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Development and evaluation of innovative microbiological laboratory practical activities for secondary schools

Redfern, James (2013) Development and evaluation of innovative microbiological laboratory practical activities for secondary schools. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Microbiology features in the school curriculum being noted in a range of topics, for example, antibiotics, aseptic technique, pathogens and genetic mutation. Support material for the delivery of practical activity is relatively plentiful, but no material could be found in the literature that described their development or evaluation. The aim of this work was to produce a new educational resource for secondary school teachers in support of practical microbiology. The resource would be designed so that it fulfilled particular objectives of the science specifications, and also satisfied teachers’ concerns about delivering microbiology in the laboratory. Preliminary studies comprised a survey of 22 school teaching specifications to identify mentions of microbiology and topics were microbiology could be used to illustrate other scientific concepts. Ninety-five links to microbiology, direct and indirect, were found. In parallel, a survey of 248 secondary school teachers discovered that although practical microbiology was being undertaken, it focused on a small number of activities and was limited by a number of (real and perceived) issues. The relatively recent emphasis on the nature of science (NOS) in the National Curriculum also appears to have been overlooked by teachers, who favour content-driven material. Yet, it is the NOS and inquiry that is more likely to be of transferable value to students and which should be embedded in practical work. It was decided that a resource focusing on algae would satisfy both the curriculum requirements in terms of scientific content and learning by inquiry (NOS) and teachers needs in terms of appropriate support and information (both technical and content knowledge). Algae are large, colourful and diverse microorganisms that are safe to use and cheap to purchase. Five laboratory activities not available elsewhere were identified: using a microscope to identify microalgae, phototaxis, bioluminescence, eutrophication and gas cycling. Each exercise was refined so that curriculum/specification links were stated, methods (for teacher, technician and student) clearly described, reliable results were likely and extension work suggested. An identification key of fifteen algal species was developed to support identification of microalgae using a microscope (activity one). Formative evaluation with three different audiences comprising over 100 individuals guided modifications of the resource. One activity was successfully modified to enable the public to engage with algae in an event named ‘The Good, the Bad and the Algae’. Over 2,200 people interacted with this event over a three-day period, with over 80% noting acquisition of scientific or application knowledge of algae. The resource, published in January 2012 underwent summative evaluation. A survey was distributed to approximately 750 participants and gained a poor (but not unexpected) return rate (7%). About half of teachers were using the resource, and all activities had been used. Comments were positive yet showed similar issues with regards to limitations identified in the survey of practical microbiology in schools. This reinforces the need for continued support from professional microbiologists in order to ensure the field is represented in the classroom. To the author’s knowledge, the process by which this resource was developed and produced is the first, certainly in microbiology, devised with relevance to teaching specifications and teacher’s needs, and the first to be systematically trialled and evaluated by the target audience (teachers). It is suggested that this process be a template for the development of learning material in the future.

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