A mission in Cyprus to tackle the silent pandemic: antimicrobial resistance

By Dr. Irene Drymiotou, University of Cyprus

In July 2022, our Multipliers Open Science Community (OSC) in Cyprus started designing the Teaching and Learning Sequence of their Open Schooling approach, and during the first week of October, their three science teachers introduced the crucial topic of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to 96 8th graders (13-14 years-old) attending the Senior School in Nicosia. As part of the Open Schooling approach, during the second week of November, students had the opportunity to interact with experts from the Biobank.cy Center of Excellence in school and biobank.cy facilities and engage in scientific practices.  

Learning about AMR in school: how this Multipliers’ journey evolved 

On October 4th, the teachers started with an introduction to microbes (as part of the teaching unit ‘Microbes’ of the school curriculum), and after an initial brainstorming the discussion unfolded around antimicrobial resistance as an increasing threat to human health. To provide the students with crucial information, the teachers presented the issue of AMR using official videos and information according to official reports published by policymakers such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).  

After that, the students formed groups representing six different types of stakeholders (i.e., policymakers, pharmacists, academia/scientists, patients, farmers, and the media) to explore the issue of AMR. Each group was given a set of authentic information sources related to AMR (e.g., policy report, scientific article, newspaper article, testimonials) and after reading through the media, the students collaborated to evaluate the information according to a media literacy tool using Google Docs or a common table on A3 paper.  

In the next lesson, each group reflected on the trustworthiness of the source corresponding to their stakeholder group. After an introduction to the argumentation process, the students started forming lines of arguments for or against the use of antibiotics based on their assigned stakeholder role. They received feedback comments from their teachers and University of Cyprus (UCY) researchers, revised their arguments, and prepared themselves for a debate on the following topic: “We should ban the use of antibiotics for the treatment of flu. Do you agree or disagree?”. The final lesson of this phase was a debate on AMR with the students giving an excellent performance supporting the viewpoints of the different stakeholders.  

Students work with experts to learn more about AMR 

The next step was to learn more about AMR in interaction with experts while being engaged in authentic activities adopting scientific practices inside and outside of the school facilities. This intervention was effectively planned well in advance and implemented in close collaboration between the UCY researchers, the biobank.cy experts and the teachers adopting a student-centered approach. This intervention evolved in three days as follows:

Day 1: Biobank.cy experts meet the students 

On November 7th, six experts from the biobank.cy with biology-related backgrounds (i.e., molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, molecular medicine, biobanking, and medical genetics) visited the Senior School. They introduced themselves talking about the biobank.cy mission, their jobs, their studies, hobbies, favourite food and animals. Finally, they familiarised the students with the agenda for the next day’s visit of the premises of the biobank.cy.

Day 2: The four-hour visit to the biobank.cy facilities 

On November 8th, the students arrived early in the morning at the biobank.cy and formed four groups representing four resistant bacteria: mycoplasma, staphylococcus, e.coli, and salmonella. The groups rotated through four different stations that were led by the six experts. In those stations the students were engaged in interactive lab activities with a focus on bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

During the activities, the students had the opportunity to use scientific equipment (e.g., light microscope, Petri dishes, antibiotic disks) but also simple materials (e.g., candies, clay, cumin) to engage in scientific practices such as observation, argumentation, and modeling. The most inspiring experience was that discussions between the experts and students unfolded related to the nature of science, the significance of science in society, the role of scientists in society, scientists’ everyday routine, their study and career trajectories, and the reasons they chose to be scientists.  

Day 3: Students’ reflections on the visit  

The day after, one expert and a researcher from UCY visited the school, shared an overview of the activities performed, showed photos from the cultivation of E.coli on CLED and blood agar, and announced the three best microbe clay models. The visit concluded with a 10-question quiz, students’ recommendations on how to improve the visit, and the secret message derived from the activities: “Some microbes transfer DNA mutations through plasmids for stronger coats” (i.e., some microbes survive and transfer germs via mobile elements – plasmids with AMR cassette – that form stronger cell walls – coats – thus resisting to antibiotics). 

The interaction between the students and the experts was beneficial for both. On the one hand, the students had an exciting opportunity to learn more about AMR in the authentic environment of the biobank.cy, and also engage in scientific practices with experts and in discussions about the nature of science and the value of science in society. On the other hand, the experts faced the challenge to get out of the research lab, to transform and then successfully communicate their scientific knowledge to the students. But what’s next? The next step for the students is to develop their open schooling projects within their OSC that will be part of a targeted awareness campaign for AMR.

The goal is to go beyond the school borders and spread the word to face AMR together. Stay tuned!