We decided to approach the gold medal criterion Education & Communication in various different ways. iGEM states that in order to reach this criterion a team must develop and implement education, science communication, and/or outreach materials related to synthetic biology and we’ve created material for all of these purposes. We decided to classify them roughly in two groups and place them under the names of Education and Communication. We considered Education to be more about spreading awareness of synthetic biology in general and Communication to be more about spreading awareness of iGEM as a competition. Our Education efforts are described on this page but you can read more about our Communication efforts from here.
The iGEM gold medal criteria of Education is about developing material to be used when spreading awareness of synthetic biology. The criteria also includes implementing the created material with different target groups. During our project, we have developed and implemented education material for university and high school students, preschool children and social media consumers. Our material can still be used to target groups outside of what is mentioned here. We've also taken into account the current scientific beliefs of education science when developing the materials. This means, for example, considering socio constructivism. Unfortunately, most of the material on this page is at the point of wiki freeze still in Finnish but our aim is to translate them by the end of this year to make them more accessible.
On our Instagram page @igem.aboa we’ve made informative posts about topics related to our project. We’ve made posts about diclofenac in the Baltic Sea, laccases and diclofenac in general. Altogether we’ve reached 743 accounts with our posts. Our aim was to tell people some basic information of the main points in our project. This way people could understand better what we are doing. We were also hoping to reach some people with our educational posts who feel like scientific language is difficult for them to understand.
Study in Turku fair - Using a pipette
Study in Turku is a fair in the beginning of the academic year aimed for first year students in Turku. We participated in the fair this fall as exhibitors and put up a small workshop to present our project and team. You can read more about the communication efforts of our workshop from the Communication page. For educational purposes, we had created a small exercise for people to try in our workshop as they stopped by (Figure 1).
The main idea of the activity was to learn how to use a pipette. We chose this activity because we wanted to present biosciences in an easily accessible way. We chose pipetting also because it’s a very basic method of work for a person in the biosciences. Using a pipette can be learnt fast and easily and it’s thus entertaining so our workshop was quite successful and busy during the day.
We had prepared three solutions of water with food colouring. One was blue, the other was red and the third was yellow. Unfortunately, the yellow one had lost its colour pigment by the end of the day due to sunlight but we still managed. We also had two well plates and instructions of a color map on a paper. The goal of the activity was to pipette the right coloured solution into a right well on the well plate (Figure 2). We had also made instructions on paper on how to use the pipette but we realized that it was better to instruct the students one-on-one.
in Figure 3 you can see the materials for the workshop.
Here is the empty well plate if you want to download it and color your own picture in it. Paint is a good enough tool for doing that.
These are the equipment needed:
- Two 96 well plates
- Three pipettes + a holder
- Red, blue and yellow food colouring
- Three containers to put the coloured solutions in
- Plastic covers to put the instruction papers in
- A bucket to empty the well plates when full
- (A bottle of hand sanitizer because of COVID)
Study in Turku fair - Baltic Sea Day game
In addition to previously described pipette activity, we had created a game for students to play on their phones in our workshop. As it happened, Baltic Sea Day by John Nurminen Foundation was organized on the same day as the Study in Turku fair. Our project is closely related to the Baltic Sea so we decided to take part in the national event. We created a poster about pharmaceutical waste in the Baltic Sea (Figure 4). We also put there practical tips on how you can decrease the amount of your own pharmaceutical waste. In addition, we had created a game with a few trivia questions about our poster on a ViLLE platform. ViLLE is a successful and innovative platform originally developed in our university. A player was able to enter the game through a QR code we had printed on a piece of paper.
If you want to download the poster, you can find it as a pdf here.
Materials for school settings
We also wanted to create material to be used in school settings. We decided to target two very different groups of students in quite different ways. We developed an interactive lecture material for upper secondary school students and a technological game entity for preschool children. The former is to be used as a part of a student counselling course as student counselling is a subject among others like e.g. mathematics and biology in Finland. The latter is to be used in early childhood education as it is an area of education that is developing quite rapidly at the moment, at least in Finland.
