News . Best Practices Integrated approach to scientific research process

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This good practice presents an open schooling education initiative for the Connect program, developed in the 1st High School of Kissamos by the educator Liakos Theodoros from 28/11/2021 to 27/05/2022 ). Two scientists participated in the activities: Konstantinos Dounas, marine biologist researcher of ELKETHE Heraklion and Michael Hesemann, laboratory preparer at the Hamburg Volkshochschule, specialized in foraminifera, and founder of the website HERE.

It was supported by the Regional Directorate of Education of Crete, the Mediterranean Agricultural Institute of Chania (MAICH) with the biologist Ms. Christina Fournaraki and her team, the website team HERE and ELKETHE of Crete. The fellow teachers of KPE Vammos also supported our action, preparing for us a presentation on the planktonic organisms, corals and algae of the Mediterranean as well as ecological activities during our visit there.

Photos and documents from all the activities of this practice can be seen at the following links:

LINK 1  | LINK 2  |  LINK 3  | LINK 4  |  LINK 5  | LINK 6  |

LINK 7  |  LINK 8  | LINK 9  |  LINK 10  | LINK  11  |

Care: The students wondered about the origin but also the future of the pink sand on the famous and highly touristic beaches of western Crete. A real problem that concerns the local community for reasons both ecological and mainly economic. The question that caught the students’ interest was “what is pink sand and how long will it continue to exist?” They were asked to discuss this question in the form of a questionnaire with their relatives and record their answers. These answers, which highlighted the essential ignorance of the local community about the “pink sand” phenomenon, were investigated in the laboratory and thoroughly discussed in the following months. The students who participated in the activities were students of 1st and 3th grade of High School and mainly of two specific classes of A1 and C1, where I was supporting teacher. The main research core consisted of two mixed age groups with a total of 17 students. Many more students from other departments also participated in the various activities, excursions, briefings and visits, fulfilling to a large extent my expectation to be informed, through participation and to stimulate curiosity about the program, of almost the entire school.

Know: The students used knowledge about single-celled organisms, food webs, the systematic classification of organisms into categories based on how they feed and how they use energy, fossils, marine biodiversity, ecology, human intervention, pollution and contamination, microplastics , mainly knowledge from the field of biology but also physics and chemistry (eg elementary nomenclature of chemical elements).

The skills the students acquired through continuous practice were using a stereoscope and microscope, using laboratory forceps, precision weighing, observing and creating data for analysis, discussing claims and evidence, collaborating both with each other and with research agencies i.e. teamwork. They understood how important the scheduling is in a research process and in general. How conclusions are made and how they are presented to the general public. They experienced media and conference presence and practiced what is called “communicative courage”. Although the skills listed below, are not skills in the strict sense of the term, I believe that self-discipline and self-confidence were successfully practiced especially in the students who “carried the burden” of publicizing our research.

Do: At the end, the students prepared a powerpoint presentation of our research, took micro-photographs and sent material (sand) to Germany where the foraminifera species were identified and entered on the website They completed the activities working as a team under my guidance. Our research work was presented at the student conference organized by the Regional Directorate of Education of Crete and the CONNECT program, while we also presented the topic on a local TV Station. Conclusions on Open Schooling: The activity was not integrated into the timetable or the curriculum exactly. However, it accompanied, and through the research he gave meaning and explained basic material of high school biology, mainly about cells, food webs, the systematic classification of organisms into basic categories based on how they feed and how they utilize energy, fossils, marine biodiversity, ecology, pollution and contamination etc. Apart from these, through the sensitive microscopic organisms we were studying, we dealt with and discussed issues such as climate change and the way it can affect them as well as more generally human intervention and activities such as tourism, while they were given the opportunity to come into contact in practice in terms and concepts such as microenvironment, pseudopods, plasma membrane, indicator organisms, etc.

But, because our work was essentially primary research, the students came into contact with the process of producing new knowledge. They saw the exciting, gratifying and sometimes painful aspects of the research process. The complexity of biological issues and the multitude of factors that need investigation. In other words, they understood experientially the importance of asking questions, organizing them and studying them. They also understood that this is a team effort and that collaboration with other scientists and agencies is absolutely essential. They understood that not everything has been discovered and that not all the answers are in a mobile phone… They saw that scientists do not know everything, that they disagree
and make mistakes (eg at first we thought that the pink grains are broken corals, then there was a disagreement about the how deep the particular foraminifers live). They got a first idea of how important different views and approaches are in science and saw that there are no absolute truths and that biology is full of “exceptions”. They learned the importance of questioning and practiced deductive thinking.

For all the above reasons, I believe that the program was a challenge since it was largely about research in “deep unknown waters”, it was innovative and of course many times useful, mainly because it was understood that science is not something distant but something everyday that deals with ” our own questions” and that we can “use it too”, while also due to the pleasant way in which it was carried out it contributed to the creation of a positive attitude of children towards science and especially biology.

Experiential open schooling education is more than important to escape from the “museum” perception and practice of “transferring” knowledge provided by the Greek school. A common “argument” of the children is “and where will I need all this?”. The teaching material is far removed from the daily life of the students, or at least it seems so since the connection with the daily life is not made and the provided knowledge is not used to solve questions, searches and problems that children have. Practical – experiential and seemingly non-material activities, at least for the field of natural sciences, I think are not only useful but necessary especially at these ages when children should have the opportunity to show off their inclinations, preferences and “talent” and acquire a positive attitude towards science.

