Camp Launch & SEP
Not all students attend schools where they have the chance to work with lab equipment or are exposed to many of the potential careers in science. We partnered with Camp Launch and William & Mary’s School of Education to reach more students from diverse socioeconomic statuses. To create an accessible and relevant outreach program we followed the Outreach Planning Guide. An overview version of the guide can be found on the Database Page page
Not all schools offer students the chance to work with lab equipment and many students are not exposed to the wide range of potential careers in science. William & Mary’s School of Education hosts Camp Launch and a SEP (Summer Experience Program) to reach students from diverse socioeconomic statuses. These programs provide enriching opportunities and advanced academic instruction in a variety of disciplines including STEM. We partnered with the STEM sector to help promote a love of synthetic biology, and facilitate an exploration of the potential careers in STEM.
Evaluating Interest & Understanding
To insure our programs were a good fit for the students we connected with Deanna Marroletti from Camp Launch & SEP. Deanna emphasized that one of the most important parts of the program was helping the students feel successful. With this in mind we worked to incorporate techniques from our activities booklet that could be mastered quickly. We also adapted our lessons to match what the students would be covering in their classroom lessons with camp launch. The students would be covering DNA structure and function as well as forensics just before arriving at our class so their minds would be primed to learn about Gel Electrophoresis and DNA editing techniques. The goal of this project was to provide an opportunity for students practice with synthetic biology techniques, develop their confidence, and encourage them to feel like they could grow up to be amazing scientists. The goal of the presentation we gave later in the week was to present some of the exciting careers in STEM and get students interested in the field.
Consider How to Connect
The leaders at Camp Launch and SEP requested an in-lab experience for their students. To make meaningful connections our team needed to focus on framing the science in a context that was engaging for the students. We designed an overarching “lunch thief” story line to get the students to get excited about gel electrophoresis, and then encouraged students to brainstorm what futuristic bacteria they would like to create with synthetic biology techniques to get them excited about DNA editing.
Although developing technique proficiency requires being in a lab for practice, learning about the potential careers in STEM doesn’t require a lab. For the second half of this partnership we decided an interactive powerpoint presentation would be the best way to reach a large group of students and share with them the many STEM careers available. This type of program would allow us to connect with all 60 students at one time.
One special consideration with this group was that the students in Camp Launch are middle schoolers. To keep students focused and to prevent lab tools from becoming lightsabers we created a fast paced program and kept student to instructor ratios close to 3-4 students to 1 instructor.
Search the Database & Adapt
Thanks to the heavy collaboration between Camp Launch coordinators and the Activities Booklet from last years team we did not feel the need to utilize the outreach database for additional ideas.
On June 29th 17 of the SEP 8th grade group came in to complete a DNA extraction, learn about synthetic biology and gene editing, and create some bacterial art with our edited RFP and GFP E. coli before solving a gel electrophoresis mystery.
On July 20th two groups of 20 Camp Launch students came to develop micropipetting skills by completing a gel electrophoresis mystery. We also discussed the potential uses for synthetic biology and the ethical implications of our work before completing a RFP/GFP bacterial art project. To conclude we had students complete the strawberry DNA extraction, allowing them to take DNA home to show their parents.
On July 21st we presented Careers in Science to more than 60 Camp Launch participants who weren’t necessarily in the STEM section of the program. We broke down STEM careers down into a set of values and skills rather than attempting to list every potential career path. Those values were Problem Solver, Communicator and Inquirer. The powerpoint can be found here
To keep students engaged throughout our presentation we had interactive questions, a few funny comics and a video that connected to our learning objectives. We also had a problem solving challenge at the beginning of the session which energized the students. There were candy prizes for students who answered questions or who successfully completed the problem solving challenge.
Reflect & Record
The lab visits utilizing the activities booklet went very well and were a good fit for the age group, ability level and time allotted. Students were excited and engaged by the material, they responded well to the questions and brainstorming prompts.
The presentation content was a good fit for the students, however, the opening problem solving activity was more challenging than anticipated and made for a rough transition into the formal presentation.
During the formal presentation we introduced a few of the components of the NASA project we were completing for Virginia teachers. We intended to just present our current materials but were pleasantly surprised by how invested the students were in the long-term space travel problem provided. Not only did this confirm that the course would be well received by Virginia students after its completion, we were inspired to expand the project to include a few ideas not originally in our outline. For example, several students had heard there was water on Mars, they wanted to explore the potential of creating ice houses made from the frozen water - we looked into this idea and it has actually been explored already! Many of them had also seen the film The Martian and were very interested in closed system farming, the prospect of farming with human waste was very exciting. Many of the students wanted to hear more about why we weren't using some of the techniques proposed for space travel here on Earth. The students also pointed out that many of the systems used in space could help reduce waste on Earth and that we should include comments about adapting space projects for Earth applications. These comments are reflected in our final NASA project.
We are excited about partnering again next year with this group and we will be improving upon our presentation to make it smoother for next year.