National showcase on innovation in STEM education includes two projects from Ursinus

Rebecca Roberts, Associate Professor of Biology, is passionate about how students learn. Two of her NSF-funded projects are highlighted in the 2020 STEM for ALL Video Showcase.

The STEM for ALL Video Showcase is an online event highlighting more than 170 federally funded projects. Short videos and discussion forums are live May 5-12. In this time of the coronavirus, many scientific conferences were cancelled, but this showcase was always going to be virtual. “I was supposed to bring students to a national meeting conveniently held in Philadelphia in March but it was cancelled. Through this event at least some of the work we’re doing at Ursinus can still be presented,” shared Dr. Roberts.

She is involved in two projects that impact Ursinus students – the BASIL project and BioMolViz. At Ursinus, Dr. Roberts teaches biochemistry and structural biology courses. Both center on the development of students into scientists and molecules that students cannot see with their naked eyes – proteins, DNA, etc. “An important skill for students to acquire is biomolecular visual literacy, that is, the ability to interpret representations of biological molecules that we cannot see with the naked eye,” says Dr. Roberts “unless that skill is there, the deeper thinking and problem solving we strive for as scientists cannot occur.” BioMolViz is a group of STEM educators that recognizes the importance of improving biomolecular visual literacy in STEM education. BioMolViz is funded by the National Science Foundation and offers workshops to educators on the topic of biomolecular visualization. Through the workshops and other activities, they are crowdsourcing the development of an open-access repository of assessments aimed at facilitating better teaching of biomolecular visualization nationally.

Students enrolled in Structural Biology and Biochemistry II, the latter taught by Dr. Samantha Wilner in the Chemistry Department, participate in the BASIL curriculum that Roberts helped develop. The curriculum guides the students in novel laboratory research as they attempt to determine the function of proteins. A large part of this curriculum focuses on developing the scientific thinking of students so that they are more apt to identify themselves as scientists rather than students.

Check out the BioMolViz video here and the BASil video here! - By Iasia Oten ’23