Two new educational activities focused on the dialogue between high school students and scientistsCRAG participates in the creation of two new educational initiatives of the Barcelona City Council's EscoLab programme, together with the Bernat Metge and Josep Tous high schools
During the last quarter, CRAG has participated in the development of two new projects that seek to promote dialogue between high school students and researchers. Carried out within the framework of the Barcelona City Council's EscoLab initiative, these activities are a good opportunity for students to come into contact with current research topics and to develop their critical spirit, while research centres learn first-hand about the perception by adolescents of science and the people who does it.
Thanks to the collaboration between researchers, teachers and experts in scientific communication and education, the two designed proposals integrate elements of science, education and dissemination from the base, and join forces with the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables and with Barcelona World Sustainable Food Capital 2021 to raise awareness about the importance of plant research for food safety, ecology and health. The pilot tests, developed and carried out side by side with the Bernat Metge and Josep Tous high schools in Barcelona, will make it possible to evaluate the impact of the activities, propose improvements for the next school year and create a protocol that can be extended to other projects and research centres.
How do we communicate science?
In the first of these proposals, with the title We have an idea, CRAG PhD student Andrés Rico explained to 2nd year ESO students of the Bernat Metge high school the research of his group, led by Ana I. Caño-Delgado. With very promising results, their team is working to achieve plants that are more resistant to drought, one of the great challenges agriculture is facing in order to feed a growing world population in a context of climate change. If we want to achieve more productive crops in drought conditions, we must be able to know, predict and modify the behaviour of plants, and, as Andrés explained in the classroom, his group studies the processes of plant growth and development, especially in roots, to make it possible.
After this science-focused session, the next step was to think about how to disseminate it. How do we find out about scientific issues? Where do these messages reach us? What formats (videos, music, posters ...) do we find the most attractive? From the posing of these questions, very diverse responses emerged among the students, which led them to reflect on the different ways in which we consume information. With these considerations in mind, the class was challenged to develop proposals to communicate Andrés's group's research to other boys and girls their age.
In a last meeting, the students presented in groups the different informative campaigns that they had worked on in the classroom. Stickers for chatting, memes, drawings and TikTok videos were some of the proposals they raised to spike the interest in plant research among teenagers in a fresh, direct and attractive way.
What does “natural food” mean?
With the project Let's eat, naturally!, the 4th year ESO students of the Josep Tous high school faced the challenge of analysing whether what we eat is natural, if natural food is better, and what messages do we receive about food. After this analysis, they met IRTA researcher at CRAG Iban Eduardo, who reminded them that humans have been modifying nature to feed themselves for more than 10,000 years. The Genomics Programme researcher also explained the current techniques used in plant breeding: from random mutagenesis to transgenesis and gene editing. The convenience of these new technologies generated a first debate in the classroom, in which the students later delved into looking for new information and gathering the opinion of family and friends through a survey.
The results of the questionnaire designed by the students themselves indicated that, despite the fact that an important part of the people surveyed was suspicious of transgenic foods, they believed that they consumed them regularly (which is not true, since in the European Union they would have to be labelled as such). In a second dialogue session between the high school and the research centre, these ideas were examined and the sources of information used to learn about genetically modified organisms were critically analysed. Finally, the students prepared a digital campaign to fight against misinformation on this subject, which will be published shortly on the high school's blog.
Marketing or science?
Both proposals of the EscoLab initiative stand on interdisciplinary project-based learning in order to equip students with tools that allow them to develop a critical spirit towards the information we receive on a day-to-day basis. The joint reflection between students and researchers on the perception and communication of science seeks to contribute to develop young people’s own criteria, capable of identifying marketing strategies and refuting messages without scientific basis, while research centres approach the adolescent public and become more aware of its concerns.
The two projects are structured in a series of sessions based on reflection and discovery, where the students, guided by the teachers and scientists, work autonomously, in small groups and at the classroom level as a space for dialogue in order to arrive at a clear and defined final product that has a direct impact on society. Given the success of the pilot tests, the next phase involves evaluating them, proposing improvements and opening them up to the research and educational community.