1. Mission and Rationale
The droso4schools project is a creative science communication / education project by the Manchester Fly Facility promoting the use of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster for the teaching of curriculum-relevant contents in school biology lessons. The aim is not to educate about fly research, but to teach with flies using them as powerful, modern and engaging teaching tools in parallel to examples taken from human biology. There are good reasons to use Drosophila in this way:
- The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is currently the conceptually best understood animal organism – ideal to explain the principles behind many curriculum-relevant biology specifications and to achieve synopsis (i.e. an understanding of how different specifications link up).
- Fruit flies are cheap and easy to breed, ideal to bring animals into classrooms and make experimentation exciting and memorable.
- Fruit flies are actively used in contemporary research, making it easy to convey the relevance of taught contents.
The droso4schools project acknowledges that schools represent complex professional environments; to incorporate school realities into our project and develop sample lessons that meet true teacher demand and address curriculum-relevant biology topics, we closely collaborate with partner schools.
2. How is droso4schools being implemented?
The essential strategy of the droso4schools project is to place university students as teaching assistants for several months in partner schools, before we develop school-apt teaching resources as a collaborative effort by teachers, scientists and placement students. Through spending time with teachers and pupils, sensing the school landscape, and sharing expertises across science and education, our science communication objectives merge with teaching and learning objectives in a mutually beneficial way: scientists learn about pedagogy and the technical aspects of effectively communicating ideas and information in ways familiar to schools; teachers and pupils benefit from conceptual science knowledge as well as inspiring links to universities and insights into contemporary research. To reach out to teachers and scientists worldwide, the lessons are made freely available online on our figshare repository.
3. Content and purpose of this website
The information provided on the different pages of the droso4schools website can be grouped into the following categories:
- Background information on Drosophila includes the “Why fly?” tab [LINK] explaining the rationale for using Drosophila as an important model organisms for biomedical research, and the “Organs” tab [LINK] compares and contrasts human and fly organs, thus illustrating their fundamental physiological principles and requirements – with partly surprising outcome!
- Dedicated lesson resource pages [LINK] accompany our various sample lessons; they provide a brief summary box with specifications covered in the lesson, to then explain the lesson contents and the fundamental principles and concepts touched upon using simple language and illustrations.
- The blog [LINK] is written by our placement students and provides insights into their development and experiences at different stages of their projects.
This website has been developed with 4 TARGET GROUPS in mind: teachers, scientists, pupils and the public – as is explained in the following:
- TEACHERS: Apart from teacher notes and other adjunct support materials provided when downloading the lessons, this website offers a compact and concise resource for lesson preparation and teaching purposes. First, the “Why fly?” tab aims to provide an understanding of the important uses of Drosophila in biomedical research, to be able to use fly examples in lessons with confidence, and answer questions from pupils in this regard with competence. Second, the lesson resource pages can be read before lessons, or briefly flicked through, to remind teachers of the ideas behind lesson contents, illustrations, films and animations. The resource pages can also be used for teaching purposes before and after the actual lesson. Before the lesson, they can be used for ‘flipped classroom‘ scenarios where pupils study the lesson online, so that the actual lesson time can focus on consolidating understanding and clarifying concepts that were not understood. After the lesson, the resource pages can be used for homework tasks, thus transcending the lesson environment and engaging with lesson contents in a different way. Finally, the “Organs” page provides a teaching resource in itself: active learning strategies can be used to compare and contrast organs of flies and humans, so that pupils can understand the fundamental principles underlying their organisations and functions.
- PUPILS: the website offers an opportunity for interested pupils to read around the topics and explore the world of fly research. The lesson resource pages are ideal for revising lessons and consolidating learned contents and understanding. As a huge advantage over printed materials, the website contains many links (as an opportunity to explore topics in greater depth) and it can capitalise on the didactic power of the animations and films that were shown in the lectures.
- SCIENTISTS: information on the “Why fly?” page provides a concise overview of arguments for the use of Drosophila in research. These arguments can be used in grants, publications, theses, during university teaching or as powerful elevator pitches in daily discussions with other scientists, clinicians, policy makers or the general public. The “Organs” page provides a concise overview of the fundamental biology of flies and powerful examples of applied research; in this way, it offers arguments but also helpful information for students and fly novices commencing work in a Drosophila laboratory. The lesson resource pages are a concise way for preparing extra-curricular school visits (and teaching materials for such occasions are available here) and hopefully becoming an advocate for teaching with flies in schools. We found the process of developing these pages highly enlightening because they address very fundamental aspects of a range of research-relevant topics. We would therefore not be surprised if scientists found many facts or ideas on these pages they did not know or never thought about, and many illustrations on these pages are as powerful during university teaching as they are in schools!
- WIDER PUBLIC: these pages are written in plain language accessible to non-scientists. For those members of the wider public taking an interest in biology, they are a rich resource of information, links and illustrations, of which many seem to appeal because they rank highly in web searches. We tend to use the “Trojan horse” tactic on science fairs where we hand out flyers attractive enough for children to take them home; informative links on these fliers are intended to tempt families to explore the experienced topics after the event – and droso4schools provides an excellent link resource for this tactic.