July 20, 2021
When BC’s public schools closed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that even when in-class learning resumed, deploying volunteers to deliver in-class workshops was likely not an option for the foreseeable future. Genome BC’s education team immediately went to work converting Geneskool™ activities and workshops to online and remote learning resources. In less than a month, all Geneskool program materials were converted and available through Genome BC’s website, as well as the BC Government’s Keep Learning page as a science resource for high school students. To supplement these resources, our team hosted webinars with educators to provide training and support for these tools.
Genome BC also hosted its first ever educator retreat—four days to learn more about the rapidly advancing field of genomics and how it intersects with society. Geneskool facilitators, BC based researchers and educators were able to reflect on personal perceptions of genetics and genomics, engage in meaningful discussion and establish two-way dialogue over how best to advance genomic literacy with BC students in grades nine through 12.
The retreat was an opportunity to examine how Geneskool’s content could be used to approach ‘Big Ideas’ in BC’s curriculum and to help students find relevance between their own lives and genomic sciences.
The pandemic provided a unique opportunity to rethink our popular Summer Science Program to a fully online and virtual experience. This immersive two week camp has participants explore aspects of genomics, inheritance, forensics and microbiology in pursuit of solving a mystery.
Once the mystery narrative was adapted for the virtual classroom, science kits with tools for blood typing, microscopy, chromatography and other hands-on activities were assembled and shipped to participating students. Live online instruction was provided through face-to-face video classrooms throughout the 10-day event. The virtual format provided most of the elements of the in-person program—guest speakers, guided hands-on experiments and working with other students (albeit through virtual breakout rooms) to solve the mystery.
This format also provided a unique opportunity to expand Geneskool’s summer program beyond the lower mainland by offering a self directed format where students had access to all the online content from wherever they call home.
This year, the education team also produced a new workshop called Outbreak, designed to teach students genomic epidemiology skills. Epidemiologists help us to understand where infectious diseases originate, how they spread and what strategies might help to mitigate their negative impacts. In this workshop, students solve a fictional case using real-world epidemiological tools to compare DNA sequences and to create a phylogenetic tree. Analyzing this information reveals how viruses can spread through a community. Students utilize the same genomic tools that are deployed to monitor and mitigate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2. Applying their knowledge of DNA and mutation to this simulated outbreak allows students to experience the value of genetics to everyday life.
This new workshop was tested with 2,586 girls as part of the online Girls and STEAM event at Science World and is now the first bookable virtual classroom offered by Geneskool. Over 400 students have been reached so far in Vancouver, Nelson, Lake Cowichan, Duncan, Fort Nelson, and Fort St. John.
Genome BC has always been an advocate of genomics education through outreach activities and remains committed to providing BC teachers and students with an opportunity to explore the world of genomics and genetics and apply learning to real world challenges.
This article appears in Genome BC’s 2020/21 Annual Report.
View the whole report here.