1356 Views
  1. Anja Scholze
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anja-scholze-20a98912/
  3. Program Director, Biology + Design
  4. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  5. The Tech Interactive
  1. Caitlin Nealon
  2. Life Sciences Experience Developer
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. The Tech Interactive
  1. Abbey Thompson
  2. Director of Educational Outreach
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Stanford University
  1. James Wong
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jw87352/
  3. Content Specialist
  4. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  5. The Tech Interactive
Facilitators’
Choice

Biohealth Learning Lab and Makerspace for the Community

R25GM129220

2022 (see original presentation & discussion)

Informal, All Age Groups

In recent decades, biology has become a powerful and dynamic tool for innovation and change. Knowledge of and access to these advances, however, is still very limited for most students and the general public. To help bridge this gap and explore new ways to inspire young people from diverse backgrounds to participate in these emerging fields, we created The Biotinkering Lab. Over the last 6 years, we have used this experimental bio-makerspace and learning lab to develop and test a new approach to biology education: biotinkering. We blend elements of traditional scientific inquiry with the engineering-focused practices of making, tinkering, and design challenge learning and apply them to biology. With funding from the NIH, we are creating a repertoire of novel and accessible biotinkering activities that empower people of all ages to use biology as a creative and problem-solving medium. Visitors to our space can use living mushroom mycelium to grow bricks, turn pigment harvested from bacteria into color-changing paint, design a microbe culture to manufacture custom biomaterial, make colorful markers with a secret DNA message, use materials produced in algae to create string, and more! These activities all aim to authentically engage young people with biology as a personally relevant process by supporting learner creativity, agency, and choice. This invitation to participate in science through biotinkering instead of observing or replicating the science of others empowers audiences not well served by traditional models, so can help promote much-needed diversity in the STEM pipeline.

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Discussion from the 2022 STEM For All Video Showcase (15 posts)
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 9, 2022 | 07:49 p.m.

    Welcome!

    Thank you for taking the time to watch our video. We are still in the process of finishing summative evaluations for some of our Biotinkering Lab programs, so this video focuses on our approach to activity development and key preliminary insights. We are especially interested to have discussions about centering learner creativity and agency in the scientific process, but welcome all comments! What are your thoughts on integrating making, tinkering, and design challenge learning approaches with biology? Could this approach be used or adapted to the learning environment in which you work? Why or why not?

     

    We look forward to the discussions!

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Jay Labov

    Jay Labov

    Facilitator
    Currently STEM Education Consultant
    May 10, 2022 | 03:44 p.m.

    Thank you for submitting this video. I’ve visited the Tech Interactive facility several times when I’ve been in San Jose and have always found it fascinating.

    I’m intrigued by your use of biological materials to foster curiosity, problem-solving, and creativity in the children who participate. My primary questions are 1) whether the use of biological materials increases students’ curiosity about the biological structures or processes behind what they are using and 2) the kinds of resources (either through the facilitator or through the Tech’s online resources) are available to foster and build on that curiosity. For example, extracting DNA is exciting, but have you monitored how much students express a desire to learn more about the structure and workings of the DNA molecule, or how it replicates? Similarly, does using cabbage extracts as a basis for showing different colors when substances of different pH levels are mixed with the extract prompt students to want to know more about acids and bases and related uses of pH? I see on your website that you have an “Ask a Geneticist” page, but it’s not clear the extent to which the questions submitted there are connected to the activities in the Biotinkering Lab.

    If you’ve been looking at this kind of curiosity, at what age levels are you seeing it and how does it change with increasing maturity? These kinds of data could prove very helpful to curriculum designers and lesson planners to catalyze age-appropriate questions and activities.

    Although your summative results are not yet available, would it be possible to provide some hints about the directions that those data are pointing?

    Thank you again!

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 11, 2022 | 02:41 p.m.

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment and questions Jay! 

    We do see that using real biological materials increases curiosity about underlying scientific concepts and processes. Most frequently this emerges as questions to the facilitator asking for more details or information about how the biology behind the activity works and why. We notice that letting young people actually touch, feel, and even smell the squishy nature of biology creates a visceral personal connection to the systems and motivates deeper curiosity about what they are experiencing first hand. Given our operational constraints (drop in science center floor programming), we only have about 20-25 minutes max for each session, but facilitators have training in the content connections to be able to support real-time information delivery in a customized manner for the visitors in a given session. For the genetics activities, the facilitators are volunteer graduate students from Stanford University, meaning that they have very deep content knowledge which they can share in their conversations. 

