A bridge between education and research
July 29, 2015
By Noêmia Lopes in Ribeirão Preto | Agência FAPESP – In 2001, Ádamo Davi Diógenes Siena was 12 years old and wanted to be a soccer goalkeeper. He attended a public school in Ribeirão Preto, a city in the interior of São Paulo State, Brazil, and had no idea that by participating in a science education project he would change his career dream.
That year, he discovered Casa da Ciência, the “House of Science,” which was recently set up at the Ribeirão Preto Blood Center as the educational arm of the Center for Cell-Based Therapy (CTC), one of the Research, Innovation & Diffusion Centers (RIDCs) funded by FAPESP.
The House of Science serves as a meeting point for researchers, schoolteachers and students to make contact and exchange knowledge, mainly in the form of guidance on how to conduct scientific research, with the support of lectures on a range of topics, laboratory practicals, field observation and collection, exercises in the recording of processes and findings, and project evaluation.
Siena enjoyed the atmosphere immensely and decided to focus on molecular biology instead of soccer. “I liked studying microorganisms so much that I’ve never stopped since,” he told Agência FAPESP.
Only a few years after performing his first experiments, he graduated with a degree in biological sciences from São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Jaboticabal. Before long, he was back at Casa da Ciência, where he worked as a team member until 2013. He is currently studying for a master’s degree at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto Medical School (FMRP-USP), but he continues to help out at the House of Science.
Stories like Siena’s inspire Marisa Ramos Barbieri, CTC’s coordinator of education and knowledge diffusion, to commemorate the success of a method that has combined teaching and research for 14 years.
“Today we’re a real bridge between school and university, but it’s taken a long time to get where we are now,” said Barbieri, a retired professor affiliated with the Biology Department at USP’s Ribeirão Preto School of Philosophy, Science & Letters (FFCLRP). “The links involved have to be renewed time and again because of the way schoolteachers and graduate students are trained: teachers lose touch with research, and graduates have no experience in teaching. We need to invest in lasting partnerships that go far beyond visits to the campus and such like.”
An example of this investment could be seen on the grounds of the Ribeirão Preto Blood Center on June 25, when more than 80 schoolchildren aged 12 and over presented the results of scientific investigations they conducted during the first semester with the support of their schoolteachers and under the supervision of graduate students and researchers at USP and the Blood Center.
This was the twenty-first edition of a biannual event known as the House of Science Wall, a showcase for participants in two programs run by the House of Science: Adopt a Scientist, set up in 2004 to hold weekly meetings outside of school hours, with lectures and study groups on topics in areas such as cell-based therapy, neuroscience, genetics, epidemiology and parasitology, and Young Scientists, set up in 2012.
“Young Scientists are school students who already participate in Adopt a Scientist and are invited to join scientific initiation-type projects planned by the lecturers, who are graduate students and also act as supervisors or tutors,” Barbieri explained.
For six months, the students meet with their tutors every week for 45 minutes after lectures. Almost all the meetings take place at the Blood Center’s House of Science, but some groups travel to the university campus if necessary for the work they are doing. “This year, for example, one of them went to the Medical School’s Radiology Department and another to the Genetics Department,” Barbieri said. “A third group, which was studying depression, went to the Day Hospital.”
“The diversity of themes is considerable. Because we’re part of a research center linked to healthcare, most projects have quite a lot to do with biology, but there are also projects involving music, photography and mathematics, among other subjects,” said Fernando Rossi Trigo, a biologist and House of Science staffer.
Besides FAPESP, the House of Science also receives funding from the National Institute of Science & Technology in Cell Therapy (INCTC), the National Council for Scientific & Technological Development (CNPq), and the Ribeirão Preto Blood Center.
Impact on teaching and learning
The content discussed and investigated in the activities of the Young Scientists program is considered so relevant to schoolchildren that their teachers make sure more classes can take part by organizing a sort of round robin in their respective schools. In addition, the same team organizes activities similar to those in the program over the January and July school holidays for children who are unable to attend the House of Science during the term. Barbieri’s experience shows that the impact on learning goes beyond the regular curriculum.
“When we ask former participants how the House of Science has influenced their lives, they all say they learned more than doing science here: they learned how to study, by linking up the concepts explained in lectures with the work they did in research groups, putting down what they learned in writing, and above all asking questions,” Barbieri said.
Olavo Caetano Inácio, a 13-year-old student at a municipal elementary school (EMEF) that specializes in vocational education for chemistry technicians, in Luiz Antônio, a town approximately 50 km from Ribeirão Preto, participated in the House of Science Wall presentations. “You start seeing the world differently, with a scientist’s eyes. You want to understand how stuff works,” he said.
Flávia Fulukava do Prado, a veterinarian and INCTC grantee at the House of Science, was impressed. “It’s clear to us that the students see themselves as knowledge builders,” she said. “They realize they can have ideas, link concepts and create hypotheses, just as scientists do. And they do all this in group work, which is even more productive because it involves exchanging knowledge between people of different ages, from different schools and with different repertoires. It’s very effective.”
Barbieri, Rossi Trigo, Fulukava do Prado and the other members of the team all agreed that the change of attitude extends far beyond science classes. The students try to apply the procedures and practices they learn from the Young Scientists program in history and geography classes, for example.
In addition, the groups themselves often take the initiative of extending participation in the program from regular activities to forums, blogs, collective profiles in social networks and plays performed in schools.
“More interest in study and an improved school performance are other benefits we often see, as well as the maturity to edit research material for oral presentations. These are skills they exercise in planning the Wall,” Barbieri said. “Not to mention the various cases of students who come here with no idea how to do simple things like measuring or working with test tubes, magnifying glasses and microscopes, and end up mastering these skills with us.”
The other agents of the process also benefit significantly. “The teachers can attend the lectures and other program activities, and we now offer specialization and training courses for these professionals,” Barbieri said. “We take the view that, at the very least, research has an enormous contribution to make to those who teach, which is transmitting the culture of documentation, recording and storing for the sake of memory and evaluating results.”
As for the graduate students, Barbieri said the experience is good training in supervision, which is important both in the present, because they share knowledge with school students, and for the future, particularly if their academic career requires them to supervise graduates who are doing research for a master’s degree or PhD.
The number of people interested in tutoring for the Young Scientists program and evaluating the Wall has increased. On the day of the event, their job as assessors was to see whether each Wall project had an initial question, whether the question had been answered, whether new hypotheses had been introduced during the process, and whether the investigation and its results were effectively communicated, among other aspects.
“The virtuous circle formed around the House of Science programs fuels steady growth in the numbers of people who are familiar with the initiative,” Barbieri said. “We’ve always gone to schools and education departments in the region to invite teachers and students. Since last year, we’ve had more demand than places, although there are still obstacles, like the need to persuade the mayor or city council to arrange transportation.”
The mission of the 17 RIDCs currently funded by FAPESP is to develop basic or applied research with a relevant commercial and social impact, contribute to innovation through technology transfer, and offer extension activities for schoolteachers, school students and the general public. For more information, visit http://cepid.fapesp.br/en/materia/60/.
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