Building biology, one cartoon at a time
You don’t often see MIT lecturers using cartoons in their lessons plans. However, as 27 teachers sat mesmerized by the series of animations unfolding onscreen, it was clear that Natalie Kuldell, an instructor in MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering, was on to something.
When Kuldell started teaching synthetic biology, she quickly noticed that there was a great demand for knowledge of the topic across many fields. Kuldell recalls, “Political science professors would ask to be taught some of the underlying biology so they could understand the policy questions, and biology people wanted to be taught the engineering side. Niche groups were asking for educational materials and I realized I needed something.” This high demand inspired Kuldell to create biobuilder.org.
Working with Jim Dixon, an advanced-placement biology teacher at Sharon High School in Sharon, Mass., Kuldell developed a way to teach educators about teaching synthetic biology. What was different about their approach was that they based their site around ongoing areas of research through a series of animations.
The site is designed to be accessible to a variety of ages, from high school to college and beyond. Animated lessons are accompanied by labs created by Dixon and Kuldell. Often, these lab exercises are extensions of current advanced-placement biology labs or summer research projects generated through the international Genetically Engineered Machines competition.