Learning by doing: Research within the curriculum

Anamika Sharma and Vismitha B G

The younger generation may be interested in science but few see becoming scientists as a career option. Therefore, it is crucial that science is made more accessible for everyone at the school level.1 This will require initiatives and support from schools, parents, and society.

Engaging in science by way of “learning by doing” at all levels from primary to higher education will offer multiple opportunities for students to understand the practical application of science in the real world.1-3 Several key advantages associated with science learning include hands-on learning, critical thinking, real-world relevance, depth of understanding; interdisciplinary learning, independence and responsibility, creativity and innovation, communication skills, data analysis; exposure to research culture; preparation for higher education; contributing to scientific knowledge; career opportunities; and lifelong learning.4

Research activities will help teachers to understand the projects better, publish their findings and thus enable their overall growth as well. Research projects help teachers with professional development, improved teaching strategies, enhanced problem-solving skills, significant contribution to the field of education, lifelong learning, networking opportunities by collaboration, recognition, and career advancement.5 Teachers who embrace research as part of their practice can positively impact both their students and their own careers.

With this in mind, we at Prayoga Institute of Educational Research, Bengaluru, carried out a research project that required students to isolate organic volatiles from plants (read Cooking up a fragrance, Teacher Plus, March 2024) The research project was conducted as part of Anveshana program at Prayoga campus with a small sample size, where six different plant species were used to isolate the volatiles and comparisons were made between the processes of steam distillation and extraction. The project was completed by submitting the thesis for evaluation. An open viva-voce was conducted wherein students explained their findings in the form of a presentation followed by a Q&A session. To understand the advantages of such an activity, feedback from students was included in the current study along with feedback from the teacher (who is also one of the authors of this article). Their feedback clearly demonstrates how such an activity changed students’ ideas and approach towards studying science and encouraged them to consider it as a career option.

Materials and methods
The project was implemented at the Prayoga campus in Bangalore. The following feedback form was taken from three students (A, B, and C) and one faculty member (D) who participated in the research project.
Q1. What is your opinion about carrying out the Anveshana project at Prayoga?
Q2. How did the training go at Prayoga with the mentor?
Q3. How long did the project take for completion? Did you enjoy the journey?
Q4. Were you able to relate your subject/classroom teaching with the actual research project?
Q5. Did you benefit from the research project done at Prayoga?
Q6. If given the chance, would you like to continue being part of such projects?
Q7. Any other comments you would like to make?
Q8. Rate the following points between ‘Strongly Disagree’ and ‘Strongly Agree’:
A. Sufficient time was provided for me to complete all the tasks assigned.
B. I enjoyed the research project, and it should be part of the school curriculum.
C. This method of performing research projects in chemistry motivated me to know more about the subject.
D. The project made me see research in science as a career choice in the future.
E. The mentor did not help me through the project.
F. Preparations for viva-voce presentations and discussions within the research group helped me overcome stage fear.
G. I felt my time was wasted in completing the project.
H. Online sessions during report writing with mentor did not help in any way.
I. Introduction classes from the mentor gave me more confidence to take up advanced concepts in chemistry.
J. The mentor presented the information in a way that I understood even complex terms in the concept.

Results and discussion
The term research relates to anything comprehensive or in-depth. A background study, formulating a hypothesis, establishing objectives, carrying out a literature review, and other steps are all part of the process. It is time intensive and rigorous involving utilization of one’s knowledge, skills, effort, and a touch of creativity. To do this, we need to have a basic understanding of how research is conducted. The onset of scientific research begins with laboratories. Here, we have attempted to explain the idea of ‘research’ to students and to ascertain their perceptions of it. A mentor’s guidance in helping students investigate various career options in research is also crucial.

The input from the students and the mentor was gathered using a 5-point Likert scale pertaining to the statements related to the project (Table 1). The scale runs from 1-5 ranging the responses from ‘Strongly Disagree’ to ‘Strongly Agree’.

Table 1. Linear scale feedback from students and faculty regarding the research project activity.

The feedback given by the students and the mentor lean towards the positive side on the aspects of time, guidance of mentor, online sessions, and discussions, and as a career option. This demonstrates that students embraced the learning process and enjoyed doing the project.

The next section is comprehensive question and answer feedback from the students and the mentor. (Figure 1-3). The positive feedback from students encourages teachers to plan such projects. This will allow students to extrapolate the theoretical knowledge they gain in their regular study in classes. All the participants agree with the fact that this project helped them put theoretical knowledge into practice. They also got insights into the field of research. This enriching experience of conducting experiments has helped them in better understanding the subject, and they say it was also more enjoyable.

What is your opinion about carrying out Anveshana project at Prayoga?

