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Dynamic & versatile - a perspective on T Levels biology

By Alison Ackroyd posted 8 days ago


T levels Science launched this year and we are among the first colleges to run it. They have been described as gold standard qualifications that aim to develop work-ready knowledge, skills and behaviours to make students ready for the workplace or continue to higher education. All these facets need to be embedded right from the start - not only in the classroom and laboratory - but also the industry placement.

To help you tailor your delivery, carry out an Induction survey to get some idea of your students’ careers aspirations. Minor changes can quickly help you adapt existing level 3 material to bring the workplace into the classroom. A comprehensive guide can be found in STEM Learning’s Linking Careers to the STEM Curriculum.

T levels are 20% work placement and 80% classroom based. The taught part of qualification is in two parts:

· the core components (exam-based assessment)

· the occupational component (assignment-based assessment for either laboratory science, food science or metrology)

Many providers will be starting with the core components. The core B1 content of T level Science bears many similarities to other introductory units at level 3. The key difference with T levels is that apart from the delivery of the content you must also be mindful of other skills that you must deliver: the core skills of the workplace and English, Maths and Digital. You may also want to embody some of the core A material which is based on the health and science sector.

In this blog I will look at B1 in my area of Biology. B1 starts with cells, exchange and transport and goes on to take a basic look at molecules such as carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. It then continues with:

· DNA and RNA structure

· DNA Replication

· Microbiology

· Immunology

This is where I am presently and will form the backdrop to B2 - the further science concepts. I will present a summary of ideas from my sequencing of lessons this term to show you how versatile T levels are.

Extracting DNA is a fantastic way to introduce the topic of DNA. Talk about where DNA is in the cell and how the technique allows it to be isolated from the cell. This practical is not so vastly different to standard operating procedures (SOPs) but on a much larger scale. Discuss the fragility of nucleic acids and the need for sterilisation of equipment and how its long-term storage is at -70OC. The current RNA vaccines similarly need special storage.

The structure of DNA is an opportunity to discuss the historical backdrop and equality, diversity and inclusion in the science workplace. Investigate how model building has been used to solve structure puzzles of the past and how nowadays computing is the mainstay of X-ray crystallography. Contrast paper-based models such as DNA Origami to international databases such as the PDBe (Protein Data Bank in Europe). PDBe has accessible level 3 resources to develop digital skills.

The study of DNA replication offers a chance to look at mutations and the differences between genetics and genomics. The 100000 Genomes Project was established to set up a new genomics medicine service in the NHS. A STEM Ambassador may be able to discuss how lab roles are developing in the NHS. The Your Genome series “My Career in Genomics also covers the diverse nature of genomic research and the problem-solving activity KRAS: Cancer Mutation can be used to apply genomics to find pancreatic, lung and colorectal cancers.

Microbiology can be introduced with the theme of genomics in mind. Explore how genomics can vary in size between different microorganisms. This part of the specification explores the use of microscopy and staining techniques in pathology. Develop practical competencies such as Gram Staining and blood smears and relate to pathology. Discuss legislation and ethics with The Royal College of Pathology Human Tissue resource.

The last section in this part of the specification is immunology and it begins with how disease is transmitted. Sir Chris Whitty currently has a series on this very topic at Gresham College. All these talks are accompanied by the presentation slides. Alternatively use the talks as a vehicle to flip the learning.

On a final note, browse the events on the STEM Community site, you may find timely opportunities to embed careers advice, Pathology Week was one such find this term. The online magazine Catalyst is also an excellent source of career articles and current research to extend the knowledge of your students.

There are overlaps between the core and further science concepts that allow for natural opportunities for spaced practice and retrieval practice in terms of revision. The exams are at the very end of the academic year so providing lots of opportunities for revisiting topics is essential. These may take the form of the regular tests but there are lots of opportunities to add in revision ideas. You may like to form your own retrieval roulette, as described in Seven Simple Rules for Science Teaching.

T level Science has been an enjoyable experience this term. I have found it to be a dynamic interplay between the current teaching topic and workplace applications.


NCFE T level Science Specification (September 2021)

Linking Careers to the STEM Curriculum

Extracting DNA

Origami DNA

Protein Data Bank in Europe

100,000 Genomes Project

Your Genome: My Career in Genomics 

Your Genome: KRAS: Cancer Mutation

Your Genome: Genomics and Microbe Pack

Royal College of Pathology Human Tissue Resource

Sir Chris Whitty lecture series

Seven Simple Rules for Science Teaching I Education in Chemistry