    Additionally, since activity duration and facilitator bandwidth are limited by our context, we design our activities to include a content layer in the physical Biotinkering Lab space that visitors can choose to engage with on their own for deeper knowledge. This has included things like information on wall panels, vitrine displays, laminated table top information sheets designed to support specific stations, as well as video and wall projector content. Using these activity and space design strategies, we have been able to layer in opt-in content such as info about the organisms being used (ie. yeast, bacteria), how the process is relevant in the real world (ie. kombucha biomaterial products, algae inks), insights on how living things grow and change (ie. timelapse of streptomyces on petri dishes), details about the genetics involved in different traits (ie. hair/coat color, lactose intolerance, sex) or animations showing the details of a chemical reaction (algae string cross-linking). Facilitators direct curious visitors to these in-space content resources as needed. And finally, some (but not all) of our biotinkering activities have been adapted into at-home or classroom experiences, which include various supplemental PDF and video resources highlighting different parts of the activity process, underlying science, and more. You can find links to those resources on our Biotinkering Lab homepage (here)! The Ask A Geneticist website is a separate program specifically focused on genetics content that is done in partnership with Stanford University. Although, long term we do think it could be interesting to have a similar resource for all our biotinkering activities.

    As far as age ranges and how that impacts curiosity, we design our activities imagining a target audience of 10-12 year olds, but since we are a family science center, we make sure to include ways for the experience be adapted down to ages as young as 6 and and also integrate elements meant to appeal to older children, caregivers, and adults. Interestingly, we definitely notice that biotinkering as an approach is really great at leveraging the innate curiosity in children - they usually are excited to jump right in and try things out. On the other hand, adults are more hesitant and seem to feel a need to try to figure out what the “correct way” for them to engage is, even though there really isn’t one!

    The preliminary data that we have from formative evaluations and a few initial summatives (post-visit surveys of 9-13 year olds) point to some really interesting overall trends, which we briefly mentioned in the video:

    • Engagement: Greater than 60% of respondents rate their biotinkering experience as extremely fun and interesting (equal across genders).
    • STEM Identity: There is a strong and consistent self-reported increase in interest in science across all activities (largest increase for girls).
    • Perceptions of Science: The top two descriptors most-associated with Biotinkering Lab activities are “creative thinking” and “doing real science.”
    • Agency: The explicit invitation to make personally motivated choices in a lab and do experiments without being told exactly what to do excites young people.

    I hope I answered all your questions!

     
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    Justice Walker
    Anja Scholze
  • Icon for: Jay Labov

    Jay Labov

    Facilitator
    Currently STEM Education Consultant
    May 16, 2022 | 10:56 a.m.

    You did! Thank you!

     
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    Anja Scholze
  • Icon for: Laura Santhanam

    Laura Santhanam

    Health Reporter & Coordinating Producer for Polling
    May 10, 2022 | 06:17 p.m.

    Such a terrific way of engaging kids and encouraging them to think meaningful ways about more STEM concepts! Thinking about this exhibit and its goals, how would you do things differently, based on experiences depicted here? My kids wish they could go to this exhibit! 

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 11, 2022 | 04:35 p.m.

    Thank you for the kind comment! As far as what we would do differently, that is an interesting question. Each time we have developed and launched a new biotinkering activity over the last few years, we have taken into account learnings from our past experiences, so we have been lucky to be able to do a lot of iterative evolution of our approach along the way. One thing that comes to mind, however, that we have not been able to explore in our space is how the experiences change if we have two facilitators at a time. Based on how I have seen other museum workshops and makerspaces operate that have this staffing model, I believe it could allow us to get more creative with the complexity of the experience flow as well as support our ability to let in/out visitors on a rolling basis. Both of these things have interesting potential implications for allowing the length of the experience to be more customizable for different visitor groups and individuals, but are not feasible with only a single facilitator. Sometimes we have visitors that are done early but also frequently have ones that want more time or express a desire to be able to do certain steps more than once and linger in the space, so being able to offer that and tailor the depth of the experience on a more individual level would be really interesting to explore.

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Justice Walker

    Justice Walker

    Facilitator
    Assistant Professor
    May 10, 2022 | 10:23 p.m.

