Evaluation of Bacterial & Fungal Culture Practices in School Classrooms

By Weese, J. Scott | The American Biology Teacher, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Evaluation of Bacterial & Fungal Culture Practices in School Classrooms


Weese, J. Scott, The American Biology Teacher


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A wide range of activities may be undertaken in elementary and secondary school science laboratories as part of regular curricular activities or optional classroom activities, including science fair projects. Among these is the culturing of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi. There are various potential educational opportunities associated with these activities, however there are, as well, inherent biosafety concerns associated with culturing of certain materials or microorganisms. In diagnostic and research laboratories, strict biosafety protocols are mandated to reduce the risk of laboratory-associated infections. Currently, the author is unaware of any objective information regarding culture practices used in school classrooms and whether there are any potential health and safety risks that are not being adequately addressed. Further, specific guidelines for bacterial or fungal culture in school laboratories appear to be either superficial or lacking, and are not based on evidence regarding current practices. The objective of this study was to characterize bacterial and fungal culture practices in classrooms in schools.

* Materials & Methods

A survey regarding culture practices in classrooms was developed and tested with a small group of science teachers. The refined version was administered as an online survey. An invitation to participate was sent by e-mail to members of the Science Teachers Association of Ontario/L'Association des Professeurs des Sciences de l'Ontario (STAO/APSO). Membership in STAO/APSO is voluntary and consists of approximately 2,000 teachers, primarily from Ontario, Canada. All members whose e-mail addresses were on file with STAO/APSO were eligible to participate. A reminder was sent approximately two weeks later as part of a STAO/APSO newsletter. The survey was anonymous and confidential.

Teachers were queried about their demographic information, education, teaching experience, and whether students had per formed bacterial or fungal culture in their classroom during the preceding five years. For teachers who responded affirmatively, the following areas were further evaluated: location where culture was performed, types of materials cultured, substrates used to grow cultures, whether any students were restricted from Coming into contact with culture materials, biosafety practices, hand hygiene, biosafety training, and desired resources.

Descriptive statistics were used. Categorical comparisons were performed using a chi-squared test. This study was approved by the University of Guelph Research Ethics Board.

* Results

Demographics

Ninety-three teachers completed the survey, 19 (20%) elementary school and 74 (80%) secondary school teachers. There was a wide range in teaching experience, but most of the teachers had zero to five years of experience (33% of respondents). Eighty-three (89%) stated that science teaching was their primary teaching responsibility, while for the remaining ten (11%), science teaching was only a minor component. Sixty-seven (72%) had a B.Sc. in a science-related field, while 18 (19%) had completed an M.Sc. or Ph.D. in a science-related field. Seven (7.5%) had taken some science courses at the university or college level while one (1.1%) had no formal science education.

Incidence & Associations

Fifty-nine (63%) respondents reported that students in their classroom performed bacterial or fungal culture over the preceding five years. This was significantly more common among secondary (54/74, 73%) versus elementary teachers (5/19, 26%)(P=0.0002). There was no association between the number of years of teaching experience or the teacher's formal scientific education and whether culture was performed (P=0.58 and 0,36, respectively).

Culture was performed as part of a mandatory classroom activity in 53 (90%) of the cases, while as part of a science fair in four (6. …

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