Italian Schools Commit to Raising Awareness on Clean Water & Sanitation

We might often think about the environmental impact of our consumption choices – but have you ever considered the repercussions of your water use and water drinking habits? Water is the most basic item to human survival, yet discussing the sustainability of water and sanitation systems isn’t always a priority in science classes and schools.

To increase students’ scientific understanding of water management and its historic uses, our partner Iren, through its educational division Eduiren and in cooperation with the Italian upper secondary school Blaise Pascal, is engaging schools and communities in a set of interdisciplinary open schooling activities. Read on and be inspired by their teaching and learning journey!

Water management and the chemical parameters of water

The chemistry teachers of the Blaise Pascal school introduced the topic of water quality to 52 4th-grade students (17-18 years old) in March 2022, proposing an activity to analyse the hardness of the water distributed in the Reggio Emilia province.

This was followed by the debate “Tap Water vs Bottled Water” in April, organized by the school with Eduiren experts, including a discussion and brainstorming on the quality aspects of different types of water and the environmental impact of our consumption habits. A technical visit to the local water supply system reservoir and water tower followed, giving students insight into real-world water supply facilities and integrated water management processes.

Students were then involved in the authentic learning group task “Your home/school water”, including the evaluation of a water analysis certificate, with assessment and critical considerations on the characteristics of specific tap waters (hardness, pH, nitrogenous compounds). An online presentation was held on the task results with the support of experts from the Iren analytical laboratory. On the same day, the experts assisted the students in analysing nitrogenous compounds in wastewater samples, using spectrophotometric methods to measure the concentration of chemicals in wastewater. In sequence, a visit to the laboratory at Iren premises took place in May.

At the end of April, a presentation on sewage networks and treatment systems, with a focus on the recovery and reuse of discharge water and sludge, was made by Iren technicians during a visit to the Mancasale wastewater treatment plants.

These activities prepared the ground for a water blind tasting session with students and their families. The aim was to work out their views on water quality and discuss water drinking patterns. Perceptions at the tasting experience were compared to the results of analytical tests on several types of drinking water, allowing participants to debunk myths and fake news regarding water quality and taste. The activity showed that many beliefs are related to preconceived ideas rather than to actual experiences or product characteristics.

At the end of the school year, four students were selected for two-week placements which took place at the Iren analytical laboratory, allowing them to acquire practical knowledge and skills on water management.

Il Mondo dell’Acqua (The Water World) – Project 2.0

Taking students’ knowledge further, a new Teaching and Learning Sequence (TLS) has been designed on the basis of the training path carried out in the previous school year. The new TLS is addressed to 42 4th-grade students of the Blaise Pascal Applied Science upper secondary school.  

In November, the now 5th-graders made a presentation of the activities developed and the knowledge acquired in the project to 4th-graders. After an assessment of the experience made in Spring, the latter organised a water blind tasting in December within an “Open Schools” event, collecting data on water perception and knowledge from 150 lower secondary school students and parents. A third blind tasting session is scheduled for January 2023.

Between November 2022 and January 2023, in cooperation of Eduiren, all the steps of the training project have been “upgraded” to reflect learnings from the first learning phase and scheduled for further implementation.

An ancient water system from the Middle Ages

To complement their learnings with interdisciplinary knowledge, the students have undertaken a history research project on the Secchia Channel (Canale di Secchia) of the Reggio Emilia area. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the channel was the first water system in town: it provided water for domestic use and irrigation, collected urban sewage from homes and factories, operated mill wheels serving millstones, textile workshops and other craft and proto-industrial facilities. The project was also important to raise awareness of the impact of technological progress on everyday life and on health and hygiene improvements brought about by the advent of drinking and wastewater treatment processes.

Italian and art history teachers divided the students into groups, engaged in different assignments. Beginning in November, they studied ancient maps of the channel (from the 17th to the 19th century), and collected information on the channel’s path, water uses and different locations. They also took pictures of statues, historical artefacts and sections of the channel, comparing ancient charts with maps of the modern distribution and sewage networks.

