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Dr. Robert E. Belford
How do we make students the stars of their own learning, taking them out of the classroom for simple experiments and enabling them to share on the web, their experiences, pictures, and results? This was the main goal of the Global Experiment, addressing key objectives of IYC, namely to increase public understanding. The theme Water–A Chemical Solution was chosen to invite students to explore one of Earth’s most critical resources.
A dedicated website for the Global Experiment was designed to disseminate the experiments protocols, upload the results, view all deposit data, and share stories. The interactive site—available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese—engaged young people to take part in celebarting IYC and to learn about the relationship between water and many of the world’s current problems—from food shortages to climate change—and how chemistry plays a fundamental role in understanding and resolving these challenges. Four experiments were designed covering acidity, salinity, filtration and distillation.
Since launching the Global Experiment on World Water Day in March 2011 in South Africa, 80 000 students from over 80 countries have shared their results on the website. Central to the success of the Global Experiment was the use of social networks, which allowed students to shared experiences, photos, and concerns in real time through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Flickr. By using these social tools, students created their own communities of friends sharing interest in chemistry.
The Global Experiment website: http://water.chemistry2011.org
Javier Garcia Martinez & Rovani Sigamoney
One study shows that 96% of the students with online access reported that they used online social media, and nearly 60% of those students use these online tools to discuss education-related topics and more than 50% reported that they use them to discuss schoolwork to support their education. 1 Recognizing the potential risks of irresponsible use of the web, there is great potential in the new social networking technologies to reach our kids using their own language and help them find their own interests. In many cases, this simply consists of using their channels of communication to share information. In other cases, it means creating opportunities for them to share and create content that is useful for them.2 The central idea behind student-driven education is that the kids would be the main actors of their own learning by having them leave the classroom for simple experiments related to daily activities, and then enabling them to share their experiences, pictures, and results on the web.
The Global Experiment of the International Year of Chemistry,3,4,5 has been a wonderful opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of students through social media for education and science. The various experiments were designed to require minimal equipment and resources, and the protocols drafted by an international team of educators. A dedicated website for the Global Experiment was created so that one could download the instructions for performing the experiments, upload the results, and view the data obtained by other students from around the world. The interactive site—available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese—also served as a clearinghouse for teachers and affiliated centers. It was designed for young people to actively participate in IYC and learn about the relationship between water and many of the world’s current problems—from food shortages to climate change—and how chemistry plays a fundamental role in understanding and resolving these challenges. When all of the results of the experiment were posted by students, an impressive map began to emerge that illustrated the contributions from all schools, colleges, or institutions involved around the world.
Figure 1. Data collected by students displayed on maps that show the different values according to their value, location and number of participants.
Activities related to the measurement of water quality:
• Acidity: Students learned to take measurements of local water pH using various indicators. Next, they were taught to use techniques for checking the reliability of the results obtained.
• Salinity: The salinity experiment enabled students to measure the salt content of water samples by evaporation and until the sample is dried to constant weight.
Activities related to water purification:
• Filtration: In this activity the students constructed a filtration unit and evaluated its efficiency and capacity using a sample of local water. As with other activities, the data generated contributed to a global map of the results.
• Distillation: During this activity, students investigated an alternative way of purifying water using solar energy and the process of distillation. Additionally, students had an opportunity to design and build their own distillation system.
Social media is a powerful tool embraced by the youth and which offers new opportunities and challenges for educators to engage their students. Central to the success of the Global Experiment was the use of social networks, which allowed students to shared experiences, photos, and concerns in real time through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Flickr. Using these social tools, they were able to create their own communities of friends who shared their interest in chemistry. From the beginning, the Global Experiment was intended not just as an activity for youth. Instead, with the tools that social media provided, the experiment quickly evolved to become an activity by youth—a student-driven initiative allowing interaction through virtual communities. Both the students and the teachers are to be thanked, and each school that participated in this activity received a certificate of participation.
Figure 2. Interactive tool contained in the website of the Global Experiment including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Recently, the Global Experiment was part of a competition organized by Visualizing.org, in which computer programmers worldwide were asked to develop software that could view, compare, and analyze the vast amount of information we gathered over the past year. In the spirit of the Global Experiment, this challenge was developed in a collaborative way so that from an initial design, programmers could create a more effective tool together than any individual programmer. The end result is an interactive map that displays all data sorted by type of experiment, the source of the water sample, and location.
Figure 3. Developed specific software for viewing, comparison and analysis of the results of Experiment Global created collaboratively by programmers around the world through the competition organized by Visualizing.org
The yearlong Global Experiment – Water: a Chemical Solution has been quite remarkable both educationally and socially. All of us in IUPAC and UNESCO are very grateful to everyone from around the world, who worked so hard to make GWE possible, but most importantly, we’d like to thank all the teachers and students who embraced the Global Experiment – they were the ones who made it truly global and made it such a success.
 Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social—and Educational—Networking. National School Boards Association. 2007.
 Javier Garcia-Martinez, Chemistry 2.0: Creating Online Communities, Chemistry International, Jul-Aug 2010, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 4-7.
 The Global Experiment website: water.chemistry2011.org
 Tony Wright y Javier Garcia Martinez, Water: A Chemical Solution - A Global Experiment for the International Year of Chemistry, Chemistry International, Sep-Oct 2010, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp 14-17.
 Javier Garcia Martinez, The Global Experiment for the International Year of Chemistry, Water: A Chemical Solution, Chemistry International, May-June 2012, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp 14-17.
 Visualization Sprint: www.visualizing.org/sprint/global-water-experiment or www.chemistry2011.org/about-iyc/news/GWE_sprint_visualization/