For some teachers, these practices may be a problem because they are out of the ordinary and need to be informed and above all to act outside the context in which they have learned. In other words, it needs work. But they ignore the “rejuvenating” effect that these practices have both on the way we as teachers perceive our work and on the relationships with students and parents, which are significantly upgraded. When children get excited about something, they talk about it at home and parents realize if the child goes to school happily.

The change/innovation was supported by:

[ x ] School management [ x ] school association/network
[ x ] Local government [x ] Other: Parents

Student results: The core of students that finally formed after 2-3 weeks were very cooperative, consistent and hardworking. Participation was high from the beginning with few drop-outs, mainly due to other activities at the same time or the bus schedule (many children in our school came from distant villages), but also with new entries “on the way”. And the fact that our meetings were held every Friday, that is, on the last day of the week, after the end of the program clock, and they participated for an hour or two more
shows, that their process was pleasant. Several even came from villages relatively far away and were awake very early in order to come to school.

In the 3 educational trips we carried out (KPE Vammos, Elafonissi and MAICH) many more students participated, so that the cost of transportation could be covered but also because I wanted an expanded participation in general so that our research could be embraced by the whole school. We always combined research with free time and sports, especially at the MAICH where we carried out an important part of our research, since the professional micro-photographs took place there, while overall its facilities were offered for many parallel activities. The goal was of course to make the whole process as pleasant as possible.

I consider this goal to have been achieved. To quote the words of a student: “I hated biology, I was thinking of becoming a philologist, but now I’m thinking of becoming a biologist” or, others, “this is how school should be”, “scientists have a good time”, etc.

In terms of learning outcomes, starting with the simplest ones, eg converting lt to ml, gr to mgr for the needs of weighing. The clarification of the difference in volume and mass, up to specialized knowledge about marine biology, such as:

  • what are foraminifera; they are not shells and which creatures we call shells,
  • what is meant by a decomposer, an autotrophic and a heterotrophic organism,
  • what is the life cycle, and other questions that are difficult to determine since the questions and discussion often arose spontaneously.

This practice contributed to the increase of:
[ x ] engaging families with sciences [ x ] involving girls in science [ x ] raising awareness among students about careers in the natural sciences

  1. The subject of pink sand is something that concerns the daily life of the residents of the area, so there was a relative curiosity from the start anyway. Initially, the opinion of the parents was asked to be recorded, and not only, regarding “what is the reason”, “if there is a decrease in the phenomenon”, “if you think it is in danger of disappearing”. Then some parents who deal with the sea gave us important information and also brought samples very important for our search about where they live (depth distance from the shore) and in what form they are first washed up as pink grains of “sand”. There have been parents who have expressed to me their personal interest and their desire to help in whatever is needed. Also, no one raised an issue or refused to pay when needed for our travel on educational trips. All this shows that the program was accepted and therefore, even just by talking with their children, some parents more or less engaged in science through it.
  2. The girls in our school, and in general I believe, have a better presence in the classroom and in the lessons than the boys, at least on average. Nevertheless, there are stereotypes and prejudices against science and mathematics. Many girls have the opinion that they don’t understand maths, physics or chemistry. The subject of biology, at least in our school, was not very popular. However, slightly more girls than boys participated in the program. Most of the students were hardworking and responsible, participating and asking questions. In my opinion, on the contrary to what they wanted to believe, some of them are, “born researchers”. They were oblivious to the microscope, while being particularly skilled with the tools and inventive in the way they carried out the activities. Through the program inclinations were encouraged and revealed. One student revealed that she liked to observe and photograph spiders, but had never shared it with her friends since “spider observation” is not considered a “female activity”. Along with the foraminifera, we also worked on and identified the student’s spiders, something that the others eventually found interesting as well. The girls enjoyed working with the laboratory and microscopes as well as tinkering with the tweezers. The visit to the Mediterranean Agricultural Institute of Chania (MAICH) where all the research staff we met were female biologists and agronomists, I believe contributed to breaking the convenient stereotypes of female students. However, if I judge from their reaction, the publicity of our research in the media and at the conference
    played a role. Apart from the fact that they want to make their own people happy, girls at this age are very involved with celebrities, social networks and want to project themselves in a corresponding way. They like to have an audience. It is characteristic that both in the presentation at the conference and in our presence on Crete TV, no boy wanted to appear in any way, while most of the girls, on the contrary, wanted to and showed remarkable seriousness and discipline throughout the preparation of the presentation. Our 16-minute appearance in a midday light show of general interest on Crete TV, with TV presenters from the modeling field, was important, I believe, in showing some girls that science and these areas are not completely incompatible after all. How the “beautiful” appreciate and admire science and there is general acceptance and appeal. That various avenues open up through research, which may include publicity. Likewise with the conference, although online, the fact that they will be seen by students from many parts of Greece appealed to the girls, especially since they were convinced of the importance of our work. In conclusion, I believe that the area in which the program was most successful was in relation to girls and their engagement in science.
  3. The reasons I mentioned above also apply to boys. Therefore, as a whole, through a research process, the students came into contact with the real tangible world of natural sciences, which is admittedly if not always exciting, certainly interesting. In summary, I will dare to “predict”, although this also depends on their teachers in the years to come, that this High School will produce natural scientists…

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