Centre for Innovative Bioscience Education (BioCEN)
Patrycja Dołowy, PhD
The Centre for Innovative Bioscience Education (BioCEN) - currently located at Grójecka 93 in the 21st Kołłątaj High School building - was established in 2002 by enthusiastic students and young scientists who recognized the importance of popularizing science among the broader community. Since that time, BioCEN has been continuously working to achieve this goal by organizing and carrying out educational activities, such as laboratory workshops for primary, junior high, and high school students, practical courses for school teachers, scientific training for businesses, open lectures for broader audiences, scientific shows, and picnics for kids, etc. BioCEN could not continue its mission without financial support from the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, which has been BioCEN’s Strategic Sponsor since 2015. In addition to IIMCB’s generous support, BioCEN is also subsidized by the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics Polish Academy of Sciences, University of Warsaw Faculty of Biology, and BioEducation Foundation.
BioCEN workshops appear to be a remedy for a weakness of the Polish education system, namely an insufficient focus on practical and experimental approaches in the area of life sciences. Therefore, our goal is to cover several scientifically and educationally important topics, such as molecular and cellular biology, histology, immunology, biochemistry, biotechnology, plant physiology, bionics/bioengineering, and medical sciences. We encourage participating students to take advantage of their creativity while working individually on real-life experiments. This is advantageous because workshops at BioCEN for most students are the only opportunity to perform laboratory work on their own. Notably, over the last 17 years, more than 34,000 students have had the chance to take advantage of the workshops that are offered by BioCEN.
According to ongoing reform of the education system in Poland, we began to modify our education to the new reality, in which junior high schools are being shut down while elementary schools are being extended to the 8th grade. We introduced four new workshops for elementary schools that are related to fundamental biophysical phenomena (e.g., surface tension, material densities, non-Newtonian fluid, and vision with regard to basic optics). We also introduced one new class for the new elementary school 7th and 8th grades, with a main focus on plant physiology.
We also launched “Histology, Embryology, and Stem Cells” the most sophisticated, advanced, and manually demanding laboratory workshop for high school students offered by BioCEN to date. This class covers the latest achievements in cancer research, regenerative medicine, stem cells, and applied embryology. It is dedicated to select groups of students who seek to continue their education in medicine, medical sciences, and molecular biology.
Because of the location of BioCEN, access is somewhat limited to students who live outside Warsaw. As such, the BioCEN team is ready to organize and implement laboratory workshops outside its headquarters. We believe this move will be an effective way to increase life sciences awareness and scientific skills among a wider population and thus will be an important component of our program.
Workshops for Minor Academy of Science of Ukraine and European Minor Academy of Sciences
BioCEN is available for various collaborations with both domestic and international partners. In July 2017, we co-organized, together with the Minor Academy of Science of Ukraine, European Minor Academy of Sciences, and International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw, an international scientific summer school for young, talented students from Ukraine. We organized and held a series of six laboratory workshops for a group of 30 high school students and two laboratory workshops for a group of 28 elementary school students. All of the experimental lessons were held in the BioCEN laboratory at Grójecka 93.
Professional training for school teachers
Comprehensive laboratory course for teachers from the Dolnośląskie Voivodship
One of our main goals is to improve the teaching skills of science educators who work at all levels of education: primary school, junior high school, and high school. In 2017, BioCEN was involved in an extended educational project that was aimed at school teachers from three different counties (Kamiennogórski, Jaworski, and Wałbrzyski) of Dolnośląskie Voivodship. The entire venture was conducted from February 2017 to the end of November 2017 and involved more than 20 teachers who had an exceptional opportunity to learn new experimental skills that can be applied in their regular teaching activities. Moreover, all of the participating teachers were shown how to perform relatively simple and inexpensive scientific experiments that can be performed under non-laboratory conditions. Finally, the BioCEN team demonstrated the educational effectiveness of the experimental approach by performing a series of scientific demonstration classes, which involved over 160 students from several schools from Kamieniogórski, Jaworski, and Wałbrzyski counties.
16th Educational Symposium for Biology Teachers
This symposium has become one of our most important events. The most recent symposium was held on Saturday, December 9, 2017. During this meeting, biology teachers from all over Poland had the opportunity to receive up-to-date information on frontline discoveries in neuroscience and become more familiar with cutting-edge studies, such as those that were related to the Nobel prizes in Chemistry and Medicine. Moreover, teachers have a unique opportunity to talk to academic researchers in person and create social networks, which has a positive impact on the quality of their teaching.
Professional training for business
In 2017, BioCEN continued its cooperation with Nutricia Polska by organizing, preparing, and carrying out new laboratory training that is dedicated to a group of Nutricia employees. The “Sugar” course was held in September 2017 and focused mostly on the role of carbohydrates in human metabolism and physiology. During the training, all of the participants could perform experimental tasks individually, analyze the results, and draw final conclusions.
Experimental kits and other scientific tools
For those who are unable to take advantage of our workshops, regardless of circumstances, we have alternative options. BioCEN produces laboratory kits that are commercially available through our website. All of the kits come with the necessary chemicals, dishes, tubes, theoretical summaries, instructions, and protocols that are needed by students to perform a particular experiment either at school or at home.
21st Festival of Science
As in previous years, BioCEN participated in the 21st Festival of Science, but it was the first time that BioCEN co-organized scientific shows at the Physics Department, University of Warsaw. Thus, we prepared and held three 90-minute scientific shows entitled, “In the glow of life: the role of light and colors in living organisms.”
4th Educational Picnic in Mikołajki
The 4th Educational Picnic in Mikołajki was co-organized by BioCEN and the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology and took place at the Hydrobiology Research Station in Mikołajki. This event was an exceptional opportunity for students from local schools to perform laboratory experiments and exercises that normally cannot be performed as part of their daily education.
BioCEN animators and co-workers
Important members of the BioCEN team include animators and coworkers without whom the educational activities would not be possible. In 2017, the following individuals collaborated with BioCEN in this capacity: Kryspin Andrzejewski, Paulina Brodacka, Aleksandra Fesiuk, Maciej Grochowski, Andrzej Gruza, Piotr Horodyński, Weronika Iwaniuk, Joanna Jabłońska, Monika Jakubiak, Katarzyna Jędrzejowska, Agnieszka Kamińska, Magdalena Karpińska, Maciej Kotliński, Katarzyna Krzyczmonik, Maciej Lirski, Katarzyna Łepeta, Michał Niziołek, Michał Oziębło, Martyna Poprzeczko, Kamil Synoradzki, Barbara Świerczek and Michał Wielądek.