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Classroom Happenings: Biomedical Design

The Steward School
A unique course focuses on project-based learning.
Upper School Science Teacher Laura Akesson’s Biomedical Design course encourages students to collaborate and develop their research and critical-thinking skills. This required course for 11th graders emphasizes project-based learning as Spartans explore topics such as biomedical engineering content, government, bioethics, society, and human-centered design. 

Students in the course learn to safely use power tools to design, build, and use working prosthetic arms and legs. They also roboticize an exoskeleton they build for a stuffed animal using microcontrollers, specialized motors, and coding. Plus, they learn about the nervous system and experiment with EKGs (electrocardiograms) and EMGs (electromyograms) on themselves and each other (no currents are used) to explore what they can tell us about ourselves, both physiologically and psychologically. 

For their final project last semester, students built games whose themes centered on a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). CRISPR, explained Ms. Akesson, has the potential to treat or cure diseases such as cancer and sickle cell anemia by “cutting out” and editing a specific sequence of DNA. “It’s a little like copying and pasting, only with genetic code,” she said. The purpose of the project was to give students the opportunity to explore the concepts of and develop their own informed opinions about CRISPR. 

Students created 10 games to illustrate CRISPR, including a take on “Candyland,” in which players could choose if they were living the life of a genetically modified person or a non-genetically modified person. Players advance through the game depending upon the advantages or disadvantages associated with the path they choose.  

In a second game, students designed a video game called "CRISPR FIGHTR" where characters battle and can become stronger through CRISPR gene editing. The game prompts questions such as "What is a desirable characteristic?" "Who gets to decide?" and "What are the limits of CRISPR?"

Gates Fox ’23 said, “I found it interesting to see how science has advanced so much that genetics can be modified. I am taking AP biology this year, and [the game project] was a way for me to see what I had been learning about in that class in a real-world application.” 

Putting class lessons in motion through board games “helped students sit with the ideas they learned and have the themes of the games be either the societal repercussions of CRISPR or the facts that they’ve learned about it,” noted Ms. Akesson. The assignment “made the students think about the purpose of CRISPR and ask themselves what is the end goal. We need to be knowledgeable as a society: The more we know, the better able we may be to decide what to allow, and what ethics should be consistent.” 

Check out the Steward Snaps from Ms. Akesson’s class. 

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