The next step, scheduled for January 2023, is to visit the State Archives of Reggio Emilia to complete the study and collect documentation on the “Botte Meravigliosa”, a barrel-vault section of the Secchia Channel, which will be the subject of an exhibition.

Students as Agents of Social Change/MULTIPLIERS & OStogether Inspiration Session

What does the school of the future look like? The times when students were considered mere recipients of information are over. Still, schools haven’t fully transitioned yet into a model that strongly encourages student participation, agency and self-efficacy, preparing pupils to tackle real-world challenges. With a focus on science education and sustainability dilemmas, the MULTIPLIERS Horizon 2020 project is addressing that gap. Through its Open Science Communities in six EU countries, MULTIPLIERS is connecting school science to real life, empowering pupils to act as knowledge multipliers across society, and developing students’ scientific argumentation and critical thinking skills.

Join our first dissemination event, organised in partnership with the Open Schooling Together initiative, to:

  • learn more about our approach and meet our consortium partners;
  • be inspired by a key lecture with Prof. Shirley Simon, Institute of Education, University College London, on argumentation in science education; and
  • engage in an interactive session on practical Open Schooling tools and methods around key socio-scientific challenges!

Register for the webinar!

Date and time: 18 November 2022, 9:30 AM CET

Agenda:

9:30 – 10:00 Introduction to the MULTIPLIERS project: students as knowledge multipliers  
10:00 – 11:00 Key lecture: The role of argumentation in open-school science learning projects. Prof. Shirley Simon, Institute of Education, University College London  
11:00 – 13:00 Interactive session on practical Open Schooling methods and tools 3 breakout rooms on 6 socio-scientific issues: Forest use vs. forest protection & Biodiversity and ecosystem services; Vaccination & Anti-microbial resistance; and Air pollution & Water and sanitation  

Bottled water vs. tapped water: which is better? Debunking myths around water quality

Influenced by marketing and brand recognition, some people prefer to drink bottled water to tap water. But against popular belief, that doesn’t necessarily translate into higher quality or hygiene.

To work out students’ perceptions around the topic and discuss water drinking habits, MULTIPLIERS partner Iren, through its educational division Eduiren, co-organised a water “blind tasting” at the Blaise Pascal School in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia. Perceptions from upper secondary students at the tasting experience were compared to the results of analytical tests on different types of drinking water, allowing participants to debunk myths and illusions regarding perceived quality and taste.

Research shows that bottled and tap water samples are not systematically different in relation to health risks or taste. Similarly, from a consumer perspective, people are generally not able to distinguish tap from bottled water in blind tastings – showing that many beliefs are related to preconceived ideas rather than to actual experiences or product characteristics.

In contrast, bottled water is substantially worse for the environment, as it requires more energy to produce (including water treatment, bottling, transportation and refrigeration). Single-use plastic water bottles also release toxins to the environment as they degrade, and often end up in landfills or in water bodies.

The event was organised in collaboration with the Blaise Pascal upper secondary school, one of the MULTIPLIERS OSC partners in Italy, within the project theme “Clean Water and Sanitation”.  Learn more about it here.

What is Open Schooling? The MULTIPLIERS approach to build inclusive and long-lasting learning communities

Modern societies are facing a wide range of complex challenges, such as fighting climate change, protecting the environment, promoting healthy living and fighting pandemics such as COVID-19, among others. To successfully prepare for and address such challenges, citizens must actively engage in public dialogue on scientific issues and participate responsibly in science-informed decision making. Still, this is easier said than done. Trust in scientific findings is diminishing in Europe and other parts of the world, which is an acute challenge of our time.

MULTIPLIERS has the ambitious goal to counter this trend by addressing the problem at its base. Guided by the concept of Open Schooling, the project will trigger a process to transform schools across six countries into innovative and open collectors of new ideas, practices and scientific approaches to address societal and environmental challenges. It will also offer students a space to engage their families, local communities, decision makers and the media in open, inclusive, and inquiry-based learning on science issues that have an impact on citizens’ lives.

