Through their lens: Charlotte Hayward on why young people should learn about stem cells and computation

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Charlotte Hayward submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed. She did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Tod Kippin at University of California, Santa Barbara.

For my second project I have chosen to relate my knowledge of stem cells to computer science. In today’s advanced technological world, teaching the next generation how to use computers in the most effective way is important. For this purpose Patrick Kim, under the supervision of his mentor, Bryce Boe, is attempting to create a curriculum to efficiently teach elementary school age children computational thinking. Essentially, the project aims to teach kids to think more like a computer. They have chosen to do this through a computer program that allows the children to visually see the steps of computer programming while they attempt to program a certain criteria of commands. They have also developed a system by which a teacher with little to no knowledge of computational thinking can grade and correct a student’s work.

Stem cells could be integrated into this project in a very simple yet logically necessary way. In the same way that one could argue computer science is the future of educational technology, someone could just as easily argue that stem cells are the future of biological research. The potential of both computers and stem cells have only barely been discovered, and in my lifetime I expect to see dramatic leaps in the capability of both of these topics. So, I would like to propose an integrated computational thinking and stem cells curriculum.

In a program much like the one being developed currently, I would like to simultaneously teach kids to intricate biology of stem cells as well as the process of computer programming. I would do this by having the children perform the steps of computer science, such as a sequence of processes done in order to complete a processing task, while having each of the steps be labeled a biological step of the stem cell field, such as cell differentiation. For example, a child would sequence the steps of cell differentiation in the format necessary to be considered computational thinking. In this way the children would be discretely learning a new and more modern way of thinking while still learning a modern and important biological lesson.

It is extremely important to educate our youth, and I have profound respect to all who dedicate their lives to it. One problem we see in today’s society is an inadequate education. This may partly be due to the fact that we are not re evaluating the skills that this generation needs to learn. Of course history and art are extraordinarily important, but unlike 20 years ago, regenerative medicine and computer science are paramount skills. Both biology and computer science are very logical and systematic which make them compatible to integrate into one curriculum.

Charlotte Hayward

Charlotte sent us this video of her experience:

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