Lessons from the Biomaterials Lab for Teenagers at the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program

Lead Author Philippe, Amstislavski
Institution Contact University of Alaska BOB 3211 Providence Drive Anchorage, AK 99508 USA
Co-Authors Michael Ulroan, Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) University of Alaska, USA Michael Bourdukofsky, Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) University of Alaska, USA Maria White, student, University of Alaska, USA Reuven Amstislavski, student, University of Alaska, USA
Theme Theme 4: Building Long-term Human Capacity
Session Name 4.3 Teacher Education in the Arctic, sustainable schools, and relevant learning: Towards Social Justice and Inclusion
Datetime Wed, Sep 14, 2016 02:15 PM - 02:30 PM
Presentation Type Oral
Abstract text Background: Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at the University of Alaska provides a continuous string of educational components beginning with students in sixth grade of school and on through high school, into science and engineering college programs and through the graduate school. Biomaterials Lab is a component of the residential summer program that prepares students for college.

Biomaterials Lab builds on students’ environmental knowledge and on the Native Alaskan Elders’ wisdom and experience with natural materials. This heritage becomes a powerful toolbox for bioengineering innovation as teenagers work through the process of solving an open-ended design problem. Biomaterials Lab does so by exposing students to some of the traditional objects produced from sustainable materials and challenging them to create everyday objects of interest to them from them through biotechnology. Each team develops and designs a solution to replace a plastic object with a biodegradable, carbon-neutral alternative.

“Growing” an object from a biomaterial in the lab, as opposed to manufacturing it from a plastic polymer in a factory radically challenges the ways students think about the material design and development cycles. Building on the ongoing research at the University on rapidly-renewable biomaterials from fungi for packaging and insulation, the students grow their chosen objects in 3D molds out of the blend of sawdust and fungal mycelium. We use the resulting “Wow factor” pedagogically, to inspire and motivate the teenage students at numerous times throughout this learning experience. After the teams select the objects they would like to create from biomaterial, they design, produce, test, and present their work. Last summer students designed biodegradable fish cooler boxes, medicine boxes, insulation board, and even boots. We present our approach and discuss its transferability and potential to improve learning outcomes. We focus on lessons learned in developing the Biomaterials curriculum and building on the indigenous knowledge to teach science and biotechnology.
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