An innovative laboratory-based summer project -- Microbiology recipes: antibiotics à la carte -- addressing antibiotic resistance and natural antibiotics has been shown to be an effective strategy to increase high school students' awareness of antibiotic resistance and the relevance of rational antibiotic use. In contrast to traditional educational interventions, which mainly rely on large-scale information campaigns, this project's instructional design was devised to take advantage of the acknowledged benefits of laboratory work, by encouraging the participants' active engagement in their learning.
The study is presented by a group of researchers from the University of Porto, Portugal in the latest issue of PLOS ONE.
Microbiology recipes: antibiotics à la carte is a one-week long inquiry-based summer project implemented in the scope of Porto's Junior University -- a summer school-based initiative fostered by the University of Porto, which seeks to promote Science & Technology, Arts, Humanities and Sports education amongst elementary and high school students (aged 11 to 17). Each year, the University's Faculties open their doors to approximately 5000 students, who are invited to take part in a wide range of projects designed by university lecturers and implemented by undergraduate and graduate students in a relaxed, but didactically-focused environment.
The widespread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a major public health issue that demands concerted educational interventions to raise public awareness and promote judicious antibiotic use. Consistently with this perceived need, several educational programs have been put forth and numerous didactic resources have been developed. However, reliable indicators of the efficacy of most of these resources have not been consistently provided so far. Furthermore, studies reveal that the general public remains unaware of basic aspects related to the modes of action of antibiotics and frequently engage in misinformed behaviors.
Considering that educational programs targeting young people can contribute to a future generation of scientifically literate antibiotic users, the group of researchers from the University of Porto developed, implemented and assessed a hands-on interventional program to raise young people's interest and consciousness about the consequences of antibiotic resistance and foster their sense of self-responsibility in this regard. Maria João Fonseca, one of the researchers involved in the study says "we were interested in sparking students' interest, and scaffolding their scientific reasoning about the processes involved in antibiotic resistance and natural antibiotics' activity, by prompting the connection between observable phenomena and the underlying ideas. We found that, by combining diverse activities, ranging from bioinformatics exercises to natural antibiotic testing, it was possible to address misconceptions, improve students' understanding and promote the development of procedural skills." Fernando Tavares, the coordinator of the project, adds "this study evidences the benefits of incorporating hands-on activities in science education programs. We believe that the data gathered illustrate how an informal educational environment such as the one provided by the Junior University can have a measurable and effective impact on our students, and contribute to promote scientific literacy about pressing socio-scientific issues amongst future generations."
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