Bringing biotechnology to the classroom: John Therry students get hands-on with cutting-edge science

News | Bringing biotechnology to the classroom: John Therry students get hands-on with cutting-edge science

Posted 25 September 2019 by Catholic Education in News

Students at John Therry Rosemeadow have enjoyed a high-quality, interactive biotechnology experience this term, with science staff bringing the excitement of scientific discovery to the classroom. Using the kind of equipment university and PhD students use in the laboratory, the students have recreated the process used to manufacture human insulin and other life-saving medications, while practicing core STEM, critical thinking and collaboration skills.

The Year 10 students have been participating in the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) – an innovative science education program that offers secondary school students hands-on molecular biology and biotech laboratory experience.

The Amgen Foundation provides intensive professional development and training to teachers to deliver the educational program, while loaning their school research-grade equipment such as micropipettes, electrophoresis gel tanks and PCR machines, along with all the samples, genes and reagents to get the students started.

The budding John Therry scientists have worked their way through the steps of extracting genes and cloning them, then inserting them into bacteria to create fluorescent organisms – in the process, learning about the concepts and techniques scientists use to discover and develop medicines, as well as gaining confidence using key laboratory equipment.

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John Therry Science Coordinator, Dr Aidan Johnson, said the Amgen Biotech Experience is another way the school is embedding real science experiences into the curriculum – an invaluable learning opportunity to promote students’ interest, knowledge, skills and confidence in biotechnology, science and science careers.

“The Amgen Biotech Experience has been an excellent way to give students a new appreciation of how science influences their daily lives. John Therry focuses on building a culture of aspiration and we know that programs like this can get the students more engaged in learning, both during their time here and beyond” — Dr Aidan Johnson, Science Coordinator, John Therry Rosemeadow

“With Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) becoming increasingly important in the world around us, the more we can do to help our students develop knowledge and skills, and discover interesting study and career paths, the better,” he said.

“This program has really engaged the students in real science, putting them in the role of scientist and making this a realistic future pathway for them. I have been blown away with how readily they have absorbed these high-level concepts as they’ve read ahead and prepared for each stage of the experiment.”

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Year 10 student, Damien, appreciated what the experiment taught him about the processes involved with genetic engineering and the development of medicines using technologies employed by the biotechnology industry.

“We’ve learned about new scientific techniques and technologies in the field of biology that can benefit society. We’ve seen how what we are doing in class resembles the methods that biologists use in the real world – for example, modifying plasmids that contain insulin-making genes, and placing them into bacteria to ultimately create more injectable insulin for people suffering from Type 2 diabetes” — Damien, student, John Therry Rosemeadow

Fellow student, Caitlin, also praised the initiative for showing the class the real processes that scientists around the world use for genetic modification. “I’ve learned valuable skills such as using micropipettes and how to do gel electrophoresis. The experience has been a lot of fun [and] I've learned teamwork and communication, as well as the importance of lab safety.”

whattheysaidWhat other students said:

“The Amgen Biotech Experience has been fun. It’s been exciting to use this knowledge for something that can help people and that really matters” — Olivia

“This experience has definitely been something to remember! I did not even think making fluorescent bacteria was even possible, let alone able to be done by high school students” —Toby

“The program has enabled us to explore scientific investigation techniques. It’s taught us how to use equipment and the kind of skills that are normally taught in later years of university” — Thomas

“This hands-on experience has allowed us students to experience what ‘real world’ science is like. We’ve been able to connect our theory lessons to the real world, allowing for a better understanding of our biology content” — Vanessa

 “This initiative has given me a chance to learn so much about biology and DNA, while also being in a fun environment! I think biotechnology is amazing, and am especially grateful for this opportunity” — Connor

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Federal Member for Macarthur, Dr Mike Freelander MP, visited the school this week to see the program in action, saying he was “delighted” to join the young scientists. “It’s a great pleasure to see students participating in evidence-based programs like the Amgen Biotech Experience. I commend all those involved for making it available in our local area,” he said.

“It was wonderful to engage with passionate Year 10 students and discuss all things science. After seeing their commitment and hard work, I am confident that these scientists of tomorrow will take the lead on opportunities to better our world” — Dr Mike Freelander, Federal Member for Macarthur

“A special thank you to Principal, Wayne Marshall, and Science Coordinator, Dr Aidan Johnson, for having me at John Therry.”

Dr Johnson said after the success of this first run of the ABE program, the Science department at John Therry are eager to continue using the initiative as an extension activity for Year 10 students – even looking at training up more of their staff to deliver the program content and the possibility of embedding it into the Stage 6 Biology curriculum. 

Launched in Australia in 2017 through a partnership between The Amgen Foundation and The University of Sydney, the Amgen Biotech Experience empowers teachers to bring biotechnology into their classrooms, and is offered to schools at no cost. Visit for more information.

In the media

Wollondilly Advertiser  – 1 October 2019 – John Therry students learn advanced science techniques

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