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SAW's latest intern

30/10/2018   Shannon Woodhouse

PIPS Placement!

I’m a PhD student at the John Innes Centre, working in both the Computational & Systems Biology and Crop Genetics Departments. My research is based on looking at transitions through developmental stages in Brassica plants in Professor Richard Morris’s group. Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), I am required to carry out a three-month placement and I was lucky enough to be able to work with both the SAW Trust and OpenPlant. Working with the SAW Trust has been fantastic and allowed me to gain experience in science communication and outreach. 

Shannon at City of Norwich School

Shannon delivering her lesson at CNS

The focus of my placement was to design and test
a lesson plan for A-level students based on Bioinformatics and Synthetic Biology. This will be included into a set of resources being created by OpenPlant for their SynBio 4 Schools project, which aims to provide a comprehensive educational resource package for schools, to teach the principles of plant synthetic biology and make it more accessible. To help in the design of my lesson plan I was put in contact with Chris Sutton, an A-level teacher from City of Norwich School (CNS), who guided me on the student’s prior knowledge to ensure I pitched my lesson plan at the correct level. My lesson plan consists of both bioinformatics-based activities to introduce what bioinformatics is and how it can be used and, to demonstrate the power of computational analysis. The second part of the lesson plan
contains a case study and activity to explore what synthetic biology is and how it’s used in natural product synthesis. These were both new topics for A level students, so I wanted to ensure they could get to grips with the basic principles first before building on them.

During October I went into CNS to test my lesson plan. I had a brilliant group of year 12/13 students who engaged well with the session and really discussed the topics with enthusiasm. Although all of the main themes of the lesson were new to the students, they seemed to take the key points on board successfully. Being able to go and test my lesson plan was a great opportunity, allowing me to evaluate my lesson plan and test out the timings.

Alongside designing and testing my lesson plan, I also helped with the preparation and running of many SAW events during my placement. This was very enjoyable and allowed me to get involved in a range of activities. The first event I was a part of was Latitude festival, alongside Professor Julea Butt’s group from the University of East Anglia. This was a great experience, allowing me to interact with a variety of people of all ages and giving me the opportunity to improve on my communication skills. Following Latitude, there was much to prepare for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party stand being created for Boomtown Festival. Set design, art, writing and science activities all had to be designed and tested. Testing out perspective photography to represent Alice shrinking in Wonderland was a particular highlight and yielded some great results!

shannon boomtown photography

Shannon and Sami perfecting perspective photography!

In addition to helping with festivals, I also had the opportunity to help on other SAW projects, which allowed me to work with a range of people of all different ages. This was really valuable in improving my communication skills. I helped at an event held at West Earlham Infants School which focused on developing a new lesson plan based upon water. This was a very enjoyable day, and saw the two year 1 classes engaging in science, art and writing activities themed around water, the students were very enthusiastic and a joy to work with! I also aided with one of SAW’s “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” workshops, held at the forum with a year 4 class from Bignold Primary School.

In addition to this, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the Norwich Science Festival, assisting OpenPlant on their Norwich BioMakers stand and helping with the Global Gardens Workshops hosted by SAW at both the Forum and the John Innes Centre.

shannon boomtown prep

Getting crafty making giant playing cards!





I’ve really enjoyed my time with the SAW Trust, and it has allowed me to improve my communication skills, which will be invaluable going forward in my PhD. I think the combination of Science, Art and Writing really allows students to engage with science in a different way and encourages imagination and creativity in their thought processes, as opposed to viewing science as an inflexible and restricted subject. I would like to thank Jenni, Sami and Colette for being so welcoming and supportive throughout my placement and I look forward to continuing to work with them in the future!