Photobioreactor: Biotechnology for the Technology Education Classroom.

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Introduction

With the advent of Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology, ITEA, 2000, technology education teachers are being encouraged to include biotechnology as part of their instruction. For many, this prospect appears daunting. The misperception that biotechnology requires not only sophisticated and expensive equipment and materials, but also an acute understanding of complex biological concepts, may hinder technology education instructors from even attempting to teach this content in their classes. Though biotechnology, like all fields of technology, has its complexities, the concepts of biotechnology can be addressed by all technology education teachers in their classes, given good curriculum and instructional strategies. Biotechnology is defined as “any technique that uses living organisms (or parts of organisms) to make or modify products, improve plants or animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific uses” (Federal Council for the Coordination of Science, Engineering, and Technology, 1992; ITEA, 2000, p. 149; Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Institute, 1992; Mathematics and Science Education Center, 1990; Office of Technology Assessment, 1988, 1991). This definition, when broken down, reveals two important instructional aspects of biotechnology. The first is that biotechnology involves processes that result in a product. In this sense, biotechnology is not unlike a machine that is calibrated to make automobile fenders or computer chips. Where biotechnology differs in this analogy is that the central component of the “machine” is not a cog, gear, or lever, but rather a living organism or part of an organism. The second aspect is that biotechnology takes advantage of the natural processes of living organisms, plant and animal, using them to extend human ability to manipulate their environment. Viewed in this way, biotechnology fits well in the technology education schema and is approachable for classroom instruction if provided a good curriculum vehicle. While there have been a number of efforts to determine appropriate content organizers for biotechnology (Brown, Kemp, & Hall, 1998; Savage & Sterry, 1991), arguably the most inclusive are the eight knowledge areas (foundations of biotechnology, environment, agriculture, bioprocessing, genetic engineering, biochemistry, medicine, and bioethics) established in the taxonometric structure for biotechnology (Wells, 1994). This taxonomy of biotechnology content, organized into eight knowledge areas, provided the foundation for the Technology Education Biotechnology Curriculum (TEBC) (Wells, White, and Dunham, 2000) and guided the development of classroom activities in each of the eight areas. Based on the TEBC method of instruction and using a photobioreactor activity from the agriculture knowledge area, this paper presents technology education teachers with a strategy for introducing biotechnology concepts to students in the technology education classroom. This paper will describe how a biotechnology activity involving photobioreactors may be delivered in the technology education classroom. Background information and a materials list are provided. Activities that introduce photobioreactors precede students’ applications of technological, scientific, and mathematical skills to the task of constructing a photobioreactor system using basic tools and materials to make a prototype of the system. At the conclusion of the activity, students will communicate the results of their projects by giving a presentation and developing a design portfolio. Photobioreactor: An Agricultural Problem Scenario A photobioreactor is a system that efficiently grows various plants, especially algae, which are then used in various commercial applications. By providing efficient exposure to light, optimal temperatures, and pH levels, photobioreactors make viable the commercial production of algae.