The participants in the GEOMAR lecture hall. Photo: J. Dengg/GEOMAR

The participants in the GEOMAR lecture hall. Photo: J. Dengg/GEOMAR

Presenters from Hebbelschule Kiel. Photo: J. Dengg/GEOMAR

Presenters from Hebbelschule Kiel. Photo: J. Dengg/GEOMAR

Prof. Martin Wahl from GEOMAR explains the scientific background

Prof. Martin Wahl from GEOMAR explains the scientific background

21.06.2019

Biology teaching with a difference

GEOMAR organizes research conference for school classes

21 June 2019/Kiel. Pupils from four classes in upper secondary schools in and around Kiel investigated for several months and in different aquatic environments what organisms settle on artificial substrates. Yesterday, they presented their results on the "colonization of substrates in aquatic environments" at a school conference at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. Their collective insights will be incorporated into their biology classes.

Usually, it is scientific experts who discuss their findings at symposia in the lecture hall of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. Yesterday, however, pupils from upper secondary schools reported on their own research results. At a symposium for young people, four school classes from Kiel and the surroundings discussed their experiments with recruitments discs in the sea and in a river, which are colonized by so-called biofouling organisms.

The basis is an experimental set-up of the European Erasmus+ project VIRTUE-s where - together with partners in Sweden, Spain and the USA - GEOMAR provides practical suggestions for school lessons and implements them with local schools. The experimental principle: a rope with several plastic discs is deployed in a body of water for several weeks or months. Afterward, an analysis is made of which organisms have settled there and in what quantity. "Basically, what you see here is what would happen to a fiberglass boat if it had no antifouling paint," explained 16-year-old Florentina from Hebbelschule Kiel - one of the school partners in the Erasmus project. "In the Baltic Sea, algae, barnacles and mussels would grow within a few weeks, even though it is plastic.”

This gets particularly exciting for ecologists when they study the factors that influence this growth. Biology teacher Dr. Daniela Efler-Mikat from Hebbel School said: "Initially, the students formulated hypotheses which they tested with their experimental set-up. It was assumed, for example, that light, which gets weaker with depth, primarily restricts plant growth, while animals should be less affected.” Recruitment of organisms in fresh and salt water or in the Baltic and North Sea are also compared. In this way, basic ecological principles become tangible in the experiments, which supplements and reinforces what has been learned in school lessons.

However, setbacks that regularly occur in research can happen here as well: "When we wanted to get our experiments out of the water in May, it wasn't just our ropes that were missing: the entire jetty from which they were suspended was gone," reported Florian, a pupil from RBZ Wirtschaft in Kiel. This experience was confirmed by Prof. Martin Wahl who uses similar recruitment discs in Kiel Bay together with his working group at GEOMAR for long-term monitoring with respect to climate change.Yesterday, he talked to the young people about the work of the "professionals". "You can plan an experiment as well as you want, but you're never safe from surprises," he said laughing. "The only important thing is not to be discouraged.”

However, research does not only entail experiments and observations, but also the critical discussion of the results together with other researchers. "This is the reason why we are holding this conference today," Dr. Joachim Dengg, coordinator of GEOMAR's school programs, pointed out. "The students have to explain their results to peers who have worked on the same topics and who may have come to completely different conclusions. This is a real scientific dialogue, and thus there may be a somewhat more critical look at certain aspects."

For the young people the day thus concluded with the realization that practical research is much more complex than it sometimes appears in the media, even with supposedly simple research questions. Especially for those who are toying with the idea of a later career in sciences, this can be an important help for self-assessment.

 

Please note:

VIRTUE-s is a 3-year project co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union from 2017 to 2020.

 

Contact:
Dr. Joachim Dengg (School Programmes GEOMAR), Tel. +49  431 600-400 , jdengg(at)geomar.de