school districts. In order to help increase interest in not only synthetic biology, but STEM subjects in general, we want to create a sustainable, organized platform for helping teachers to work with college students, so they can have easier access to people who are knowledgeable about science but also closer in age to the high school students. These college students will be a resource for teachers who want people to visit their classrooms and lead activities. Additionally, having an interdisciplinary group of students who are interested in doing STEM outreach will help ensure that we have a larger reach in the future and can continue to address teachers’ needs continuously throughout the year.
After out high school focus group, several high school students from the nearby high schools joined Biology Club and are conducting their own synthetic biology research. We hope to get more students involved in this research and act as advisors for them as they carry out their project.
Two of the teachers from the focus group have already arranged to visit our lab to conduct hands-on activities with their students. Even though there are very strict rules about doing synthetic biology activities at their schools, they have more freedom and scope for action by working in the college laboratories. We are already helping them prepare activities to do in our lab at the end of this semester and the beginning of next semester. They are also publicizing the resources available at our school to other teachers, and we hope to have a more extensive collaboration with them going forward. Tami Byron, the STEM Coordinator for Newport News School District, plans to have us collaborate with a magnet school in her school district that needs more biology resources for their students.
We are also continuing to act as a community partner for the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast and are scheduled to do another outreach event involving synthetic biology in February.