AThis experience allowed me to apply theoretical concepts from my studies in a practical setting. I gained valuable insights into the actual processes and techniques used in the field of chemistry. This interaction with mentors not only improved my technical skills but also gave me a deeper appreciation for the subject matter. Moreover, the experience ignited a curiosity and passion within me for chemistry.
BThe project gave me a very good understanding of how research is carried out.
CI believe every student must get hands-on experience for conducting experiments as science must be learnt through an experiential mode rather than through textbooks. It made me consider research as a potential career option and overall, it gave me a taste about the interesting field of research!
DIt is an excellent opportunity for us to educate the younger generation. It provides you with an understanding of how experiments are carried out. Prayoga Institute has well equipped laboratories and support structures to encourage such young research minds. As opposed to being taught in a rote manner, this experience gives more hands-on instruction, discussions with mentors that help students learn better and appreciate the context of the research topic.

Figure 2. Feedback for Q1.

How did the training go at Prayoga with the mentor?

AOn the very first day at Prayoga, we were introduced to the fundamental principles of research methodology. This foundational knowledge became the guiding framework for our entire research journey.
In-depth study and analysis of source materials and research papers helped familiarize us with the diversity and potential of these compounds.
We learnt various methods, including steam distillation, and had the opportunity to assemble the equipment ourselves. Safety instructions were emphasized from the outset, which we followed.
As we progressed, we combined the data collected along with the insights from our literature reviews. Collaboratively, we shared the workload.
Translating our research into a PowerPoint presentation was the next challenge. The culmination of our efforts arrived when we presented our work during the vice voce session. Before an audience of mentors and peers, we showcased our research journey, from conception to practical implementation, analysis, and conclusions.
BThe first few days of the project, we were introduced to the topic that we would carry out the research in. Our topic was “extraction and isolation of secondary metabolites from natural products”. We were introduced to secondary metabolites and how they are a part of our day-to-day activities. We were also given other project reports that we studied to get a better understanding on our topic. We learnt how research is carried out methodically. We were then introduced to the equipment that would be used and the safety precautions that have to be taken.
CThe training process and implementation were a smooth journey, safety was a priority and report writing was an interesting experience!
DIt was meticulously planned from the start – mentors chose the research idea and outlined the whole project. The process was sequential, where the mentor discussed the idea, asked students to read research articles related to the topic. Students were then asked to express their understanding in the form of presentations which was followed by discussions on the topic. The next phase included literature work, collection of samples, getting the instruments ready, and the actual experimentation. Lab coats, gloves, and safety eyewear were a must in carrying out experiments in a laboratory. It was not just the experimentation part; the mentoring aided in helping write the report of the project by analyzing the sample research papers, context of writing and the whole research work and presenting it in front of a large audience with preparation for viva-voce. The students defended their work by trying their best to answer the questions posed by the audience and the reviewers.

Figure 3. Feedback for Q2.

Did you benefit from the research project done at Prayoga?

AIt was a great learning experience for us. It not only allowed us to get a hands-on experience doing a research project, but also exposed us to real life applications of theoretical science concepts we learned in school. It was a joy learning science in this manner. It further increased our curiosity and interest in science. It also helped us in school. We now have now a better understanding of many topics like chromatography and spectroscopy. When these terms are used in our school, they are not a mystery. It also helped us improve our basic skills like how to do research, how to go through research papers and also improved our communication skills.
BI want to take up research in chemistry in the future. This project has been very beneficial as it gave me an idea about what research means.
CYes, it gave me an insight into the field of research and made me more curious about the subject.
DDefinitely yes. The view and perspective of doing research is very different from just carrying experiments and writing the results (like we in the labs in school and college).

Figure 4. Feedback for Q5.

Teachers can take advantage of the biodiversity in the Indian subcontinent and perform these experiments even at the school level. It would be a wonderful chance for them to explore numerous topics, such as how the kitchen is seen as a vital element and devise ideas for experimentation. They can research, comprehend and be creative in formulating plans. In the current study, steam distillation and extraction techniques have been used. However, the alternatives to simple distillation are many such as decoction method which is used for coffee, cold-press extraction for oils from nuts and vegetables, maceration technique to separate whey from casein or liquid-liquid extraction based on polarity and non-polarity. Thus, the wide applicability and robustness of the process will allow teachers to carry out such activities in most conditions including those where resources are a challenge.

Conclusions and outlook
Research projects help students in learning science in a better manner. It broadens the perspectives of the students and teachers/mentors and also underscores the benefits. It may have been a simple project yet it is a crucial base; a stepping stone into the journey of science. The applications of the process and techniques are many which boost the confidence of the person as well as in improving their professional career. Overall, research projects help students in terms of personal growth and development, gain in-depth knowledge, promote proactive approaches, exploring real-world relevance and gain skills such as time management, critical thinking, communication, and creativity. Research also helps teachers improve their teaching practices, explore different learning styles and pedagogical techniques, solve classroom challenges, collaborate with educators and researchers (networking) and stay updated with current research.


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Anamika Sharma works as senior lecturer and Vismitha B.G. works as research associate with the Prayoga Institute of Education Research, Department of Chemistry, Bangalore. The authors can be reached at anamika.aug14@gmail.com.

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