GAS’s science goes to school and returns

The group of students during the Mars Videogame session.
Credit: GAS

The Group of Atmospheric Science (GAS) has organized two activities with a group of students from Porsöskolan, Luleå, Sweden, in collaboration with the science teacher Magnus Thurfjell, and framed in the commitment of the Group with the spreading of its research work across the length and breadth of society. On this occasion, the aim was to put real research at the reach of schoolchildren to raise their curiosity and interest in science, while reinforcing the knowledge they get at school.

Both practices were a direct adaptation of research lines currently carried out by GAS, but with a very different format and focused on two diverse subjects. On one hand, the group of 11-12 years old students performed an experiment based on the GAS’ METABOLT project, which is being developed by GAS for the detection of metabolic activity in different kind of samples.

For this experiment, Miracle Israel Nazarious, member of GAS, prepared a dedicated device provided with temperature, electrical conductivity and pH sensors, as well as the needed electronics and data handling complements (ARDUINO Mega board), with which the students, divided in six groups, took in turns the correspondent measurements on samples of water and soil taken from six locations (forest land, tap water, lake water…).

This learning activity was specifically designed to help students understanding the environmental importance of parameters such as temperature and pH for microorganisms living in the analysed samples, the use of electrical conductivity as a way of monitoring the biological activity, and the scientific acquisition of data by taking systematic measurements. Through its performance, the students have got in contact with the scientific method by exploring their surroundings (from where they have gathered the samples), taking measurements of known parameters with laboratory instruments, and analysing them with regards to the proposed target, that was the assessment of the life thriving in the ground and water all around. Besides, they have had the chance to relate the experience with the biology knowledge they have already learnt in class, and they have done all on the advice of a scientist who was working closely to their teacher during this real "field-site" experiment, whose data were provided back to Miracle, together with a suggestion for a new approach to the experiment relating temperature with pH. This way, they gave an innovative win/win feedback to the scientist.

The METABOLT-inspired instrument used at Poröskolan. Credit: GAS

The second activity consisted of playing with a commercial videogame called Surviving Mars developed by the Swedish company Paradox, whose plot is the colonization of the planet. Through this activity, the students could know the specific features of a particular planet, enriching this way their general knowledge about the Solar System, and had the chance of paying some specific attention to astronomy and space exploration.

In this case too, a member of GAS (Anshuman Bhardwaj), assisted the session, and the students were encouraged to ask him about their previous ideas about how is Martian environment and about the scientific inaccuracies that the game contains with relation to the real knowledge of the planet so far. The students have learnt the importance of a critical point of view about the videogames (in the same way that happens in science) and the relevance of the scientists as social expertise figure to whom asking questions, and as a provider of rigorous knowledge.

Both experiences were co-designed by researchers, Porsöskolan teachers and GAS science communication team from a learning experience sequence whose results will be collected in two different papers.