Sparking imagination for science careers in schools: BioEYES

The BioEYES outreach program – which the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute began delivering in 2010 – reaches out to schools to spark students’ interest in science. Now a paper, published in PLOS Biology, has found the program is effective in increasing students’ knowledge about science, as well as their positive attitudes towards science.

The research discovered BioEYES increased the students’ ability to imagine themselves as scientists.

The BioEYES program, which was developed in the US, aims to foster students’ enthusiasm for science by using zebrafish to share the basic principles of scientific method, developmental biology, genetics and basic anatomy and physiology. Over the course of one week students collect zebrafish embryos and watch them develop from a single cell to a swimming larva, with a beating heart and a distinct pigmentation pattern. Students learn about human and fish anatomy, cells, and DNA. At the end of the week, the students analyse their data and discuss their results with classmates much the way scientists do.

Since the Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) began delivering BioEYES Australia in 2010 more than 10,000 students have completed the program, with 83 per cent of students stating they imagine themselves as scientists afterwards.

Dr Sharon Flecknoe, manager of the BioEYES program in Australia and an education focused academic in Monash’s School of Biomedical Sciences, said it was fantastic to see such a positive change in the students’ attitude towards science.

“The BioEYES program has a unique ability to excite students of all ages about science. Through this program, students are able to gain an insight into the world of biomedical science and research,” Dr Flecknoe said.

First author on the research Dr Jamie Shuda, director of Outreach and Education at Penn’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and senior author Dr Steve Farber from the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, started BioEYES as a grass-roots collaboration between a scientist and teacher.

Dr Shuda said: “We share a vision of providing high quality science experiences for all students and building sustainable teacher partnerships.”

“We expected the students to increase their understanding of the concepts they learned, but what is most promising is the positive increases in their attitudes towards the practice of science.”

From 2010 to 2015, the research team assessed students before and after the week-long BioEYES experiment. They asked students to answer knowledge-based questions as well as questions about their attitudes toward science and scientific careers.

The five-year evaluation involving close to 20,000 students from under-resourced public schools in the US found that taking part in BioEYES had the greatest positive shift in the attitude of younger students towards science. The strongest attitude shift in the students was in their positive reaction to the statement, “I know what it’s like to be a scientist”.

The work of BioEYES, locally and nationally, is supported by many foundations, corporations, and individuals. To date more than 100,000 students and 1,400 teachers in six states and two countries have participated in the week-long program. Each BioEYES centre, which includes not only programs at Monash University, but also Penn, Carnegie Institution, and the University of Utah in the United States, is a partnership between local educators, school districts, and researchers.