Upper secondary school visits
The material for upper secondary school students is about bringing awareness of synthetic biology as a possible career option. Our team members are mainly students of biosciences as we have students from biochemistry, biomedicine and biotechnology. All of these fields are not very well represented in a normal school setting because they aren't included in the national curriculum. In the Finnish school system the subjects that go under the concept of science are traditionally chemistry, biology, mathematics, geography and physics. Fields under the roof term of synthetic biology are combinations of these basic fields e.g. biotechnology is mainly biology combined with some mathematics and physics. Therefore, synthetic biology is not self-evident as a possible career option as the students are not familiar with the concept of it.
Our team members had also experienced this lack of awareness themselves as high school students. They all shared an interest in natural science but didn’t quite want to study the basic fields. As a result, they had to seek more information on their own about career options based on their interests. Eventually, they all found something that suited them well but they could’ve had it different. Therefore, we wanted to help students to have it easier and bring information of biosciences through synthetic biology to them.
Another message we wanted to send through our interactive lecture material to the young students was the diversity of the so-called real life after high school. This means that we wanted to make the students understand that you can get employed in the field of synthetic biology through various different paths. Synthetic biology and biosciences are very multidisciplinary fields and people with various educational backgrounds can work together to reach a common goal. For example, you can work in synthetic biology just as much with a degree in economics as with a degree in science. We presented this idea in many different ways using iGEM as an example. Below you can take a look at the slides and the ideas behind them.
In this first slide we gathered all of the degrees in the universities of Turku (University of Turku, Åbo Akademi University and Turku University of Applied Sciences) that are somehow related to iGEM as a project. A representative of most of these areas would be useful and beneficial to have in an iGEM team. There’s an exercise written below the heading that goes
5. Look at the degrees with the red squares around them. Why are these degrees useful in iGEM?
This was to activate the students' thought process during the lecture.
In this second slide we presented how science, technology and society work together and create a multiway functional entity. Just before this slide, we had presented our fields of biochemistry, biomedicine and biotechnology. We were able to easily visualize the relation between them through this figure. We told them as an example that biochemistry is more in the science corner but biotechnology is a little more to the right from there. We were also able to enhance the effect of society on the other two terms. Society creates boundaries but also sets expectations for the other two terms.
We also showed a video created by us during the lecture. The video was about how our team members had first heard about their degree, what studying is like in their degree and where they can get employed after graduation. We also had a slight hidden message in the video. Applying for a medical school after high school is usually a self-evident option for most Finnish students who do well in school. However, most of them don’t get accepted. And to be honest, most of them would be much more applicable to another field. We talked in this video some reasons why our team members didn’t apply for a medical school after high school. This way we gave the students a new perspective on how to actually decide a field to study.
Here is the whole video, unfortunately only in Finnish:
From here you can download the interactive lecture material as pptx.
We went and gave the presentation with a slightly different schedule and formula to three different schools before wiki freeze and we planned to give a few more after it. The schools were Turun Suomalainen Yhteiskoulu Upper Secondary School, Nokia and Salo upper secondary schools and Turku Teacher Training School.
Interesting preschool children
Another material we created in the hopes of spreading the joy of synthetic biology was aimed for preschool children. We chose this target group because we were interested in the nature of early childhood education. Small children are a quite fascinating group of people since they are so sensitive to their surroundings. There is a very small window in the beginning of a human’s life where something presented to the child can drastically change the course of his or her life if a spark of interest happens to be ignited.
We approached this topic from the point of view of The Four-Phase Model of Interest Development by Hidi and Renninger (Hidi, S., Renninger, K., 2006). The model states that interest as a phenomenon can be broken down into two separate types of interest: situational and individual. If a child is presented to something surprising and exciting, such as a trick or a story, it sparks the formation of questions Why? and What?. At that point a triggered situational interest is formed (Phase 1). If meaningful tasks and a chance to personal involvement is offered afterwards, interest can evolve into maintained situational interest (Phase 2).
If a child has experienced many positive feelings in previous engagements with certain tasks, his or her values might change and the child might start to re-engage with the type of tasks they find interesting. This stems from the child’s own desire and can be noticed when a child starts asking a lot of curious questions from a certain specific topic, e.g. space or animals. When this happens, the child is experiencing emerging individual interest (Phase 3). If a child does not need anymore support from an adult to maintain the interest and search for answers to questions, he or she has reached a well-developed individual interest (Phase 4). In Figure 9 you can see the phases in a figure form.
