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Introducing new approaches to teaching biology in secondary schools

Heidelberg, 28 February - 2 March 2007


Group Picture
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Day 1

At nine everyone had arrived and the course started with an introduction to EMBL and to the ELLS activities followed by an overview of the course programme by EMBL Science Education Officer Alexandra Manaia.

Andrew Moore, EMBO Science and Society Programme Manager, introduced EMBO initiatives and resources in Science Education. In the second half of his presentation, Andrew focused on how Science Education is dealing with the extremely fast speed of discovery and accumulation of knowledge in modern life sciences research.

After the coffee break, Thomas Wendt, Project Manager at the Explo-Heidelberg, presented the various courses and activities aimed at teachers and at high school students run at this Science Center. He also presented the network of institutions and initiatives in which Explo-Heidelberg takes part.

Gene Expression Unit Coordinator Jan Ellenberg gave a talk on cell division: recapitulating what is already known about cell division, asking the essential questions that are being explored by scientists, explaining some of the scientific directions that his group is taking in order to fully understand cell division. In particular, Jan presented the main lines of the Mitocheck project. This project includes top European Research Labs and it aims to study systematically the regulation of mitosis in human cells.

After the lunch break, it was time to have a look at "real stuff". The group split in three teams and each attended a different "Cell Divison demonstration". All demonstrations focused on analysing the behaviour of microtubule structures during mitosis, in different contexts: in yeast cells (team lead by Andreia Feijao), in Xenopus cells (team lead by Iva Kronja and Stefanie Kandels-Lewis) and in Mammalian Cells (team lead by Felipe Mora-Bermudez).

To finish this first day axed on cell division, the teachers learned how to use LEGO to teach basic concepts of biology, namely mitosis and meiosis. Kathleen Vandiver, who is the Director of the Community Outreach and Education Center for Environmental Health Sciences at the MIT, and at the MIT Museum, USA, had worked together with the LEGO Education Team to develop several LEGO sets and introduced them to the participants.

First Kathy introduced the Basic LEGO DNA sets. Participants used LEGO nucleotides to build LEGO double stranded DNA; they could simulate also DNA replication, transcription and transduction into LEGO polypeptides.

One the second half of her presentation, Kathy presented the LEGO sets that she designed to teach cell division. These sets also enable to introduce the links between genotype and phenotype.

Kathy created "LEGO fish". LEGO fish cells possess three pairs of chromosomes: Chromosome 1 carries the gene for the tail colour, chromosome 2 has the gene for the fin colour and chromosome 3 has the gene for body spots.

The teachers "built" LEGO fish cells - somatic and germ cells - and they simulated mitosis and meiosis. They could also simulate fertilisation and the formation of LEGO fish zygotes. Based on the genotype of the zygote, the teachers could estimate the phenotype of the newborn fish.


Day 2

The second day of the course started with a talk by EMBL Group Leader Darren Gilmour, who gave an overview of the fundamental concepts in developmental biology. He then focused on the role of migrating cells in development (nervous, circulatory and respiratory systems) and explained the main goals of his research team. Darren's group aims to get an insight on the molecular mechanisms underlying collective cell migration. They use the formation of zebrafish lateral lines as a model system to study collective migration in vivo.

After a dynamic question period, the participants, guided by members of Darren's group, headed to the fish facility to learn about fish breeding - light cycles, type of food, etc. They then headed to the lab where they had a look at zebrafish embryos at different developmental stages. Gillaume Valentin, Michael Granato and Virginie Lecaudey helped then to identify and explore the structures of the embryos and answered their questions.

Scientists and teachers took a coffee break to chat informally and to recover some energy after the hard work. The group returned to the lab to perform two classroom kit based activities instructed by Alexandra: a DNA fingerprinting kit from Bio-Rad (Biotechnology Explorer Programme), which was used in a forensics context, and the Nature's Dice kit, a genetic screening simulation, developed by the National Centre for Biotechnology Education (NCBE).

After the lunch break, Eleanor Hayes, Editor of the Science in School journal, introduced the journal to the participants and gave them suggestions on how they could get involved – writing articles on educational materials or projects, profiles, reviews of educational materials, etc.

Andrea Bandelli, the director of the DECIDE project, explained the aims of the project and introduced the rules of the DECIDE card games. These games encourage public debates on controversial ethical, legal and social issues in the field of contemporary life sciences. The teachers split into four teams: two playing the genetic testing game and two playing the pre-implantation diagnosis game. Education Officer Rossana de Lorenzi and three EMBL PhD students (Alice Young, Corinne Cox and Iryna Charapitsa) each joined one team as facilitators. Each player had a placemat and several types of cards that were used sequentially (story cards, info cards, issue cards, etc). Clusters of cards were built around themes that reflected the groups' views. Based on the conclusion drawn from the clusters, the participants voted for four proposed policies. In case of lack of agreement with the proposed policies, the group had the option of coming up with their own policy suggestion. The group voting results were uploaded on the DECIDE project website. All teams gathered for a final discussion in the presence of Dr. Friedrich Cremer, a human geneticist from the Zentrum für Humangenetik in Mannheim, who answered questions regarding aspects of genetic testing technologies and regulations.


Day 3

The next morning, the groups went straight to the lab with Alexandra Manaia to look at the results from the classroom-kit activities. Concerning the Bio-Rad activity, every group was able to identify the guilty one, by comparing DNA fingerprints from the murderer with DNA fingerprints from the different suspects. Concerning the Nature Dice activity, the results from the different groups were gathered. By analysing the family pedigree and the number of DNA bands observed by family members, the teachers could genotype each individual and determine the pattern of inheritance of the disease.

After a short coffee break, the group went on to learn about DNA microarrays with Anastasios Koutsos by playing his successful virtual microarray game. Tassos also introduced the participants to alternative approaches to teaching about microarrays and their applications in the classroom.

After lunch, everyone gathered to assess the course. Before wrap-up there was still time for a lottery, in which four participants received classroom kits from Bio-Rad and from NCBE. HHMI Holiday lecture DVDs were distributed to all participants.