Middle School Education
On August 15, three team members went to a fellow teacher’s eighth grade class to teach a DNA extraction lab, linking it to the concepts treated in iGem and our project. Previous to the activity, they had a basic understanding on the location of DNA in cells, about chromosomes. They did not know DNA’s connection to genes and alleles, though they knew the definition of both and some practical concepts on each. Though we were given the handout of the experiment of our teachers, it was up to us to teach it in the limits of the student’s understanding. We collectively decided to take an inquiry approach, where we would conduct the experiment and then let students guess or predict the reasons for each element of the experiment--including the soap, alcohol, and other materials--which brought up underlying scientific concepts.
The conduction of the lesson went smoothly, and the students seemed to be engaged and have learned from the lesson. Even though we did not know their level of understanding about DNA previous to the task, we apparently predicted the right amount of understood concepts, since their answered to the experiment-based questions came closer and closer each time. In whole, I think it was a good chance to both expand on biological knowledge, and even though it was not directly related to synthetic biology, it promoted the closest thing they had learned to it.
iGEM at school
Our team is essentially a school club due to that we are a high school team; however, we have taken various steps in further incorporating this club into the school’s community in order to raise awareness. During the school kermesse on May 21, we linked our team to the school’s Parent Teacher Association in order to work on their “Big Splash” interactive children’s activity. The activity consisted of children paying a certain amount of tickets to get a chance to toss a stuffed bacteria at a target. If they hit the target, a bucket of water would fall on a school teacher. Each teacher was at the booth for shifts of one hour each, and the children who played definitely had lots of fun. But beyond that, we taught them about basic concepts about iGem, and explained it to them as the ones behind this fun. The information had to be overly simplified, but we debriefed them about what we do and the amazing things that synthetic biology could create. Since they were mostly under eleven years old, we explained synthetic biology as being able to edit what certain organisms look like through manipulating what they are made of--all the miniscule things that are in their skin, blood, and bones. We also told them that we could do this to every living things because they all have the same components: all living organisms are made of the same things, which are editable. Linking these dull-seeming concepts to a fun activity such as the one that we provided ensured better retention of this kind of information in their memory.
We have not only promoted the concepts related to iGEM, but also the club itself to have more prospective members for the future. We participated in the annual club fair, having a booth to ourselves. Even though the main goal during this event was to recruit new members for next year, we were able to simultaneously teach about synthetic biology and why it is relevant to our society, consequently raising awareness about this growing field that could solve many of the world’s problems.
Synthetic Biology Survey
We conducted a survey about opinions on synthetic biology. Questions covered the areas of synthetic biology awareness, integration of science in the community, and ethical & governmental opinions. It also contained a variety of project-specific questions so we could gauge the audience’s response to our product. Due to that our school is an American school located in Lima, we created it both in English and Spanish, and sent each to different parties to receive a representative sample of the population. The English one was sent to high schoolers and middle schoolers of our school, which means that the majority of the responses--135/179, in other words 75%--were from people ranging from approximately 12 to 18 years old, from various demographics backgrounds with a slight inclination towards Peruvians. The remaining 44 responses were sent in Spanish to solely Peruvians. The complete list of questions is as follows:
Results showed a clear difference between the English and Spanish surveys, showing a clear difference between the opinions of Peruvians and more international individuals. The Spanish survey showed more conservative views towards modifying organism’s DNA, with a 56% answering “no” when asked if they were comfortable with the idea of it (as opposed to the English survey’s 20%). The same trend was shown in other questions regarding the ethics of this practice. This could have been for a variety of reasons--mainly, I believe, because of the collective open-mindedness present in school versus in the rest of the country. Our school has always been one to promote openness to new ideas, and have been introduced to new biological concepts recently, given we are still high school students. Due to the little contact the Peruvian community has with science (which was agreed in the survey:), adults often forget the science content taught in class, and furthermore during the time when they did have classes, genetic engineering was not a recurrent idea. Therefore, we concluded that our product would have the most effective effect on the school community rather than the larger Peruvian community--however, reaching out to the Peruvian community would be a way to soften their views on genetic modification and creating much-needed contact with scientific concepts.
- Have you ever heard of the term "synthetic biology"?
- Synthetic biology is the practice of genetically engineering organisms to alter their features. Do you think this practice could benefit humanity?
- Are you comfortable with the idea of editing an organism’s DNA?
- Do you think it should it be done?
- Should the country pass regulations that facilitate or restrict this process?
- Would you be interested in learning more about synthetic biology?
- Do you think there is enough interaction between science and the general public in Peru?
- We are creating a project focused on genetically engineering a bacteria that provides light. This light would be embedded in reading lamps and distributed to areas of Lima that have bad electricity quality. Do you think modifying bacteria for this cause is ethical?
- Do you think it could be useful?
- Would you support a program that would deliver these packs for free?
- Do you think these bacteria should be released into the Peru community if they were proven to be safe?
Two works, one an interview and one an informational article, will be soon published in different media coverages. The first one, and interview, was conducted with a student who has a contact in the local online newspaper Altavoz. The questions were introductory to iGEM and our project, with questions about logistics, opinions on views of synthetic biology, and more. The questions and answers were put in written form, sent and approved in early October--however, it still needs to be edited before publication, therefore it is not ready yet. The second work was published in the school newspaper, The Condor’s Nest, as an article about why iGEM is more than just a school club. Most clubs in school are loosely dedicated to helping an organization or other, and do not require anything near the level of commitment that iGEM does. Therefore, not many people are aware of the seriousness and intensity of iGEM as opposed to other school clubs, so the article’s main focus is that. Both the interview and the article were written/conducted by Janella Schwab.