Our goal was to target the first two phases of interest with small children, the situational ones. Aiming for the individual ones would’ve taken too much time and unfortunately, we didn’t have any to spare. Through our material, we wanted to make the children aware of synthetic biology and also increase the probability of favourable combinations to occur regarding the formation of future bioscience enthusiastics. We wanted to give them a chance to realize that synthetic biology occurs and our ultimate goal was to spark an interest that’ll later lead them towards a career in biosciences.
Technology in education
In addition to targeting interest in children, we also immersed one more aspect in our material, technology. The world is revolving at an accelerating speed around technology and digitality. Different gadgets are a part of our everyday lives and even many of our basic needs can be fulfilled with some technological innovation. Education on technology and digitality is therefore a right of every child and each individual should be taught the very basics of using technology as your tool in life. We obviously wanted to support this mentality. Thus we created a digital material to be used on technological gadgets in order to support the learning of necessary skills in the modern world. This will help in one way to stabilize the socio-economical differences between children coming from all kinds of backgrounds.
Early childhood education material
In order to initiate triggered situational interest in a child, something cool must be done in a child’s presence. We decided to use some very common strategies among child education to do this, stories and games. Stories let children develop their ways of thinking and they can even be used to help a child learn to think scientifically. When stories are told to a child, it’ll help them identify and immerse themselves in a situation. Games on the other hand are known to quite easily spark an interest in for example a specific theme and they especially help to maintain motivation to continuously pursue a goal.
To target the first phase of the interest model, we created a story with our theme characters, Sanna and Eino. The story is presented to the children as an animated video where our characters introduce themselves and present themselves as a colibacterium and cyanobacterium. They tell each other what they eat and by this they mean to let the children know that cyanobacterium Sanna uses sunlight, carbon dioxide and water as an energy source whereas colibacterium Eino uses sugar and oxygen. In the end they decide to go on an adventure to a laboratory and the person watching can follow them with a QR code presented.
Here is the video:
After watching the video, the children will open ThingLink on their browser to access the laboratory with Sanna and Eino (Figure 10). The laboratory is filled with red blinking icons which children are supposed to press. Each icon will open as an info box where a term related to synthetic biology is revealed. We were extremely lucky to have our visually talented friend, Sanna Launiainen, to draw us pictures for this material. In each info box there’s the term written with hyphens, a short explanation, a picture drawn by Sanna and an audio file with the word said out loud.
Side note: By the way, yes, our cyanobacterium character Sanna is named after Sanna Launiainen. But what about Eino? Do you know where that name comes from? Eino is actually a Finnish name for a man but it also has a fun trick in the word. ‘Ei’ is actually the Finnish equivalent for the English ‘No’. So it’s a double denial. ‘NoNo’ to pharmaceutical waste. ‘NoNo’ to worsen the situation of the Baltic Sea. ‘NoNo’ to insufficient actions. If you interpret double denial as an eventual ‘yes’ then it means ‘yes’ to innovative ideas, ‘yes’ to use of cyanobacteria as a photobioreactor and ‘yes’ to iGEM in Turku.
You can access the lab yourself through this link: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/1503687849877176321.
In the ThingLink lab, there’s also a yellow, a green and a blue icon which have a special link inside them. These links will guide the child to another webpage where a memory game is ready to be played. The memory games are created in Interacty platform (Figure 11). This transition is also put inside the story because for example the yellow icon has a text saying that Eino needs help to remember all of the terms. In the memory game children can look at the amazing pictures drawn by Sanna while trying to remember what they meant and what they were used for.
A group of preschool students from Helsinki agreed to try our digital material. Here are pictures of them:
Team Bielefeld-CeBiTec collaboration
In addition to all education efforts mentioned above, we took part in an educational collaboration with the Bielefeld CeBiTec 2021 iGEM team. They had collected some science related questions from children and wanted to answer them in as many languages as possible. We were able to translate their English written answers in Finnish and Swedish. You can read more from the Collaborations page.
It needs to be mentioned here that this collaboration happened to be about exactly what is written earlier in this page about the four-phase interest model. A child asking questions of a specific topic is emerging individual interest according to the theory. We were originally planning to target only the first two phases of interest in a child but through a collaboration, we were actually able to target the third phase as well. This is truly what iGEM can be about at its best.
- Hidi, S. & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The Four-Phase Model of Interest Development. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4?needAccess=true