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?
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.