Diatoms make the world happy: educational outreach using diatom-based activities in the classroom
by Shigeki Mayama |
Websites are a very useful tool for anyone seeking information. However, people who are unaware of diatoms or uninterested in them will not google for diatoms. To inform such people about diatoms and attract their interest requires deliberate and well-designed lessons.
Many people and organizations want to disseminate information promoting a particular scientific field, especially for “big” budget research projects and large corporations. They often target schools for outreach efforts because schools are effective in delivering programmed lessons to all students. However, schools follow a set curriculum and cannot accommodate all the special lessons offered from outside. Therefore, as an outreach worker, it is important to understand what the school wants and needs pedagogically.
At the beginning of this century, a paradigm shift took place in the field of pedagogy. Education scholars from around the world have studied what skills are required for students to live in a highly ICT– and AI-intensive society and a society that requires sustainable development. Depending on the research organization and country, these studies have been called key competencies or 21st-century skills, but all of them call for a shift from traditional knowledge-based education to competency-based education.
Many want to make their disciplinary field known to others, and this desire is often the driving force initiating outreach efforts. For the past 20 years, I have developed numerous diatom-based outreach activities with many collaborators. Some of these efforts resulted in exhibitions held produced in collaboration with artists (Mayama 2005). Other were more traditional in scope, producing open lectures for junior and senior high school students (Mayama et al. 2007) and “hands-on” active learning events for elementary school students (Fig. 1). However, the most well-known and widely adopted is the “DiatomProject“. This website was designed to provide information about diatoms and river ecosystems in 25 languages, facilitating communication among learners (Mayama et al. 2011). SimRiver is the core activity. It is an ecosystem simulator designed to develop an understanding of the relationship between diatoms, river water quality, and human activities (Fig. 2). The DiatomProject site has also other diatom-based materials including videos, photos and a reporting system for learners. The videos are available in 22 languages and have more than 500,000 views to date.
Fig.1 Class activities in India (left), Japan (middle), and US (right).
Fig. 2 An educational scheme that uses diatoms to foster global competence through scientific class activity.
My collaborators and I have developed the DiatomProject in accordance with this intellectual shift. This educational product does ‘teach’ diatoms, but rather uses diatoms to achieve modern educational goals. The first educational goal was to use diatoms to induce decision-making and action towards the environment. The second educational goal was to use diatoms to develop scientific competency. In both challenges, the learning materials used were those uploaded to the “DiatomProject”, but the lesson plan differed depending on the goal. We developed lesson plans in close consultation with the teachers and myself (Kosakai & Mayama 2015, Murakami & Mayama 2016). No matter how good the teaching materials are, if the lesson plans are poor, the expected educational effects cannot be achieved.
In recent years, we have been working on a project to develop global competence using diatoms. Global competence is one of the educational issues that the OECD considers important. Our project is being implemented in schools in Japan, India, and the United States using SimRiver and diatom specimens collected from the same river in each country, past and present (Mayama et al. 2021). Currently rivers in the developed countries are clean, but in the past, they were polluted. On the other hand, the condition of rivers in developing countries is the opposite of that in developed countries. Diatoms are proxies for the environment, so specimens from the past are evidence of the river environment at that time. By using SimRiver to create a diatom community like the specimens, students can learn about the watershed environment at that time. Students from developed and developing countries will learn about the past and present conditions of the river environment in each other’s countries, consider the reasons for these conditions in terms of the differences in social conditions, culture, and customs of the countries, and exchange opinions to come up with ways to improve them (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3 Diatom samples collected from the same rivers in Japan (left), India (middle), and US (right), past and present.
Rivers around the world are connected by oceans, and water has no borders. Diatoms can contribute to people’s happiness around the world through education that helps people think about water stewardship.
Shigeki Mayama is a professor emeritus of Tokyo Gakugei University. Now he has a position at the Advanced Support Center for Science Teachers (ASCeST), TGU. Email Shigeki or drop a message below if you have any questions about the post.
- Kosakai, K. and Mayama, S. (2015) Environmental education in high school for understanding river environment changing over long periods of time: A class activity using preserved diatom slides, simulation software and video images of an old river. Bull. Tokyo Gakugei Univ. Div. Nat. Sci. 67:33-34. https://ir.u-gakugei.ac.jp/bitstream/2309/139351/1/1880433_67_05.pdf
- Mayama, S. (2005) A novel approach to the popularization of diatomology: An exhibition of diatoms, presented as a fusion of science and art (4). Diatom 21: 61-70. https://doi.org/10.11464/diatom1985.21.0_61
- Mayama, S., Julius, M., Balasubramanian, K., Kato, K. and Omori, H. (2021) International river environment education that combines simulations with specimens from different times and regions. Impact 2021(3): 35-37. https://doi.org/10.21820/23987073.2021.3.35
- Mayama, S., Katoh, K., Omori, H., Seino, S., Osaki, H., Julius, M., Lee, J.H., Cheong, C., Lobo, E.A.., Witkowski, A., Srivibool, R., Muangphra, P., Jahn, R., Kulikovskiy, M.., Hamilton, P.B., Gao, Y.H., and Ector, L. (2011) Progress toward the construction of an international web-based educational system featuring improved “SimRiver” for understanding of river environments. Asian Journal of Biology Education 5: 2-14. http://aabe.sakura.ne.jp/Journal/Papers/Vol5/01%20Mayama%20et%20al.pdf
- Mayama, S., Takahashi, O. and Yuasa, T. (2007) A case study of training students as science communicators in a teaching training college under the college system. J. Sci. Educ. Japan 31(4): 380-390. https://doi.org/10.14935/jssej.31.380
- Murakami, J. and Mayama, S. (2016) Creation of “A town coexisted with river” in junior high school science: environmental simulation with a story using “SimRiver” software. Environmental Education Research 25:39-52. https://ir.u-gakugei.ac.jp/bitstream/2309/145228/1/AA11451969_25_039.pdf