Students in Venice Study Biodiversity

CEC member Marco Prunotto is organizing an educational project for students aged 11 to 13 in Venice, Italy. Simple classroom experiments like growing mold on bread will produce samples that teach lessons in biodiversity -- observed under microscopes, recorded in cell phone photos, connected to larger issues of sustainability in everyday life. It's called the DiscoverBioD project.

Mold grows on bread in biodiversity science experiment

Let students discover organism diversity!
The DiscoverBioD project in Venice

By Marco Prunotto Ph.D.
Giannina Gaslini Research Institute, Italy and Member, IUCN CEC

Next year will be the International Year of Biodiversity (2010 IYB). This will be a great chance to let students, especially those leaving in large town and suburban areas, discover the intimate connection existing between human behaviour and nature today — nicely termed ‘sustainability’.  IYB is a superb occasion that offers an opportunity to involve students in doing and practicing biology and sustainability.

CEC member Marco Prunotto, Ph.D, of the Giannina Gaslini Research Institute in Italy, is organizing an educational project for the Province of Venice in northern Italy. The project will be in collaboration with Carl Zeiss S.p.A. (Milan, Italy), an optical design company, and Fondazione di Venezia (Foundation Venice, Italy). Both institutions have previously dealt with science education topics and support the project respectively with instruments supply and project funding.

The project is structured upon the pedagogical approach elaborated by André Giordan in 1997 at the University of Geneva. Teachers and students of intermediate schools (K-12, age 11-13) will be asked to work on two main tasks:

1) create biodiversity
2) survey ecological biodiversity of the town and the venetian lagoon

After an initial meeting with teachers, the project will be carried out entirely and independently by students. Specimens will be collected and produced in classroom activities and then examined under microscopes in a series of laboratory exercises.

Collection and creation of biodiversity can be achieved through classical, simple biological preparations. For example, students can start with a cotton swab, a plastic bag and a few bread slices. When they add a few drops of water and seal the bag, fungi proliferate—in a safely sealed setting that demonstrates to student what biodiversity means.

Students can use readily available technologies such as digital cameras or the cameras on their cell phones to record scientific data. They can, for example, take photos over time of growing fungi over time, in order to evaluate their growth potential, recognize the presence of different organisms, and measure colonized areas—all part of establishing a biodiversity index.

Experiments are designed to explore the concept of sustainability in a way that is meaningful to students. Simple experiments will use common, everyday substances such as shampoo, disinfectant and toothpaste. This will help students to create links between how we perceive biodiversity and how we can make an impact on biodiversity through our everyday actions. Results coming from experiments will fuel critical reflection about the consequences of individual or social behaviours.

Students will be organized into groups that explore biodiversity from different perspectives. Some groups will collect specific subclasses of organisms (e.g., green organisms) or those living in a specific environment (e.g., wall organisms). All projects will be easily run in the classroom. At the conclusion of the project, students will come to the Fondazione di Venezia headquarters, where they will look at organisms through microscopes.

This project is organized to take into account the knowledge that students have previously acquired. Students assigned to look for green organisms, for example, will be asked what green is and be prepared through training to study and inquire what green is, what green is in nature, how you can measure green and so on. DiscoverBioD project is designed to arouse curiosity and to increase learner involvement, so often absent in school programmes mainly based on deductive method. When students visit the Fondazione di Venezia headquarters, they will enjoy group discussion on scientific topics hidden in their classroom work, such as the species concept, Darwinian evolution, ecological succession and cell-based life.

For more information on the project, contact


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