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DNA and food biotechnology educator kits and workshops

This project aims at designing, producing and distributing kits to support educators wishing to introduce DNA technology and food biotechnology to their learners.

Educators who have attended similar workshops held in the past have expressed great interest in running similar activities for their own learners. However, those from under-resourced schools who often do not have a science teaching background, and feel under-confident to embark on this without further support.

Simple sustainable kits will be provided for use at both DNA and Food workshops/short learning programmes designed to equip educators at better introducing these subjects to learners. Kits will be based on the activities tested and adapted over the last few years in workshops with further adaptation for their use in primary schools undertaken in consultation with the Western Cape Primary Science Programme (PSP) and in senior schools.

The DNA kit will be designed to examine the role and societal relevance of DNA biotechnology. Activities in this workshop, entitled "The DNA detective: what's in your genes?" include extracting DNA from wheat, learning about the genetic code, encoding and building a mini-protein. The extension of DNA science into the human genome project will also be covered. Applications of DNA biotechnology, such as in forensic medicine, DNA fingerprinting in murder and rape cases, and in paternity testing and DNA diagnosis will be provided in comic strip format, with learners having the opportunity to "solve" the cases presented. Further ideas for educators will include plays, discussions and posters.

The food technology workshop can be used to develop scientific methodology investigations, as well as promoting an understanding of the concept of biotechnology. Entitled "Food 4 thought", this workshop's activities focus on the science behind the manufacture of selected foodstuffs and their ingredients, e.g., yeast in bread making, bacteria in yoghurt production, fermentation and use of cocoa beans in chocolate production etc. The emphasis can be changed to suit the particular audience. This workshop is very popular with young children (from 5 years) and their educators. It is an ideal way to introduce first generation biotechnology in a fun and non-threatening way. For older participants, it can be adapted to emphasise career opportunities.

Operational strategy

The first stage of the operation will be the selection of materials for inclusion in the kits. New comic strips and additional work sheets will be designed and contents will be finalised after discussions and consultation with the stakeholders involved.

The selected components will be collected, purchased or made and the kits assembled and packaged. The contents will be inexpensive, compact, light, easily transportable and easy for the educator to replicate for use in his or her school. Thus, the educator can use the kit as a demonstration to the class, or can involve groups of learners in learning and various outcomes-based projects. Continued advice can be sought from the project implementers by educators.

A few examples of activities that will be supported by use of the kit are outlined below, most of which are based on ideas already tried and tested in the existing workshops:

DNA Technology activity

DNA will be extracted from wheat (included in the kit, and can be purchased from a health food store), using dishwasher liquid, meat tenderizer and 'rubbing alcohol', an empty spice jar and a kebab stick. The nature of inheritance can be followed using a shop bought or home-made felt notice board and cutout figures of chromosomes. Pairs of different coloured socks or shoes can also represent chromosomes. Templates can be used to prepare different size and shape amino acid building blocks. The comic strips developed to portray crime scenarios etc can be duplicated in black and white, younger children can colour them in, the stories can be developed further and issues discussed.

Food technology activity

Various foods can be investigated. For example, simple experiments will allow a study of yeast fermentation and introduce learners to scientific methodology. This can be applied to bread baking and wine or beer fermentation. Various types of yoghurt can be produced using shop purchased yoghurt containing live cultures and milk and incubated in a simple "hay box".

Models will be designed to allow the concept of genetic manipulation of plant genomes to be explored, and the learners will produce their own simulated "genetically modified foodstuffs" while examining the issues that revolve around this biotechnology. Comprehensive resource packs with written material to support the activities will be prepared and included in the kits.

Distribution of kits

Once prepared, the kits will initially be targeted primarily for distribution to schools in under-resourced areas of the Western Cape. As some of these kits will be destined for rural farm schools, written materials will be translated into Afrikaans. At a later stage of the project, depending on its impact, the need for translation into Xhosa and other languages will be assessed.

The kits will be distributed to schools through two main routes:

The Western Cape Primary Science Programme (PSP), which runs support activities for primary school educators in the Western Cape. Working closely with 200 primary schools in the Western Cape, including the Boland areas, they have recently extended their Boland Science and Mathematics Project to include 11 more schools in the rural farm areas of Robertson. A long term goal is to distribute the kits to all these schools.

The Partners supporting Science, Mathematics and Technology in schools programme (PSST). PSST is public and private initiative made up of 12 organisations; MRC, Eskom, Iziko Museums, Cape IT Initiative, SAAO, Two Oceans Aquarium, iThemba Labs, Discovery Centre, Cape Technikon, Western Province Technical College, and ORT STEP Institute. PSST members run workshops and other activities for primary and high school educators and learners. This programme currently has access to 40 schools in the Western Cape. A long term goal is to distribute the kits to all schools that participate in the PSST programme.

Additional means of delivery will include kits distributed to other educators though workshops and exhibitions held in the Western Cape, at Sasol SciFest, National SET weeks and other opportunities that arise on an ad hoc basis.


The PSP has continued interaction with the schools and educators and all courses and workshops are evaluated by the educators and carefully reflected on by the staff. Questionnaires are administered to the educators after the activities and this information forms the basis of written reports. The PSP also provides and co-ordinates follow-up support, where educators offer to run "demo-lessons" for their colleagues at schools. This can provide excellent feedback on the use of such kits in classrooms.

The team will also design questionnaires which will be administered to educators at the learning programmes and workshops given to support use of the kits. A follow-up questionnaire will be given once the educators have used the kit in their classrooms. The kits will be designed to encourage educators to explore the subjects further with their learners.

Both the DNA and Food technology kits complement the learning outcomes for natural sciences:
LO1: Scientific Investigations
LO2: Constructing Science Knowledge
LO3: Science, Society and the Environment

Implementation Plan

Phase I - Project Initiation

  • Appoint a temporary, part-time assistant to begin collection of materials. Input from all role players will be sought.
  • Contract a graphic artist to prepare new comic strip scenarios and advise on presentation and packaging.
  • Prepare new supporting information, type and photocopy.
  • Translate material into Afrikaans for rural Western Cape schools.

Phase II - Development and Piloting of Kits

The preparation of the kit components and the design and production of work sheets and user guides will take six months to perfect. However, during this phase, workshops will be run at various venues as already been planned or scheduled by PSP and PSST. The "pilot" kits will undergo trial runs at some of these occasions and feedback incorporated into the design.

Phase III - Distribution of Kits

Once the kit is in its final form, the project team members and organisations will start to incorporate kit workshops with educators to fit in with educators' requests and plans. Four (4) training workshops with educators will be held in 2004. We anticipate approximately 20 educators per workshop.

Young Science Communicators Writing Initiative:

In an initiative to offer a platform to exercise skills in science communication, PUB commissioned a group of young scientists to write popular articles on various topics relating to biotechnology applications. Read their on articles on topics including sustainable energy, aquaculture, palaeogenomics, and more... Click here to view.

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