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Microbial fuel cell
Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education, Singapore
Lee, Y. J., Sam, C. K., & Tan, T. T. M. (2020). Hands-on and minds-on learning of science using a microbial fuel cell. National Institute of Education (Singapore), Office of Education Research.
Inquiry science has always been a focus of our research as science educators although over the years, we have slowly expanded our initial understanding of “inquiry as means” towards better appreciating “inquiry as ends.” Our confidence in and respect of this more comprehensive view manifested itself in my [LYJ] teaching when I mounted an undergraduate course based on Ready, Set, SCIENCE! (RSS) (Michaels, Shouse, &
Schweingruber, 2008). Summarizing an earlier reference called Taking Science to School (TSTS), these two books spoke about the erroneous fixation on content mastery in much of science education though this is still a favoured priority everywhere. While some degree of memorization of science facts and concepts is inevitable, science as a robust way of knowing the natural world is badly compromised if learning is left as these levels. As well, simply having more hands-on laboratory activities or practical work in the hope of mimicking the work of scientists does not serve the aims of inculcating student interest or higher -order thinking in science: Students might be able to manage procedural scientific knowledge, manipulate physical objects during practical work or be able to control some variables but utterly disappoint with respect to creating, revising or applying abstract scientific ideas, models, or theories.
In all likelihood, any form of inquiry pedagogy can achieve most of the desired endpoints in science education (i.e. the cognitive, epistemic & social) in the hands of a skilful teacher although Design-based Inquiry (DBI) appears most apposite given our adoption of the Microbial fuel Cell (MFC) engineering model. Basically, DBI involves the iterative and problem-solving journey of researching, designing, building, and improvement of objects that pulls along knowledge and application of science—constructing a "successful” artifact is the overarching goal of that activity with just-in-time learning of science as both its condition and byproduct. Its benefits are none other than the entire gamut of doing and learning science authentically and it should come as no surprise to hear that engineering/technological design shares a positive inter-dependence with the development of scientific literacy. Engineering design is the analog of scientific inquiry but whether it be in science or design, success and deep learning is often found, paradoxically, through productive failure—in both disciplines “knowing what is wrong matters as much as knowing what is right”.
The MFC, our vehicle for student inquiry, has been used since 2005 in NIE to teach principles of biochemistry among in-service teachers. In essence, the MFC is a class of fuelcells that employ various microbes and membranes to generate electricity and it shows potential in areas such as the self-powered treatment of wastewater. The biochemical workings of the MFC are not completely known to science thereby offering opportunities to learn science content, process skills, Nature of Science, and other important skills. With this setup that is unfamiliar to most teachers and students, a wide range of scientific variables can be tested to increase the current that can be obtained—the main goal of the inquiry design challenge for students.
Note: Restricted to NIE staff only. Contact author for access to report.
OER 01/12 LYJ
Education Research Funding Programme (ERFP)
Ministry of Education, Singapore
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