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Authentic teaching and learning through synthetic biology

DOI: 10.1186/1754-1611-1-8

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"Plant a carrot get a carrot, not a Brussels sprout" sings a musical theater character in The Fantasticks [1], aptly contrasting the predictability of gardening over childrearing. Map this idea to education and it seems teaching more closely resembles horticulture than parenting. Traditional metrics and standards around education often restrict educators to fixed lesson plans and syllabi, many of which have not changed since teachers were students themselves. Such preset teaching agendas enable students to achieve predictable, measurable learning outcomes and provide a framework to till a uniform garden of carrots (or geneticists or physicists or computer programmers). This educational framework, however, leaves little to no room for students to wrestle with the flexible thinking and uncertainty that characterize true discovery. It minimally connects information at the boundaries of traditional disciplines. An alternative teaching model establishes collaboration between teacher and student, providing a more student-centered learning experience than traditional didactic or Socratic methods. Though the measurement tools for this kind of collaborative learning are blunt, it remains clear that an effective and lasting education must inspire student innovation, creativity, and confidence giving rise to a garden full of individuals who are independent, skillful and responsible thinkers.Synthetic biology is particularly well suited to collaborative and integrated learning but it should not be automatically lumped with all "interdisciplinary" approaches to problem solving. The catch-phrase "interdisciplinary" has grown popular in both education and research [2-7]. Reductionist approaches to understanding that tease systems apart are currently less fashionable than integrative efforts that draw from traditionally distinct specialties to more fully describe the whole. However, despite seeming inherently interdisciplinary, synthetic biology is, in fact, not. It does not simply


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