Workshops Involve Teachers and Students in Connecting Engineering and Biology

Achievement date: 

Professional development workshops initiated by the BioBuilder Educational Foundation (TBEF) and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an NSF-funded center headquartered at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, engage teachers with the BioBuilder curriculum that connects biology to an engineering framework. In summer 2012, new models were introduced at three workshops.


The overarching goal of the workshops is to create better and more enthusiastic bioengineers. BioBuilder takes cutting-edge research projects and transforms them into teachable modules for teachers and students to investigate together. Each module begins with online animations to set up the challenge, and then moves offline to the classroom or lab setting. After completing the modules, teachers and students then return to the online community forum to share their data, findings, and thoughts.


Workshops were held at Purdue University, UC Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), all SynBERC core partner institutions. At Purdue, the workshop emphasized teacher/student collaboration as well as the nuts and bolts of running a high school International Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM) team. A pair of faculty leaders, Professors Kari Clase and Jenna Rickus, teamed up with expert high school teachers Sherry Annee and Rebecca Schini in training eight new teachers and their students at the same time.

Using a “flipped classroom” format, the Purdue workshop trained the high school students in the lab portions of the curriculum in advance of the teachers. Students were then asked to teach their teachers how to measure the intensity of banana smell from E. coli, for example, or how to transform different chassis with color-producing genetic programs.

Kelly Bozoian, a high school teacher who completed the Purdue workshop with a student, wrote, “These labs should be a fun start to our school year and a great introduction to synthetic biology.”

Started in 2007 at MIT, BioBuilder was created in response to countless requests for synthetic biology learning materials from policy makers, environmental groups, and members of the media needing to know more about the basic biology involved, as well as scientists wanting to know more about engineering aspects of the field. BioBuilder is now an independent non-profit foundation.