Thursday, 10 May 2018

Y13's Animate CRISPR Delivery to Cells

Year 13 has been learning about how humans manipulate genetic transfer in other organisms. In other words - how have humans managed to change the genes of species that they have found most useful? These genetic manipulations started thousands of years ago with the selective breeding of farm and domesticated animals such as goats and dogs and has continued to advance.

Now we're at a stage of technological capability that scientists can 'knock out' or 'switch off' a SINGLE gene they're interested in with massive precision, OR even insert or 'knock in' a new / healthy copy of a gene! This is particularly interesting in terms of healthcare - fixing a disease caused by a single gene by replacing the altered copy with a healthy version!

Year 13 first learnt about how CRISPR (a recent gene editing technology) works before they attended a workshop about CRISPR's potential for use in New Zealand's healthcare system.

Gene editing in Healthcare by The Royal Society Te Aparangi

The Y13's before going into the workshop.

Lonise, Clearissa and Sharon.

A few days after the workshop we had a chat about things we had understood, didn't quite understand, and questions we (myself included!) were a bit shy to ask. We fired off a quick email to one of the scientists who were at the workshop, and were pleasantly surprised when he replied! 

Here's the link to his responses to our questions.

The first two questions we had were about how scientists actually deliver CRISPR into cells so that it could manipulate the genome in cells, such as embryos - or whole organisms. 

The scientist explained that DNA that contains the instructions to build CRISPR's Cas9 enzyme and gRNA and possibly a template can be packaged up and delivered into a cell via a virus or nanoliposomes. Embryos can have the DNA for CRISPR injected directly into them along with sperm, before fertilisation. 

Year 13 spent their double period today animating one of the three delivery methods with play-doh. 

The followup activity for this is to have students present their animation verbally to the class, or for me to combine all of these FANTASTIC animations into a short video and then have students practice writing descriptions of what they observe. 

Our school and cluster goal is to improve the literacy of our students. I'm hoping that this activity scaffolds confidence in writing scientific explanations. 

Friday, 4 May 2018

Literacy with 9TGn

9TGn is getting increasingly used to reading together in pairs and small groups, as well as discussing what they've read. I designed a litearcy activity to more deeply explore what an "ecological niche" is, in the context of Weta - New Zealand's Mouse. 

My recent readings have reiterated that it's not good enough to just give a scientific text to a class and expect them to engage with it, learn from it, acquire language or comprehend it in a way that's beneficial. 

I created a guided reading (with only three prompts and three discussion points this time - I've done some with more and they REALLY got into that one) and students got on with the paired reading with very little fuss. 

They helped each other with pronounciation of new words and some began to google the meaning of new words as they went. I thought this was interesting because I had created two versions of the guided reading; both had the same prompts, reading and discussion points but they had different glossary words down the side. They could have used the glossary for many of the words they Google'd but preferred to go to Google!

Also, a few students chose to do the reading online (the link was provided) but most of the others got out a pen and scribbled notes on their papers and used their finger or pen to read along with their peer. 

Version 1 of the guided reading here
Version 2 here

Glossary words weren't limited to scientific vocabulary, it also included 'rancid,' 'distinguished,' 'fascinated' and 'deter.' 

At the end of the guided reading and the discussions had taken place I gave out coloured post-its for students to share what they had talked about. 

Students found the second discussion point the easiest; identifying whether a weta was male or female using evidence from a paragraph. The second-easiest point was the first, about 'what an ecological niche includes' - but that required students to take the specific evidence about a weta niche and generalise it out; an ecological niche doesn't include living in a cave, but it does include where something lives. The most difficult point was the 'summarising a paragraph' one.  Some students struggled to combine information from sentences or identify the 'key point' or the 'gist' of the paragraph.

Unfortunately we ran out of time to do anything with shared post-its :( Perhaps I could have asked each small group to create a poster of the class' responses. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Video Calling out Classmate in Tonga

One of my Year 13's had to return to Tonga for a week and has been missing out on a lot of very content-rich lessons on quite complex information about gene-editing. 

In class today I turned around to help a different group and found myself face to face with my missing student! One of his classmates had connected to him via video calling and was narrating to him what she was doing in class today. 

Then she passed the phone over to her friend, who showed him what her group was doing. He got passed between a few groups and one of the students gave him a brief summary of the point of the learning. 

How cool is that :) 

Salome showing Paulo what she's achieved with her group (foreground).