Bringing stem cells to school: teachers and researchers sharing an experience of active learning in Italy
Tommaso Nastasi1, Rossana De Lorenzi1, Elisabetta Palio2, Ann Zeuner2
1European Learning Laboratory for the Life Science (ELLS), European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Monterotondo, Rome, Italy
2Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy
Corresponding Author and contacts: Elisabetta Palio; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Tel.: +39-06-49902479; Fax: +39-06-49387087.
Target sector: school
Abstract: Stem cells represent one of the most relevant and discussed subjects of biomedical research. However, information available to the general public is either exceedingly technical, incomplete or fragmented. Specifically, a better understanding of issues concerning stem cell research, and science in general, is highly needed in schools , to allow the formation of independent and scientifically sound opinions by soon-to-be citizen of our societies. Many scientific entitites are devoted to science dissemination initiatives in schools and the idea of “bringing stem cell to school” in Italy constitutes an hallmark of the activities organized by Unistem, an interdipartimental group of the University of Milan and member of several EU projects. On March 18, 2011, Unistem held its traditional open day on stem cells for high school students, in contemporary audiovisual connection with three other Italian Universities (Rome, Turin and Florence). This initiative provided the ELLS team, the science dissemination and education arm of EMBL, the opportunity to implement and test an integrated approach to science education. This pilot was organized in Rome, based on previous experience gained by ELLS officers during the past years, and was composed of a series of activities aimed at in-depth exploration and discussion of the complex and multi-faceted scientific concepts related to stem cells. The inquiry-based approach was implemented through hands-on activities, guided visits to research centers, informal meetings and videochats with researchers and role playing games. Finally, the integration of social networks and multimedia, and the introduction of videos and arts as output formats, constituted an innovative sharing and technology framework for this methodology. This pilot involved a total of 400 students from six high schools, spanning a period of about 5 months. The exciting and successful outcomes of the 2011 project, led to the elaboration of Inquiry-based E-Learning (IBEL, http://ibel.embl.it), a prototype of integrated science education project, which is currently being implemented at national level in 6 different regions and that will contribute to the Open Days on Stem cells, organized by Unistem in those regions on on March 9, 2012, and will culminate in the project final event on April 24, 2012. In line with the need to provide a support to teachers on a topic for which no detailed information is available on school textbooks, the Italian National Institute of Health has published in January 2012 the book “Stem cells: hints for teaching at school” (“Le cellule staminali: spunti per un’azione didattica”, in Italian, freely distributed and available on the website http://www.iss.it/binary/publ/cont/Dispensa_11_1_web.pdf), directed to Italian school teachers and students. “Le cellule staminali: spunti per un’azione didattica” represents the first scientific textbook for schools on stem cells in Italy. It combines a rigorous scientific information with a stimulating style, rich in illustrations and attractive for young readers. The book also reports inspirational pieces from the participants to the 2011 EMBL project: the experience of Prof.ssa Mariada Muciaccia and her students, and a selection of artworks on stem cells created by the students of the Liceo Artistico Ripetta (Roma). The creation of a textbook on stem cells created ad hoc for schools, together with the EMBL initiatives, will provide a major contribution to disseminate scientific information on stem cells and their clinical use in Italian schools, as well as increase the level of awareness on a scientific topic that impacts at many different levels on modern societies.
Keywords: Stem cells, life-science school education.
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Tommaso Nastasi graduated in Biological Sciences at the University of Palermo, where he also received his PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology in 1999. After several years spent in research, in the fields of neurodegenerative diseases and muscle regeneration at international research centers (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, USA; EMBL, Italy), since 2009 he works as Science Educator Officer with the ELLS group at the EMBL in Monterotondo (RM), where he is responsible for teacher training and science dissemination activities.
Rossana De Lorenzi graduated in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at the University of Naples Federico II and received his PhD in molecular biology at EMBL Monterotondo in 2006. Since 2007, works as Science Education Officer with the ELLS group, the structure of the EMBL created to bring research closer to school, contributing to major events for training and dissemination of scientific culture in Europe.
Ann Zeuner is the Director of the Biotechnology Division within the Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, the main technical-scientific organ of the National Health Service in Italy. Her research activity has been focused both in the hematologic and in the oncology fields, with special attention given in recent years to the study of stem cells in tumors. She has authored around 40 publications in highly qualified peer reviewed journals. Beside her research activity, Dr. Zeuner developed during the years a major interest in science communication, to which she has been fully trained at the International School for advanced research (SISSA) in Trieste.
Elisabetta Palio, PhD, is a research associate at the Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, the main technical-scientific organ of the National Health Service in Italy. Over the years, she has developed an extensive experience in grant writing and management of cancer research projects funded by national public and private agencies or by the European Union. Beside her scientific background, she holds a Master degree in science communication and journalism, obtained at the University of Rome “Sapienza”, being awarded as “Best student of the academic year 2008/09”.