Nene Park Academy
extends involvement in ABE by involving sixth form students from another school in an off-timetable ABE day
Staff from Nene Park Academy first attended ABE CPD in July 2017. Since then students from years 7 – 13 have undertaken practical biotechnology activities within the taught curriculum including A level and GCSE, as well as the extended curriculum through a whole day off timetable for sixth form students. Two teachers supported by an experienced technician have been involved.
Sixth formers carried out ABE activities including micro-pipetting, electrophoresis, cloning, use of restriction and ligation and PCR and visualisation of the resultant DNA ladders during an off-timetable day. Nene Park Academy invited Year 13 BTEC students from a neighbouring school, Sawtry Village Academy, also part of the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT), to enjoy the experience with them, thus fostering inter-school collaboration and networking and extending the reach of ABE.
Year 7 pupils practised micro-pipetting techniques and applied mathematical skills when calibrating equipment. Some also attended science club where they had the chance to carry out electrophoresis and discovered the skills of dexterity needed to load gels. Year 9 pupils undertook an activity about restriction digestion of plasmids which also developed their dexterity and ability to follow a complex set of instructions.
Teachers and technicians
The technician through the ABE programme gained confidence and new skills such as micro-pipetting and loading of electrophoresis gels. She found the training motivating and resources such as the guides and diagrammatic flow charts to be useful.
Sixth form students found the ABE activities professional, exciting and realistic. Health and safety protocols such as wearing lab coats, goggles and gloves made an impact. They experienced a number of ‘wow’ moments: for example, when they examined and analysed DNA ladders using the UV trans-illuminator in the ABE kit. This visualisation aids the understanding of theory by putting it into practice. Students separate and identify DNA molecules, make predictions about the relative speed of DNA restriction fragments moving through gel during electrophoresis and better understand how DNA profiles can be generated. More generally, the activities and underlying theory enabled them to appreciate the link between the theory of molecular biology and its application in biotechnology.
Practising new skills such as micro-pipetting required advanced manual dexterity, careful measurement and calibration techniques. Setting up the electrophoresis tank and tackling gel loading (made easier by using dye) also developed teamwork skills.
The students enjoyed the off-timetable day. The need to resume practical activity 36 hours later to view their PCR bacterial transformation colonies added a realistic dimension. Students planning to pursue scientific careers felt that the whole experience was particularly useful and an activity to include in their UCAS statements.
The school plans to extend involvement in ABE activities including through the autumn term open evening and by inviting sixth form parents to take part in a special event, perhaps coinciding with national biology week, which celebrates and showcases biosciences (https://www.rsb.org.uk/get-involved/biologyweek). They may also extend the invitation for participation to other schools. The school plans to extend the activities to involve year 8 students in cheek cell PCR.