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Looking for contexts

It can sometimes be difficult to relate practical work to the lives and experiences of students. In this step we would like you to share where you get your ideas for contexts.

Miraculous metals

Using newspaper stories of people who have caught MRSA in hospitals can help to bring relevance to concepts like antibiotic resistance. The newspaper article can be used to introduce an investigation into the oligodynamic effect, where metals have antimicrobial properties, using the context of what is the best material for hospital door handles to be made of.

Copper has had many medical uses over the centuries, in radiation protection and recovery, heart disease, controlling epilepsy, wound healing and cancer treatment. But it is also a good example of the oligodynamic effect we looked at in the video in step 1.7.

Students can investigate the oligodynamic effect for themselves and compare it to a real clinical evaluation of the use of copper in common hospital surfaces for the control of MRSA. Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, compared the number of micro-organisms on copper-containing toilet seats (approx. 70% Cu), tap handles (60% Cu) and door push plates (70% Cu) with plastic, chrome and aluminium surfaces respectively, on a busy medical ward.

Applications of the science

Here are a couple of additional ideas for showing where the oligodynamic effect has real-world applications:

  • Smith & Nephew has developed a material called ‘Acticoat’. It is known as a wound management system in that it keeps a hard to treat wound moist whilst slowly releasing silver particles into the wound to fight infection.

  • British soldiers have been issued with anti-microbial underwear in desert climates that includes silver. Silver inhibits cellular respiration, denatures DNA and permanently affects microbial cell membranes so the cells fill up with water.

You could obtain samples of this material and investigate zones of inhibition.


Where do you look for ideas to contextualise your teaching?

If you have tried using a specific context recently, evaluate how effective it was in both engaging your students and supporting your understanding. Share your thoughts to the discussion below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Biology

National STEM Learning Centre