What Teaching Teachers Taught Us

The other week, we were invited to showcase the droso4schools project at Loreto Sixth Form College to a group of 20 teachers from schools across Manchester. We demonstrated each of the four main resources developed so far within the droso4schools project:

A simple 5-10 minute colour reaction experiment demonstrating the genetics of enzyme activity. Click for detailed explanations.

A simple 5-10 minute colour reaction experiment demonstrating the genetics of enzyme activity. Click for detailed explanations.

  • a lesson on genetics which involves the applied use of Punnett squares and learning about scientific discovery processes (not yet available online);
  • a synoptic lesson which links up topics from genes to enzymes to evolution and involves genetic code exercises and an enzymatic activity staining assay on normal and enzyme-deficient maggots [LINK];
  • a lesson on neuroscience which involves concepts of nervous system wiring, the “5 steps to an action potentials” illustrated with seizures in epileptic flies, and paralytic flies to explain the importance and working of synapses [LINK];
  • a lesson on applying statistics using data generated in-class with a climbing assay comparing young and aged flies, then explaining how this assay is being used to study neurodegenerative disease and processes of ageing [LINK].
ActionPotentialSteps

The 5 steps to a nerve impulse (action potential). Click the image for more details.

All these lessons are excellent examples of how flies can be used as powerful teaching tools to explain curriculum-relevant concepts and contents in biology lessons (for more info see here). To bring this across to the teachers, we gave a concise overview of the first three lessons and then engaged the participants in the full lesson, which allowed the teachers to experience how the resource would work in practice.

We both felt a different kind of pressure for this event. This was not only the first time we were showcasing all currently existing droso4school resources, but also the first time we were presenting our resources to teachers, in the hope that they would teach them in the future. This was more about marketing our strategy than teaching its contents. Whilst this was of course a great opportunity to demonstrate our project, it also made us feel vulnerable: What if they didn’t like it? What if we didn’t explain something well enough? What if we missed out a key part?

On top of presenting the lessons, we also needed to set up all the various stations and resources. Usually, when we make school visits using more than one resource package at the same time, the required equipment is set up in different rooms. For us, this was not the case. We had to install 4 different experiments with the accompanying sheets in one room, and wanted it to look easy and seamless for the teachers to go from one experiment to the other. This truly was a challenge!

Thankfully, the presentation went really well. All the experiments worked, we finished with just enough time for a few questions and, most importantly, the teachers really seemed interested in what we were demonstrating to them. After the talk, a couple of teachers came up to us. They highlighted, for example, the fact that by using the climbing assay to demonstrate the Χ2 statistics test in our way, the students would be much more engaged because they use an exciting and relevant experiment with live animals and work with their own results. There was tangible interest in all the resources: What other experiments were there? What notice would they need to give us to obtain and breed the flies? Whether trips to see the Fly Facility at The University of Manchester would be possible?

On a personal level, presenting to a group like this really did help our confidence. It was also a great reminder of how much work we have already done on this project and gave both of us a great sense of achievement. Professionally, the development of our presenting skills is something we’re both really proud of. Even presenting to small groups in university classes used to be incredibly daunting. To have presented all of our resources to a group of experienced teachers and performed much better than either of us thought we could , holds us in great stead for our final year of studies, and will help us enormously also when we come to present our project work to our examiners later in the year. We also feel that this will help our nerves when it comes to getting filmed by The Royal Society next month, who will come to document one of our lessons.  It very much seems that our project really is taking off now!

Sophie & Josh

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