Good Practices: Classroom Examples

Plastic food packaging: With or without nanoparticles?

This classroom example is related to a Socio-Scientific Inquiry-Based Learning (SSIBL) module, which was developed in the context of PARRISE Cyprus TPD program. The general purpose of the module is to introduce students to the field of nanotechnology, contributing to students' understanding of the properties of objects at the nanoscale through a motivating scenario in the context of a controversial socio-scientific issue. The module is directly linked to the Chemistry curriculum in Grade10 and in particular to the Unit "Biomolecules and other molecules of organic chemistry" and the chapter "Polymers".

Students collecting data from web-based sources on the topic
Students' creating their post-it poster
Students presenting their Post-it posters

By engaging in this unit, we expect that students will:

  • Develop their conceptual understanding on the topic (polymers, polymerization, types of polymers, polymers’ usage in food packaging, nanoscale, usage and properties of nanoparticles in food packaging)
  • Understand the controversy surrounding the use of nanomaterials in food packaging
  • Develop an informed and evidence-based stance towards the topic
  • Inform their community (e.g. parents, immediate family, peers, teachers) about the socio-scientific issue through posters, videos, flyers, articles, etc.
  • Cultivate Research and Innovation (RRI) values and attitudes

Authentic questions (SSI)

This module introduces students to the socio-scientific issue of nanofood packaging and the controversial nature of this topic.

Nanotechnology can improve the properties of traditional plastic food packages (e.g. enhancement of antimicrobial properties, improvement of barrier protection). However, little is yet known about the use of nanoparticles, their properties, and their potential effects on human health and the natural environment. At the same time, current legislation seems to be insufficient in terms of monitoring this technological advancement.

Scenario: This morning you have decided to visit the butchery for buying some fresh meat. As you wait in queue, you witness an interesting conversation between two other customers. Intrigued by a flyer at the butchery about an innovative food package with nanoparticles, they debate about the usefulness of this new food packaging. At this point, they turn to you asking for your opinion: What would you prefer?

Authentic SSI question: “Plastic food packaging: With or without nanoparticles?”

Enaction (Inquiry-based science education)

As part of their socio-scientific investigation, students engage in scientific inquiry activities:

  • They formulate initial hypotheses about the socio-scientific topic
  • They collect and interpret data from multiple, secondary sources (e.g. simulations, videos, diagrams, etc.
  • They synthesize and discuss data to gain a better understanding of the topic of nanotechnology in food packaging

At a following step, the jigsaw collaborative approach (Aronson, 1978) is implemented. As part of this approach students:

  • Are divided in stakeholder groups of four, according to the stakeholders involved in this socio-scientific controversy (Food industry, Health organizations, Environmental agents, Jurisdiction bodies) and investigate the stance and arguments of the stakeholder group they have been assigned
  • Exchange data and interpretations, discuss and agree on an evidence-based decision, after evaluating the arguments presented by the other stakeholder groups

Action (Citizenship activity)

The activity allows students to adopt an active citizenship role in this socio-scientific controversy for taking an evidence-based, personal decision. In particular, during the activities in this module students have the opportunity to:

  •  Participate in authentic debates related to the socio-scientific controversy
  • Exchange different views and opinions about this socio-scientific dilemma

In addition, students as active citizens, are asked to undertake collective actions, aiming to inform and increase the awareness of their fellow citizens. In particular they prepare and disseminate flyers, YouTube videos, posters for the school board and articles on the topic, to be published in their school magazine.

The module is structured in for lessons, as following:

Lesson 1: Plastic food packaging

Introduction and understanding of key concepts related to the subject (e.g., polymers, polymerization, types of polymers, use of polymers in plastic food packaging).

Lesson 2: Nano-plastic food packaging

Introduction and understanding of key concepts related to the topic (e.g. nanoscale, use and properties of nanoparticles in plastic food packaging).

Lesson 3: Views and arguments of stakeholders

Investigation of the relevant socio-scientific issue in the light of stakeholders (e.g., Food industry representatives, Environmental actors, Health representatives, Legislation agencies).

Lesson 4: Decision making and active citizenship

Decision-making processes, individual and collective actions of active citizenship in relation to the socio-scientific issue (e.g. Flyers).

Students’ evaluation is based mostly on formative assessment approaches. In particular the science teacher can evaluate his/her students through the following venues:

  • Classroom discussions during which students are asked to express their ideas
  • Teacher observation and teacher-student interactions as students are working in their dyads
  • Students’ completed templates (Worksheets)
  • Students’ artifact for their individual and collective citizenship actions (e.g. Brochures, YouTube videos, posters for the school board and articles on the topic, to be published in the school magazine)

European Commission

PARRISE (grant agreement 612438) is a four year programme (2014-2017) funded by the European Commission.

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