But what is exactly Open Schooling and how can it be implemented in practice? As many different understandings of the term exist, one of the first steps of the project since its kick-off in November 2021 was to agree on a common and operational definition among project partners. As a result, the University of Cyprus and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona compiled the MULTIPLIERS “Report on Identified Good Practices and Needs Analysis”, which explores the definition of Open Schooling in detail.

“Open schooling initiates in the classroom but exceeds the school borders when students engage the local community in science practices, taking on the role of ‘knowledge multipliers’ to confront societal challenges”

Irene Drymiotou, Learning in Science Group of the University of Cyprus

In the Q&A below, you can find more about our Open Schooling approach, along with a short history of the term in Europe. For more information, explore the report here.

What is Open Schooling? And what is MULTIPLIERS’ approach to the concept?

In MULTIPLIERS, we propose an approach to Open Schooling that combines three main objectives – community impact, pedagogical impact, and scientific impact – while also explicitly emphasising important societal values.

We see Open Schooling as an educational perspective in which schools become open to society by bidirectionally collaborating with different institutions with the aim to:

  • Improve community well-being by raising awareness and co-creating solutions to both personal and socially relevant problems that have a direct impact at a local level.
  • Enrich the curricula and pedagogical repertoire of schools, by sharing different views and expertise from both educational and non-educational agents and institutions with the aim to promote students’ meaningful learning and competence development.
  • Give epistemic authority to all agents from within and outside the school, specifically to the students and their families, by engaging them in sustained inquiry, knowledge creation, creative action, and dissemination on issues of relevance to the local community and beyond.

To do so, projects and initiatives on Open Schooling such as MULTIPLIERS take advantage of the knowledge, practices, visions, attitudes, resources, and values of all involved agents, empowering them to collectively transform society from a reflective and critical standpoint that focuses on sustainability, equity, social justice, and inclusion.

How did the concept of Open Schooling come about in European Science Education?

To analyse the appearance of the Open Schooling concept in the EU, specifically in Science Education, one has to undertake a journey through the different EU reports and work programmes and their evolution from an STS (Science, Technology and Society) view within the Science in Society frameworks to the recent views of Science with and for Society. These latter frameworks are increasingly permeated with democratic and ethical concerns on citizens’ participation in Science identified through the Responsible Research and Innovation approach and culminating in a particular version regarding science education.

As such, Open Schooling emerges as a new term first in the report Science Education for Responsible Citizenship and in EU’s Work Programme 2016-2017 and continues to be a priority in the Work Programme 2018-2020. However, despite the term not being explicitly there, we can identify the Open Schooling idea already in the Work Programme 2014-2015.

The EU WPs from 2016 to 2020 followed up on the report Science Education for Responsible Citizenship to explicitly promote the concept of Open Schooling in their strategy of Science with and for Society, which revolves around the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and its pillar on Science Education.

How will the Open Schooling approach be implemented within MULTIPLIERS?

Open-school science learning projects will be developed collaboratively in our so-called Open Science Communities (OSCs). Science professionals will be actively involved in bringing real-life case studies to students regarding contemporary challenges and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including nature conservation, clean water and air, climate change, waste, energy, food, and public health.

Rather than seeking a single correct answer, students will interpret and represent the problem, collect information and evidence, identify possible solutions, evaluate options, and present conclusions supported with arguments. They will recognise that there is often no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, and a constructive approach involves weighing each option against different needs and demands. Students will work with researchers gathering and analysing data, thereby developing a better understanding of the initial problem/case and acquiring familiarity with science practices and scientific research processes.

Ultimately, having gained first-hand experiences and inquiry skills in an authentic context, students will become knowledge multipliers; they will present, share, and deepen their knowledge and experiences in activities by actively involving their families and the wider community, firstly through dedicated local events (including open school/local action days or citizen science activities), and then through designing and exploiting science communication media (e.g., exhibitions, social media channels, and video clips).