    I've been following this project for some time and it is an incredible accomplishment to implement biomaking (or biotinkering) in an informal learning environment as you have here.  The scholarship (as you are probably closely aware) suggests these exercises (along with much of life science) are difficult to implement in informal spaces in part because of the nature of engagement (which can be transient), but also because the tools, time scales, and foundational knowledge needed to access and execute creative biology can be limiting—and here you all seem to have figured it out. 

    While I can appreciate that curiosity is a good starting point for future pursuits (in rote memorization of biological processes)—I wonder if you might share a bit about some of the other outcomes that might be important beyond taking the initiative to memorize biology? I have a sense from your project that choice is an important factor in encouraging learner agency and exploration (with algae noodles, bacterial dyes, kombucha plastics, etc.).

    I bet we agree rote memorization is just one of many productive outcomes, but that there is so much more to life science. Some examples that come to my mind are to inspire innovation in areas where the literature just hasn't caught up (i.e., making biomaterials that can replace circuit components in our smartphones).  Surely, some processes (how cells divide or genetic code rules) can be black boxed and remain productive (think Scratch, for those who are looking for a related example!). 

    In response to your question—I find that this approach to life science is paradigmatically different from inquiry-science. As a result, I find that educator mindsets might be a might be an important obstacle to address in order to implement these approaches in other learning environments.

    My last question here is: what is your favorite biomaterial and why? I'd love to know what you and others choose!

     
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    Anja Scholze
    Julia Varnedoe
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 12, 2022 | 01:46 p.m.

    Thank you Justice! Hearing your thoughts on this subject is always inspiring, I appreciate the discussion! And yes, not surprisingly, we agree that, while rote memorization has its place and value, it is definitely not the only (or often most important) outcome for science learning experiences. I would say that doing good science usually hinges more on asking good questions and figuring out how to explore them to actually generate new knowledge. Along those lines, a focus on the process of science as opposed to the acquisition of static knowledge is central to our work. This is one of the ways our approach aligns very closely with making and tinkering pedagogies. As you mention, being able to think creatively and innovatively about practicing and using science is critical for driving real-world discovery and advancement, so giving young people early insight and exposure to those elements is important for nurturing a truly authentic understanding of and engagement with science. This is why we think about designing biotinkering experiences that invite participants to imagine, design and shape the process of discovery for themselves.

    I’d also argue that the above is especially true in our particular type of informal learning context, which, as you point out, by necessity involves more transient interactions with students. In a broader educational ecosystem, one-off 20 minute experiences will never be the ideal location for acquisition of deep knowledge. Different learning formats, structures, and venues all have different strengths and weaknesses. One of our unique strengths as a drop-in exhibit in a science center is the opportunity for our activities to be a relatively barrier-free gateway experience for a very large number of people. We serve over 35,000 visitors a year in the Biotinkering Lab! Our goal with each of these interactions is to authentically engage young people with science as a personally relevant and creative process by supporting agency and choice. This means that the outcomes which most motivate us are things like building learner confidence, creative capacity, problems-solving skills, persistence, and STEM identity. And, our observations and early data suggest that biotinkering activities can do this! Having a learner understand all of the scientific details is not a necessary precursor to achieving this type of impact.

    As you mention, the landscape of modern biotechnology is advancing more rapidly than textbooks and has begun to dramatically blur the lines between traditional disciplines. Young people need to shift their core understanding of biology to be ready to engage in a future where biology can be a technology, an engineering system, a manufacturing platform, a creative medium, or even a design space. Experiences at the elementary and middle school level shape career path decisions, so what seeds do we need to plant with kids to nurture their interest, confidence, and participation in these emerging fields? Not surprisingly, I’d say things like creativity, innovation, and problem solving skills are at the center of that list over facts. 

    And just to share one little story from our work about how relatively short experiences CAN be very powerful. A 10-year-old boy was so intrigued by what he learned making Mushroom Bricks at The Tech that the following year he convinced his First Lego League robotics team to pursue a mycelium-based solution to a challenge about space travel to Mars. Their team contacted our staff for additional research (and to share their adorable presentation with us) and their project advanced all the way to national competition. This kid's 20 minute experience in the Biotinkeing Lab shaped how he approached a future challenge encountered in the context of a different discipline! Biology is now a tool in his general problem-solving kit, which is exactly what I would love to see more of.

