Life Science Zurich – Learning Center

Teacher in lab

Aims

The Life Science Zurich – Learning Center (LSLC) creates a nexus between (high) schools, the general public, life sciences and educational sciences. It aims to improve scientific literacy in general and to sup­port the teaching of modern life sciences at schools. Furthermore, the LSLC wants to raise the curiosity and comprehension for this fascinating field.

Argument for inclusion

The LSLC presents a new model of cooperation between natural and educational sciences that follows a holistic approach and accompanies high school teachers throughout their professional career. There is a strong focus on further development with the goal to extend this successful model to additional areas of natural sciences (e.g. technology, chemistry, physics).

Teacher education programme in autumn 2007: a student teacher teaches his colleagues using his newly developed teaching materials on mosses.

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

Research institutes of the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ)

Educational partners

High schools (e.g. KS Wettingen), children's university, primary school programme for talented pupils, adult evening classes, teacher education programme, Institute for Teacher Education of the University of Zurich

Other partners

Interest groups and foundations: the cogito foundation, Wollerau, VWR International AG, Dietikon, Bio-Rad, Reinach, F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Basel, Verein Forschung für Leben, Zurich, ETH Sustainability, Zurich

Age classes

All age classes including adults and the general public

Thematic orientation

Life Sciences (Biology)

Main Focus

To maintain and improve the high quality of life science teaching at high schools and other school levels. To support teachers and school classes. To promote life science literacy in general.

Duration of activity

Lab courses take half a day or a day. They are offered all year and can be booked online, since 2006.

Resources

The learning centre is primarily funded by the Swiss Federal Institute of Zurich and the University of Zurich. A substantial start-up financing was granted by the cogito foundation.

Website

www.lifescience-learningcenter.ch

Contact person

Peter Jann, director

Context and conditions

The idea of a Life Science Zurich – Learning Center (LSLC) was initiated 2005 by a group of highly motivated biologists. At the same time, the curriculum for high school teacher education was reorganised and it was agreed to use this opportunity to advance the project mutually with members from the life sciences and educational sciences. Only a few months later, on 1 March 2006, the LSLC could celebrate its opening.

The leading partners are the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ). Additionally, the LSLC collaborates with partners from industry, interest groups and selected high schools.

Activities and Contents

The LSLC is an example of an institutional REC that integrates a high school teacher education programme, continuing education for high school teachers, and lab activities for all school levels and the general public. Recently, a research study in science education has been initiated that investigates the impact of lab courses on high school students.

DNA    isolation in the Learning Center

DNA isolation in the Learning Center

High school classes, individual students, teachers, or specific professional groups and other interested persons are invited to conduct their own experiments in a cutting-edge research environment, to experience the fascination of the life sciences, and to critically discuss the impact of the latest findings on society with the scientists involved.

"I can't believe that DNA is so long!"
(Primary school, 4th year)

"A good change to school."
(High school, 11th year)

" I will do it again at home, fortunately we got the necessary protocols!"
(Primary school, 4th year)

These are comments of pupils and students who attended the lab courses. These comments reflect the success of the investigative approach with a lot of hands-on work and the connection to real life situations. The DNA isolation experiment, for example, is carried out with tomatoes and equipment that is available in every household such that students can repeat it at home.

Methodologies and Curriculum relevance

The LSLC applies a unique model of cooperation between researchers from life sciences (biology) and from educational sciences when these collaboratively supervise teacher trainees developing school lab activities or teaching units for the LSLC or for the research institutes. Key concepts used in teacher education are the "Didactic Reconstruction" and the "Cultural Border Crossing".

Whenever possible, teachers, scientists from the respective research areas and science education researchers are actively involved in the development and testing of new lab courses and services. Furthermore, Ph.D. students from natural sciences are employed as instructors for the lab courses, acting as science mediators and possibly serving as role models for high school students.

Special attention is given to the conformity of the activities’ contents with the curriculum of the target groups. This is ensured by studying the curricula and complem­entary interviewing teachers and experts from education. In general, this approach meets the interests of teachers and schools.

"The instructor was cute."
(High school, 10th year)

If possible the LSLC involves young Ph.D. students as instructors. Because of the small age difference to their audience they usually still share similar school experiences and interests and therefore can serve as role models for high school students.

Finally an entry, which cannot be translated into proper English but obviously is a compliment:
"Es isch megageil gsii!" (Primary school, 4th year)

The LSLC visitors" book

The LSLC visitors’ book

Mutual benefits

The LSLC represents a new model of cooperation between natural and educational sciences, which follows a holistic approach. One of the most important benefits from the cooperation is a mutual and long lasting understanding of experts from different fields, which leads to an improved quality of science teaching at schools and universities. The model also ensures a close contact between the LSLC, researchers and high school teachers throughout their whole professional career.

The LSLC provides therefore a virtual and physical platform where a steady flow of expertise and know-how among all persons involved contributes to a continuous quality improvement of teaching and learning activities at the LSLC and in school. The exchange feeds directly back into the services offered by the LSLC and studies in science education research (see box case study).

Evaluation / educational research

An internal evaluation of the lab courses and the teacher education programme is performed regularly with questionnaires and personal contacts to the participants. There is no external evaluation planned at the moment. However, there is a research project in progress that investigates the attitudes of high school students toward natural sciences. Interviews are performed among the many students of the visiting high school classes.

Limits and possibilities

Due to restrictive timetables, it is sometimes difficult for (high) school teachers to organise outreach trips like a visit to the LSLC.

The activities of the LSLC are strongly dependent on the willingness of the researchers from both the educational sciences and the life sciences, to contribute to the development of new high quality lab courses and teaching materials.

The existing education programme for high school teachers is a promising start. But further involvement and additional resources are needed. If these resources are provided then the ambitious goal of a multidisciplinary science learning centre can be realised.

Observing a chicken embryo during a continuous education course for high school teachers in 2006.

Case study on the continuous exchange of scientific expertise and teaching know-how

In 2006, a neurobiology research group of the University of Zurich organised a lab course on nerve system development in chicken embryos for high school teachers (continuing education). They gained valuable insights into a fascinating research area and learnt about the importance of chicken embryos as a model organism for the study of nerve system development. However, the discussion among the teachers after the course showed that there was still uncertainty about how this topic could be transferred into high school courses. The scientist involved and the LSLC agreed to involve the teacher education programme. Thus, a student teacher spent several weeks in the neurobiologist’s research group working out teaching materials (protocols, teaching units) on this topic.

Presentation Biovalley College Day, 20 October 2007.

Observing a chicken embryo during a continuous education course for high school teachers in 2006.

Presentation Biovalley College Day, 20 October 2007.

In the aftermath of the internship, the student teacher presented her work in a work­shop at the Biovalley College Day in October 2007. In the discussion, the LSLC offered to act as virtual platform, i.e. to collect, summarise and redistri­bute suggestions and practical experiences made by the teachers with the materials provided.

The scientist involved now knows better what embryology topics high school teachers address in their lessons and in what detail. The student teacher had the opportunity not only to develop teaching materials but also to present them to teachers and to receive their feedback. And once the second part of this project, a lab tour at this neurobiology research group, is realised, high school students and their teachers will have the opportunity to see how the experiments they carried out in school are applied in real life research.

Pictures by Life Science Zurich - Learning Center.