Meet Pauline Gardes and Thibault Carre. One classroom at a time, these two French educators have been transforming synthetic biology education in France.
Selected by Academie de Versailles and supported by Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire (CRI), Thibault and Pauline were tasked with introducing hands-on biology education in French high schools. As their first step, they came to Boston for the BioBuilder workshop in 2014. They found that the workshop presented them with a very different set of teaching strategies – what they called “the American way of teaching.” The workshop equipped them with new ways of explaining difficult ideas in simple ways. Excited to implement this in five schools under the umbrella of Academie de Versailles, Pauline and Thibault returned to France.
Thibault worked to infuse his classroom with the BioBuilder approach. As a trial, he launched a teaching project that allowed his team of CRI students to build a spectrophotometer. The project was not precisely what he learned in the Boston training workshop nor was it the standard content of the BioBuilder labs, but he viewed it as a new and exciting opportunity. BioBuilder intentionally provides a foundation for hands-on synthetic biology education, but leaves open the flexible implementation on the part of the educator. For Thibault, he worked to balance the freedom he could give his students on their spectrophotometer project with the price of student-driven discovery in terms of organization, scheduling and technical prep for the class.
Pauline returned to France excited to give her students the power to become researchers and to ask their own engineering questions. As a teacher, she believed that enabling her students to do their own experiments with unknown outcomes made her students feel more enthusiastic and responsible. But like many of you have discovered, simple things, like importing BioBuilder bacterial strains from the U.S. was a challenge. In fact, it took a good part of the year to get the BioBuilder kit to Pauline’s school. Meanwhile, collaboration with CRI proved critical as the Center supported the education initiative with experimental materials. Ultimately, the BioBuilder kit did make it to France, and, together with Anne Combes and Geraldine Carayol, Pauline has been using the kit for 2 years to teach her Biotechnology class.
Despite their enthusiasm and talents for teaching, Pauline and Thibault both faced implementation challenges when they introduced their BioBuilder training to classrooms. In France, disciplinary specialization occurs early on, sometime between early high school and 1st year of college. Thus Pauline’s and Thibault’s students are already very specialized in biotechnology and so less flexible to engage in “outside the norm” content. Does similar early specialization also happen in your country? How can you -- how have you? -- adapt(ed) BioBuilder strategies to your classroom?
BioBuilder teams are in all stages of development: some are in their exponential growth phase, some are fully operational, some are in their conceptual phase. Different opportunities and different challenges affect our growth, and today I’d like to introduce you to a group that started a mere four years ago and has been booming. Meet the team of Universidade Federal do Amazonas (UFAM).
The amazing energy and dedication of Prof. Carlos Gustavo Nunes drove this group as he founded the team in 2012 and, in his own words, "convinced students to enter in this madness that is Synthetic Biology". To support him in this colossal effort came Spartaco Astolfi, Professor of Genetic Engineering at UFAM, whose experience has been fundamental to the growth of the project.
UFAM team's work is focused on mercury bioremediation. Using BioBricks, the team is developing new bioengineering elements to convert soluble mercury to a less toxic form, which can be captured and recycled. The team currently has 15 undergraduate student members and two instructors. This team put together beautiful websites for their iGEM and TECNOX (a SynBio event in Latin America) competitions. On these pages the team relays their goals and their data to other bioengineers and to general public in simple and understandable terms, which drives the team's own conceptualization of their findings.
The team performed exceptionally at iGEM competitions winning a Bronze Medal in 2013 and a Gold Medal in 2014. However, in 2015 they was unable to attend the competition due to the lack of funding. The team learned from this experience and put together an amazing fundraising campaign to ensure they would be able to attend iGEM in 2016.
To fundraise, the team created a message that deeply connects with people of Brazil. Formulated in a video, this message explains that the team's project addresses a fundamental local problem. In Brazil, mercury contamination in the Amazon is widespread due to the use of mercury in the gold mining industry. The team then explains, in most accessible terms and through effective use of visuals, the core mercury bioremediation concepts of their synthetic biology project – thereby relating science to people's everyday lives. Using Youtube and Kickante (a Brazilian crowdfunding website), the team delivered their message to fellow Brazilians and to organizations such as Google, Natura and even an investment bank. As a result of this campaign, UFAM brought one of the biggest South American groups to iGEM Giant Jamboree 2016: 8 students, 2 instructors and 1 advisor. UFAM returned with a proud Silver Medal this year.
The team's positivity and dedication are truly inspiring. The team looks so happy in every picture they take! Credit for this, at least in part, goes to Prof. Carlos Gustavo Nunes who believes that play is a critical part of learning. As he teaches genetics, biotechnology, genetic engineering, biosafety and bioethics, he makes sure to equip his students with educational resources that would allow them to play – and have fun – with SynBio.
Dear readers, do you feel like you’ve been growing? If not, what do you think stands in your way? Let us know!
if you are working on an ecology project or have been fundraising for your projects, please do write to us!
The BioBuilder textbook has been a great resource for numerous teams in the U.S., but what about other countries? Certainly, absorbing complex material is not any easier if the material is written in your second or third (or fourth?) language. This is why we are so excited about three great teams that have set out to translate the BioBuilder textbook and make it more accessible for local students.
The team working on the translation into Korean is led by Prof. Steven Cho in Korea. He recently obtained funding from Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) to expand his synthetic biology course. Part of this funding has been allocated to translating the BioBuilder textbook into Korean. As the funding comes from a government-supported public research institution, there are rules and regulations to be followed. Together with Ellis Lee, J.D., Prof. Cho has been sorting out these rules and at the same time looking for a qualified English-to-Korean translator with a strong biology background. Such a person is hard to come by, but, as Ellis Lee and Prof. Steven Cho have admitted to us, they have “the optimism gene encoded into their DNA”. Their persistence has paid off, and they believe they are closing in on just the right fit. As a team of three, they are hoping to start in late November or early December.
The Spanish translation is powered by Prof. Carlos Vera at Universidad Autonoma de Baja California and Instituto Tecnologico de Tijuana, Mexico. Prof. Vera has started Synthetic Biology Study Group (GEBioS-Tj) at the University, and three of his students have already translated the first 11 pages of Chapter 1 of the BioBuilder textbook. (We got a sneak peak!) Using his exceptional motivational skills, Prof. Vera recruited more students of GEBioS-Tj through his Facebook group to translate the Chapter. He set up a discussion of the best means for sharing and editing the translation to ensure the process runs smoothly. Upcoming on November 12 is a meeting of GEBioS-Tj, where the students will present their translation of the BioBuilder textbook.
The Brazilian team under the leadership of Dr. Aparecida Maria Fontes of Universidade de Sao Paulo and Prof. Claudio Paris Magrao of Liceu Albert Sabin has been working on the translation of the BioBuilder textbook into Portuguese. The team is supported by the generous Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) grant covering research and educational collaboration with MIT. Together with five graduate students, Dr. Fontes and Prof. Magrao completed translation of Chapter 1 this summer. Working at this rate, they expect to finish translation of the first 4 chapters by the end of 2016 and of the entire book by May 2017. Go team Brazil!
Our dear teams, we are cheering for you and wishing you luck in overcoming administrative hurdles, organizational challenges and whatever else comes your way. Please do email us if there is anything we can do to help.
Dear readers, if you are working on a translation of the BioBuilder textbook, we would love to help you and learn from you. Please send an email to Kat.
About BioBuilder and BioBuilder Global
BioBuilder enables students to tackle big questions of synthetic biology - and empowers educators to reconnect with their love of teaching.