EXPLORING MICROBIOLOGY AND BIOTECHNOLOGIES: A LABORATORY APPROACH TO THE STUDY OF YEASTS AND BACTERIA IN PRIMARY SCHOOL
The present work consists in an experimental research based on teaching and learning Biology in primary school. The aims of this research are two. First, it wants to support the current scientific evidence that underlines the effectiveness of laboratory didactics. Secondly, it aims to prove that this method makes it possible to deal with several topics which are not currently mentioned in the Italian Guidelines.
Nowadays, scientific evidence demonstrates that laboratory didactics has a stronger impact on lifelong learning than traditional didactic approaches, based on frontal lessons only. The epistemological and methodological structure is clear: Science, especially Biology, should not just be taught for their products (concepts, theories, innovations,...) but also, and especially, for their processes. Therefore, laboratory activities, conducted through experimental methods, represent one of the best resources in order to develop problem-solving skills, which underline a scientific mind. In the laboratory, every question or curiosity opens to new discoveries. In this way students gradually come to formalize their scientific knowledge. The teacher’s role is to suspend his immediate explanation. He should be able to support spontaneous questions by students and the possibility to make hypothesis based on their naive theories. Starting from children's curiosity, it also makes possible to consider aspects that really intrigue them but which are usually omitted by school programs, as they are considered too "far" from pupils’ actual cognitive ability. Children, unlike adults, do not tend to take anything for granted and are fascinated and intrigued by everything is around them, regardless of its hypothetical complexity. For this reason, teaching Biology in this way means to support students’ intrinsic motivation, giving them not only scientific notions, but also concrete answers with practical implications in their daily lives. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to develop a way of thinking, based on the ability to stimulate curiosity, to ask questions, to make assumptions and observations, and finally to give answers. This is a mode which is crucial, especially in nowadays’ knowledge society, allowing to offer to students cognitive tools to ensure that their natural mode of approaching the world becomes more mature and aware.
In this research, we followed children’s interest for the microscopic world and we treated microbiology and its biotechnological applications in food industry. We started from bread and yogurt productions, which are very close to students’ reality, in order to introduce the topic of biotechnological applications using yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and bacteria (Streptococcus termophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus). It was surprising for children to “discover” that the dough of a bakery product or a dairy product is actually a living material. As a matter of fact the billion cells of living microorganisms, the yeasts and the bacteria, are in fact the protagonists of fermentation processes.
In conclusion, considering the outcomes of our research, it is clear that the educational implications of laboratory didactics are very significant and therefore not negligible. Moreover, this work would be an exhortation to teachers to use this method and to become a potential changing agent.