Some Assembly Required: Synthetic Biology as a Way to Teach and Learn

Thursday, February 11, 2016: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Marshall Ballroom North (Marriott Wardman Park)
Natalie Kuldell,BioBuilder Educational Foundation, Cambridge, MA
There is no fully encompassing definition for synthetic biology, no perfectly suitable metaphor that captures its goals, and few identifiable outputs in society. How then, can we propose to base a teaching curriculum on this still-emerging field? Counter-intuitively, we have found that the ambiguity and uncertainty inherent in these early days of synthetic biology can be leveraged to meet some critical educational goals. Our experience in creating and teaching the BioBuilder curriculum demonstrates the power authentic research questions have to motivate learning. Because synthetic biology is a developing practice, our classroom and lab curriculum moves away from rote memorization and cookbook protocols. BioBuilder’s content, like the field itself, is asking not only how can we combine engineering tools with modern biology, but also how far can this approach take us? We require teachers and students bring their most creative problem solving skills and collaborative interactions to work on relevant challenges. By emphasizing the hypothesis that underlies the synthetic biology approach, BioBuilder leverages authenticity to spark interest and enables the co-development of the field with its future practitioners.