Biobus II – The BioBASE!
In my last post I spoke at length about the BIOBUS organisation, however a couple of days ago I was invited back to visit but this time in their purpose built static lab in the lower East side of Manhatten. Biobase is located in the Lower East Side Girls Club, a youth project serving the local community.
The Biobase runs regular classes for middle school students where they are able to experience science experiments with a variety of themes. There are also opportunities for longer term investigative projects using the fantastic equipment available. As a teaching lab it is superb with a mini lecture hall (complete with papier mache neuron!) and some mobile digital light microscopes attached to display screens, all on mobile trolleys.
When I arrived I was greeted by Tiffany who was sorting out the badges ready for the ‘badge ceremony’ – this is a neat trick that both motivates the students (all bar one were middle school, the other was 9th grade) and allows them to miss sessions out of the series without necessarily missing out on too much of the practical work. They gain a picture pin-badge for every experiment successfully completed. Now, in order to complete they need to have conducted the experiment according to the method, written their before and after observations, discussed with the mentors about the science and then conducted the microscopy on the micro-structure – every part (including the microscopy) was embedded into the process. My understanding was that they were just over half way through this particular course themed by ‘food science’ (as a subtle and clever introduction to materials science) and they all made sure that they completed each step carefully including the analysis of the microstructure. This was then recorded into a shared document.
As I expected from biobus staff, the quality of teaching is exceptional but I was most struck by the level of trust the students had in their mentors. The biobus staff seem able to switch between abilities and age groups with ease and are sensitive to the individual needs of each student. Importantly, that trust meant that the students were happy asking questions and it was a joy to see them vying for attention to discuss the experiments and their findings.
In this instance the research equipment was enabling – without the high power and high quality microscopes there
would have been elements of the teaching that would have been missing. The girls attending the course don’t necessarily even do experiments at school so to have such a rich science experience is both enriching and inspiring for them. They refused to leave the building until they had received the badges that they had
worked hard for – and remember this was a science club after a long day at school.
Thanks to Tiffany King and Sarah Weisburg at the base for such a fun evening! This was a great example of the enrichment and engagement power of research equipment in the hands of sensitive and professional teachers.
Oh and sorry about the mess – one of the experiments this week was corn starch as thickening agent – otherwise known as Oobleck or ‘walk on custard’ the non-Newtonian fluid…lots of fun but it goes everywhere!