     
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    Elise Levin-Guracar
    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 12, 2022 | 01:50 p.m.

    Oops! Nearly forgot to answer the favorite biomaterial question :) That is definitely a hard one, because they are all so fun! But I’d probably have to say mycelium materials because of the ability to grow 3D solid objects. The ability to grow useful products at scale is so very satisfying and inspiring. I think it is the biomaterial that I have personally played around with the most on my own time - both to create things for myself and with amazing community collaborators! What about you?

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Justice Walker

    Justice Walker

    Facilitator
    Assistant Professor
    May 13, 2022 | 12:07 p.m.

    I love mycelium because they are so flexible!  As you know, Corinne Takara is doing some incredible things with bioplastics and all sorts of other materials. 

     
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    Anja Scholze
  • May 11, 2022 | 01:44 p.m.

    What a great way to engage students in hands on experimentation and exploration of bio-making.  What are your thoughts on how the Bio Tinkering activities can provide a connection to Bio Inspired design?  I am also curious about any findings you might have regarding participation/engagement with different genders. 

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 12, 2022 | 03:38 p.m.

    Hi Julia. I’ll start with the bio-inspired design question, which I love. Thanks for starting the discussion! I think that there are a great many ways that biotinkering and bio-inspired design could connect and synergize. I usually think of biotinkering as using a biological system itself as the creative and problem solving medium, but there is definitely space for imagining how this approach could be applied to the ideas of mimicry or even speculative design. And there are actually some interesting potential benefits from an accessibility standpoint, given that bio-inspired design systems and/or concepts might often not require the sometimes cost- or experience-limiting microbiology equipment and techniques. Amazing programs like the Biodesign Challenge have started to engage students more with these concepts at the high school and college levels, but I think it could also be a great entry point for engaging for younger audiences as well. This topic would be super interesting to pursue more in future work, as both areas are rich with possibilities for inspiration, engagement, and learning! Do you work with bio-inspired design in your programs?

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 12, 2022 | 03:41 p.m.

    For the gender question, the post-visit evaluation data that we have been collecting so far does include gender information, so we can analyze responses with that breakdown. So far, we have seen that the appeal of and engagement with these types of experiences is not significantly different between genders, although we have yet to collect our final data sets. The one place where we have noticed a trend that is different between genders is that when asked if the experience increased their interest in science, answers from girls on average are slightly higher (larger expressed increase in interest) than from boys. We are excited, however, to look at this question more in depth as we get our final data, so hopefully I will have more info to share on this question in the future. 

  • Icon for: Anne Kern

    Anne Kern

    Facilitator
    Professor
    May 11, 2022 | 08:00 p.m.

    It was interesting to me that the program title suggests “biology” as the discipline. As a chemist, I saw lots of “chemistry” being done. I wonder if in today’s world if we (educators) can draw on a single disciple, rather than a “multi-disciplinary” approach. Perhaps a better title for the program would be “Bio+tinkering”! I do however, think narrowing down to a single discipline rather that “STEM” is smart, the STEM acronym is being very overused such that people (consumers) don’t really know what it mean or means it all!

     
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    Justice Walker
  • Icon for: Anja Scholze

    Anja Scholze

    Lead Presenter
    Program Director, Biology + Design
    May 13, 2022 | 03:06 p.m.

    I find it very interesting that this stood out to you! These are definitely multi-disciplinary activities in many ways. In particular, on the STEM side, we do lean on overlap of biology with chemistry a lot for our Biotinkering Lab programs, as the time constraints of a science center setting (visitors are only there for up to 30 minutes) really limits the amount of real-time organismal biology that can happen. When working with living systems in this setting, we have strategies for designing experiences that use cooking-show style strategies to have visorts collaborate with each other across time, but often, the fastest part of biology that we have access to for tinkering is in fact chemistry. And, to your point about if a better title might be just bio+tinkering, I would agree! And in fact, that is actually what we call our programs and activities at The Tech (BioTinkering). The title of this video was trying to situate our work in a more formalized/familiar field for this showcase, and the core subject area that we approach our system selection and activity design/framing from is biology. But, as you point out, we integrate ideas, approaches, and content from other STEM and also art, design, and architecture. I’d agree that being truly single-discipline these days is not only challenging, it's potentially very limiting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Anne.

     
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    Justice Walker
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