All OSC partners will be jointly committed to teaching and learning processes in formal, non-formal, and informal settings to ensure relevant, meaningful, and sustainable engagement with science and associated ethical and societal priorities. Students will learn in the real world, with authentic problems fostering individual reflection and empowerment. Science experts, families, and local communities will be involved as part of sustainable learning communities.

Enabling the enablers – when pupils become knowledge MULTIPLIERS

“Base decision on facts, not on beliefs” – Kick-off Meeting of MULTIPLIERS project

by Gesche Schifferdecker and Rosa Castañeda

In schools, science is often presented in an abstract way and without a context – but if we want to get young people interested, topics need to be relevant to their everyday life. This is the idea behind the H2020 project MULTIPLIERS – short for MULTIplayers Partnerships to ensure meaningful engagement wIth ScieEnce and ReSearch. In the project, scientists will bring real-life cases to students (from elementary to secondary schools) to look at specific “dilemma situations” from various perspectives.

These dilemma situations are explored in six different themes. The German theme is very up to date – it will explore the topic of “Pro–Con Vaccination” and is managed by MULTIPLIERS project coordinator University of Bonn. The University of Cyprus will focus on “Anti-microbial Resistance”, while the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona is investigating the theme “Air Pollution”. IREN SpA, an Italian company providing public services like energy, water, and heating, will handle the topic of “Energy Efficiency”.

MULTIPLIERS also tackles forest-related topics. Umeå University and the European Forest Institute (EFI) are going to explore the dilemma of “Forest Use versus Forest Protection”. This topic is quite controversially discussed in Sweden and beyond. The debate is – like the ones around vaccination or air pollution – more emotional than based on evidence and thorough analysis.

To understand the controversy, students have to be enabled to both collect knowledge and find the pain points by asking critical questions, and consider potential trade-offs. A very good environment to discuss the “Forest Use versus Forest Protection” dilemma is a marteloscope, an “outdoor forest classroom”, where all trees are mapped and measured to consider both the ecological and the economic value of each tree. In the framework of MULTIPLIERS, EFI plans to establish a marteloscope in Sweden, and potentially also in Slovenia, where MULTIPLIERS’ sixth theme is centered. The University of Ljubljana will engage with students there to critically analyse the discussions around “Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”.

However, these themes are not set in stone – at a later stage of the project, other partners might also pick up other themes they consider relevant for the students, or explore themes investigated by others within their own community. For instance, the University of Bonn is interested in working on the topic of forest use versus forest protection together with local partners in the forest surrounding the city.

Kids exploring science (photo by patricialacolla via Pixabay)

By addressing current and future societal and environmental challenges and taking students to authentic workplaces like the forest or a medical lab, MULTIPLIERS aims to awaken students’ interest in science. Discussions with researchers on all themes will be based on scientific knowledge, but they should also consider potential ethical and societal implications of decision-making. To introduce different perspectives on the issues to the students, MULTIPLIERS is aiming at building so-called “Open Science Communities” (OSCs). Each OSC will involve all of the diverse stakeholders from education, research, enterprises, civil society, and policy, to innovatively engage different societal actors in the science learning process. During the project implementation and after its completion, the consortium will support the creation of new OSCs in the partner countries, as well as in other EU countries.

One of the main project objectives is to develop analytical and critical thinking competences for and with the students, to ultimately make them knowledge MULTIPLIERS. After engaging with the OSCs, in a second step, families and wider communities will be involved in problem-solving processes, which are called open-school science learning. The students will share and discuss what they have learned with their peers, families and beyond. To approach broader audiences and engage with students from all over Europe, students involved in MULTIPLIERS will post stories on the project’s social media channels, supported by EFI’s Communication experts. The idea is to encourage the students to prepare their own communication outputs, in a way that allows them to experience and learn from the process of communicating science while also creating ownership of the content.

MULTIPLIERS partners

The project Kick-off meeting took place virtually on November 18-19, with the participation of the partners and project advisors. One of the highlights was a discussion on how to develop a research methodology that will allow an analysis of the needs of all the different countries, the enlargement of open science networks and the sustainability of the project. The coordinations have just begun, soon we will be sharing more news on the exciting MULTIPLIERS project!