Posted by: hkempthorne | June 22, 2009

See one, Do one, Teach one

See one, Do one, Teach One

The meaning of this phrase has never been clearer to me then after analysing how I have learned during iGem. I believe that I only truly understand the experiments that I have seen somebody do, done myself and then taught to another. At each stage, I feel like I am learning so much, indeed in the previous step I believe that I know the procedure, its not until after I find out how much I didn’t know.

Pre-Experiment

This type of learning is done before any hands-on lab work. It includes finding a protocol, understanding why the procedure needs to be done and what supplies you need to do the experiment. I find out what I expect to happen, and what the results mean. This type of learning in not engaging at all (at least for me) and usually, if the experiment is not done immediately, gone within the day.

See One

Having a visual of how the experiment should look and perform makes my own experiment run much more smoothly and quickly. Watching somebody else work often has a negative stigma attached to it, as it can be seen as boring, however, they have learned techniques through countless hours of lab work that can save many hours of frustration if they can be emulated. Simple things such as how to ensure that a pipette tip wont fall off during your experiment and ruin 4 hours of lab work, how to open and close tubes with one hand and how easy it is to work when everything that you need is already on your desk and not on the other side of the room can all be learned from somebody else. Its not just their methods that can be illuminating, but also how they approach the problem. For instance, how do they  go about understanding and interpreitng the protocol, reading inbetween the lines to come up with a reproducible experiment. What needs to be done sterile, what kinds of tubes would be the best to use, how to organize the lab bench and which procedures can be done in parallel are all valuble things that can be learned from watching. Until I actually perform the experiment my own experiment, I believe that I completely understand the experiment.

Do One

I found that the difference between learning what to do in my mind and the tactile knowledge of how an experiment is supposed to feel like are completely different things. There is something incredibilly satisfying about finally figureing out for myself which tubes/ pipettes/ reagents need to be on my left side or right side to facilitate a smooth, problem-free procedure, or knowing that the systematic pipetting that I performed produced the desired product.  The only way to obtain this muscle memory is through performing the procedure. After performing the experiment, it is a lot harder to forget what to do. However, usually the individual techniques stay with me, for example, how to pipette or spread plate, rather then the entire experiment.

Teach One

After I teach somebody else how to do an experiment i don’t believe that I will ever forget how to do it. It forces me to answer questions about the experiment that I might not have asked myself. I have to not just think about how I understand the procedure because my thought processes are probably different then others. I am forced to come up with new metaphors, different words to use to explain the process. In order to be an effective teacher I have to be able to explain why we need to do all of the steps in the procedure.  As a result, I have to actively think about what is happening rather then just follow the steps.

The beauty of iGem is that it is set up to foster this type of learning.There is a large pool of colleagues, who are always willing to help, that you can both learn from and teach to depending upon the situation. I’m not saying that this is the only way to learn, but it is certainly an effective one, and has worked for me.  Just something to keep in mind the next time you are trying to learn a new procedure.

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