Laboratório Aberto – Ipatimup / i3S
- Portugal, Porto
The project Laboratório Aberto (LA) came to fulfil a complementary role to traditional teaching of experimental sciences and to establish a bridge between research laboratories and schools, giving rise to a flow of practical knowledge and the promotion of scientific literacy, which has as main beneficiaries the students and teachers, as well as the entire community in general. The stimulation of interest in Science and Technology through the development of innovative, consistent, continuous and updated experimental activities is fundamental. The LA project has received more than 55,000 students since its opening and continues to foster the discovery of new ways of thinking, to answer scientific doubts throughout the community and to bring science and scientists closer to the community at large.
The project Laboratório Aberto (LA) was created in 2007, in a cooperation between Ipatimup in collaboration of Porto City Hall and Agency Ciência Viva. The project LA came to fulfil a complementary role to traditional teaching of experimental sciences and to establish a bridge between research laboratories and schools, giving rise to a flow of practical knowledge and the promotion of scientific literacy, which has as main beneficiaries the students and teachers, as well as the entire community in general. The stimulation of interest in Science and Technology through the development of innovative, consistent, continuous and updated experimental activities is fundamental.
The activities developed provide its participants with an innovative pedagogical experience, where a practical approach with a strong hands-on/minds-on component stands out. All the activities were developed by a team of Ipatimup/i3S researchers and teachers who collaborate with LA.
The experimental activities provide a direct contact with didactic materials and techniques used in large research centres, rarely available in schools, which makes this project an important support tool for students and teachers, contributing to the theoretical and practical enrichment of science diffusion and learning. The activities are designed according to the student’s curriculum of science disciplines and the guidelines defined by the Ministry of Education making them perfectly in accordance with the teachers’ laboratory and experimental needs, by being an extension of the theoretical contents learned in the classroom.
Performing this type of activity stimulates the motivation of students, who when actively involved in their learning, obtain better learning results. Thus, experimental teaching is seen as an ally in the fight against school dropout.
The LA project has received more than 55,000 students since its opening and continues to foster the discovery of new ways of thinking, to answer scientific doubts throughout the community and to bring science and scientists closer to the community at large.
The project is funded by Ipatimup and the local public authority (Porto City Hall supports financially the project).
The project LA has managed to achieve its goals and the “hands-on/minds-on” activities have already reached more than 55,000 students and their teachers. It is a national-level project and welcomes students from everywhere.
In a first experience, the teacher makes an appointment, brings his students and is so surprised by the innovative methods and the way the whole activity is conducted, that they ask immediately when they can make the next appointment. Most return more than once a year, and some have brought students every year since the beginning of the project. Even schools in the south of the country, which sometimes must do more than 600km to travel to Porto and bear all the costs of travel, return year after year.
Teachers are invited to answer an inquiry to evaluate the activities - the results are quite positive:
- More than half of teachers (61.6%) participated for the first time in the activities of LA, and 38.4% returned.
- When asked about the scientific rigor of the activity and its relevance in the school context of the participants, around 90% assess at level 5 (5 - quite correct/very relevant; 1- incorrect/nothing relevant).
- Overall, teachers were very pleased with the visit to LA (93.8%).
- All teachers would like to return to LA and recommend the project to colleagues.
The project LA has been a demanding challenge arising from its multidisciplinary, dynamic and innovative activity in the experimental teaching of sciences and science diffusion.
The project presents a large diversity of science activities inside a Research Institute where the pupils are invited to visit it and try many lab experiments. The visitors can also get a perspective of the important impact of this Research Unit about genetics for instance, and other topics related to health.
Due to the work that has been developed and the receptivity that LA receives throughout the educational community, we consider that this is a fundamental project in support of the education of experimental sciences and the dissemination of scientific knowledge of great relevance in the educational context.
In most Science Centres or when students visit university labs, they only observe the professionals at work. In Laboratório Aberto they get to experience for themselves the techniques, tools and processes. Instead of watching, they follow the steps of the protocol that is provided, in a fully equipped laboratory, as the professionals do. They go from observers to active participants in the experience.
After an initial 15-20 minutes presentation of the subject, the rest of the activity is practical, either in the laboratory or in secondary space, where smaller but also practical complementary activities are developed.
During the activity, the experience of communication and information exchange enables students to learn from the professionals who accompany them during the activity. But students always surprise the professionals with different questions and points of view, which eventually lead to new interpretations and ways of looking at the same problem.
With teachers, professionals learn to adapt methods and even language to each specific group, since it is the teachers who best know the pedagogical approaches that work best for their groups of students.
Teachers learn from professionals on new ways to communicate scientific contents, learn and experience, often for the first time the laboratory environment, closer to reality, and also end up enriching their scientific and technological knowledge themselves.
The team is composed of 5 elements:
One project coordinator
Four professionals who supervise, conduct and monitor the activities (with a background and scientific training) Scientific advisors
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All of our activities are prepared to be executed by all students, from all backgrounds or even if they have special educational needs. When necessary, the protocol or the instruments are adapted for the students to be able to participate, or in last resort we intervene and help them in the execution, if there is any limitation.
The contents are thought in order to optimize their framework in the curriculum and essential learning guidelines defined by the Ministry of Education, respecting the pedagogical guidelines of the disciplines of Natural Sciences, Biology and Health Education, and integrate the principles and values conducive to the development of competencies enrolled in the Profile of Students at the Exit of Compulsory Schooling also in accordance with guidelines defined by the Ministry of Education.
The activities are focused on Science and Technology, mainly Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. Because of their character of interdisciplinarity they end up involving several areas of knowledge. Their design taking into consideration the curriculum of the students makes them cover even less explored areas.
All experimental protocols use specific laboratory tools and instruments, some that run to the use of electric current (physics, technology and engineering), it is necessary to comply and perform delicate and specific procedures, described in the protocols (interpretation and Portuguese language). Some phases of the process involve weighing, measurements or dilutions (mathematics and chemistry), which causes a large number of areas to be covered and stimulated throughout the experience.
The laboratory work is developed in small groups of one to four students, depending on the activity and the total number of students of that class.
The LA professional explains the protocol or some particular step that requires expertise that the students haven’t yet acquired, but afterwards they are encouraged to work with their lab partners to execute the complete protocol of the activity.
Supervision and coaching are performed by the project coordinator, by scientific advisors from Ipatimup and by teachers who are partners since the beginning of the project.
The team participates in workshops and training regularly to keep updated both the scientific component and the pedagogical and didactic component of the project’s activities.
The results of the project have been presented in meetings and congresses both in the area of science diffusion and education.
Communication between all project partners is continuous, complemented by reports and annual meetings to present results and discuss future strategies.