Molecular Biology in the Freiburg School District

Aims

This project aims at integrating modern biology into school science teaching by developing and implementing molecular biology experiments which are feasible in a school context and can be successfully performed by pupils. The project wants to give access to modern biology experiments to all pupils in the Freiburg school district – also to those who live in remote areas at a distance

student in lab

Argument for inclusion

The proven impact on school curriculum and development as well as the replicable and financially affordable structural concept caused us to include this project as a good practice example. from the university. 

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

University of Freiburg, Institute of Biochemistry an Molecular Biology

Educational partners

6 upper secondary schools in Germany, 2 secondary schools each in Switzerland and France

Other partners

Teacher education centres Freiburg and Rottweil; School District Administration; Private Enterprises

Age classes

15-19

Thematic orientation

Biology

Main Focus

Molecular Biology

Duration of activity

Since 2001; from regular biology lessons (2 h per week) to three week summer schools

Resources

Private foundation funding, public funding at regional level, sponsoring from local enterprises, Teachers’ and Scientists’ voluntary time

Website

www.biochemie.uni-freiburg.de/nat-w

Contact person

PD Dr.Jan Brix; University of Freiburg

Context and conditions

The REC started in 2001, when the Robert Bosch Foundation (RBS) launched its funding program NaT-Working. Within this program the RBS also offered assistance to scientists and teachers who wanted to start a REC, but were not sure whom to cooperate with and how to start. The RBS held a “start-up-workshop” for scientists and teachers in the Black Forest region, where the first contact between the University of Freiburg and schools was established. Teachers and scientists developed the REC together and successfully applied for funding by the RBS and sponsoring by local enterprises.

The Freiburg School district covers a large and (in comparison to the German average) sparsely populated part of the southern Black Forest and the western Lake Constance region. Because of the distances, it is difficult for teachers and school students not living in or close to either Freiburg or Konstanz to take part in university outreach activities. Therefore, a decentralized network structure of school laboratories which spread over the entire district was established in order to give access to molecular biology experiments to all upper secondary level students in the school district. In the course of the project four adjunct school labs have been founded in neighbouring France and Switzerland.

Activities and Contents

Six school labs providing equipment for molecular biology and protein chemistry experiments have been set up in upper secondary level schools of the Freiburg school district.

The school labs are run by laboratory teachers receive special training at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Freiburg. Together with scientists from this institute the lab teachers develop and test experiments to be performed by school students aged 15-19. The labs are used by all upper secondary level schools in the district during regular biology lessons, in which additional tutoring is available from teachers and student mentors of the lab school. Scientists and experts from private enterprises visit the schools for presentations and discussions on a regular basis.

The structure of the Freiburg Molecular Biology network 

The structure of the Freiburg Molecular Biology network

Methodologies and Curriculum relevance

This project is clearly focussed on teaching modern molecular biology methods such as genetic fingerprinting or protein analysis in an experimental setting. However, since the experiments are at least partially open, pupils are encouraged to develop their own strategy for solving a scientific question. In the discussions with scientists and researchers from enterprises, students learn about the role of science in a knowledge society. They debate about scientific, ethical and societal issues connected with modern genetics and gene technology.

Teachers and pupils alike praise the work in the school labs, because it adds the experimental aspects of modern genetics to the school curriculum. Genetics and gene technology are part of the state curriculum, but hardly any experiments were available at the school level. The project also allows teachers to offer special stimulation and options for the very gifted students.

Jan Brix discusses the results of a Western Blot analysis with several pupils during the university internship

Other outcomes

The teacher training centres (young teachers’ in-service training) are involved. A new generation of biology teachers learns how to perform molecular biology experiments at school. Scientists and experts from companies give advice concerning study and career decisions. The decentralized structure with several schools providing lab space for a larger number of surrounding schools has been copied by various school / university networks.

Mutual benefits

The REC has led to a network both between schools and between schools, the university and enterprises that reaches across the borders to France and Switzerland. Scientists at the University of Freiburg consider the work with highly motivated students a rewarding experience. They have been able to recruit students to their department from pupils working in this project. As Dr. Brix, one of the project leaders puts it: “When it comes to motivation and knowledge, many of our pupils are far ahead of university students.”

Limits and possibilities

A particular strength of this REC is its decentralized structure with six regional laboratories grouped around the central university. Because of this structure, more than 600 pupils gain access to molecular biology experiments each year – experiments which they would not be able to see or perform without the REC. On the other hand, it is exactly this structure which prevents a large number of pupils from getting into direct contact with university researchers.

A second very strong point is the combination of experiments for all biology students with in-depths lab courses for the interested and gifted. This REC can cater for different needs of different pupils very well.

Pictures from the Robert Bosch Foundation (RBS)

Links

  • Other project from Germany
  • Other projects for 11 to 16 year old students
  • Other projects for 16 to 22 year old students