LAURABEATRIZFor some years now, the slogan “think globally, act locally” has guided the activities of professionals and people concerned in preserving the environment. An experiment carried out by the Institute of Biosciences of the State University of São Paulo (Unesp), in the Department of Education of its Rio Claro unit, showed that a greater knowledge of the locality can be extremely useful in the formation of citizens capable of improving the quality of their lives.
Headed by Professor Rosângela Doin de Almeida, the project Integrating University and School through Research into Teaching was carried out between the months of March 1997 and May 1999, under the Program of Support for Public Teaching. It put together a team of ten teachers from the areas of History, Geography and Sciences of basic education in the cities of Limeira, Rio Claro and Ipeúna, upstate São Paulo.
The objective of the researchers, all of them members of the Institute’s Group for the Development of Didactic Materials (GDMD) was to produce municipal atlases of the three cities involved, which are located in the region of Campinas, the second most industrialized and populous city in the state. To do so, the researchers made use of an extensive bibliographical survey and of documents, letters and maps containing geographical, topographical, social and human information on the regions. They also fostered specific educational activities in their schools, with the purpose of ascertaining whether the material examined was suitable for the users, children aged between 9 and 13, that is grade 3 and grade 6 – over 500 pupils took part in the project.
“The teachers developed both products and methodologies”, explains Rosângela. Alongside them, two students with a grant for technical specialization in informational technology and cartography, as well as three grant holders studying scientific initiation. Besides the grants, FAPESP contributed towards the purchase of three computers, a printer, a scanner, photographic material and office supplies (for the equipment, the project received R$ 10,700.00 in all). The work resulted in three cartographic volumes containing the following themes: location of the municipality in the country and in the world; political and administrative divisions; road network; districts and sectors of the urban area; rural districts and nuclei; archeological sites; usage and habitation; the city in other times; urban growth; hydrographic basins; management of water resources and basic sanitation.
“Through this atlas, we tried to put the children on the way to studying the environment closest to them. This contributes towards making the youngsters aware of the importance of the conservation of natural resources and of recovering local memory and historical origins”, Rosângela explains. Carrying the project out, though, ran into some difficulties. “The biggest one came, first, with producing the maps that were to be the basis of the atlases”, the researcher explains. “We had at our disposal detailed maps, with a scale of 1:50000, published by the IBGE in 1968/1969. As the maps in the atlases were to have a scale of 1:200000, they were all drawn up on the basis of these IBGE maps, which were very out of date.”
The researchers had to do a lot of reconnaissance in the field to bring the maps up to date. “For example, some rural nuclei of Rio Claro no longer existed, or they had another name. The boundary between Rio Claro and Ipeúna, which on the IBGE’s map was drawn up one way, on the city hall’s map followed a different course”, the teacher says. “In addition to the technical constraints, which show how precarious the mapping of the territory still is in Brazil, we faced difficulties as a result of the working conditions of the teachers from the public schools”, she adds. Despite receiving a grant, which could have made it possible to reduce the workload, this proved impossible for permanent staff, who were obliged to take on a minimum workload of 30 hours a week. “There was a need for a collective weekly schedule, although this only worked properly in the second half year of the project”, she laments.
According to Rosângela, there was a transformation in the manner of dealing with knowledge, on the part of the teachers who took part in the project. “They had to search out the data and information at the original sources”, she explains. The process started with a survey carried out with the teachers of the school network, to decide which themes would be most necessary to the learning of the classes in that age range. But the result was a list of disconnected subjects, so that the researchers themselves decided to define what was most important. For example, historical themes ought to answer the question of the formation of the local territory”, the supervisor explains.
This implies the question: how does the process of settling in the territory of São Paulo explain, in the context of the colonization of Brazil, the usage of the region where the studied municipalities are? What used to be in the region before the village was born? What interests led the first inhabitants to settle in the place?
“The history of the formation of the small town of Ipeúna was practically unknown. The teacher with a grant who was responsible for reconstituting it carried out an exhaustive survey, using methods of oral history and the analysis of original documents obtained from public and private archives.” According to Rosângela, the grant holder managed to establish the periods involved in the formation of the local territory.
This helped explain the current relations between Ipeúna and Rio Claro and between Ipeúna and Piracicaba, through the economic activities that, at different moments, arose in the small town. These activities were always secondary, and subsidiary to these two larger localities. “Which clarifies the reasons for the scant growth of the town, lodged in a very prosperous region of the state of São Paulo”, she comments.
The geography teachers defined the urban space as the principal subject to be represented in the atlases. “The main target for production became the urban area, split into sectors, which would encompass the districts”, says Rosângela. In the sectors, the services, the schools and the health centers were shown. This same information appears in a map of the urban area divided into sectors, which makes it possible to see how these services are distributed over the city. “For the first time, the pupils in these municipalities could locate the street where they lived, the school where they study, and the services that exist (or not) in their districts”, the teacher says happily.
Rosângela points out that, in line with the geographers, the science area drew up the theme of the urban environment, which includes basic sanitation (water, sewage, waste disposal), floods, channeling streams, and green areas. “There were several reasons for giving priority to this theme, over other areas of science”, Rosângela explains. “In the first place, because of the current serious state of the water resources in the region. Members of the Consortium of the Basins of the Piracicaba, Capivari and Jundiaí rivers came to see us, asking for educational material to be drawn up, to be used in campaigns to foster awareness about the quality of the water”, she says.
For Rosângela, for the children to make good use of the atlases produced by the team depends on previous experience. “There still has to be a lot of progress in teaching about the place, to avoid giving the pupil a linear or even jingoist vision of history”, the researcher ponders. She thinks that the pupil first needs to pinpoint the place, the city, on the map. “This calls for the pupil to know what a map is, before using the local atlas, and to master the points of reference for locating a place. This is not something to be acquired simply, it is a job to be done in the primary school, with exercises in learning to read a map”, she says.
In the opinion of the coordinator, research like this is of extreme importance for the formation of teachers in the public school network. “One of the objectives was to lead the teacher to build up knowledge through the production of didactic material. The teachers began to realize the various dimensions involved in this process: discussing the curriculum and its function in the educational process, laying down a selection of content based on the importance to understanding the place, etc. They also realized that they have to be strict regarding the sources of information”, elucidates Rosângela. “And also, what seems to be the main accomplishment, how to deal with knowledge in a critical manner.”
The benefits of the research are summed up in the words of Hélia Maria de Fátima Gimenez Machado, from Rio Claro, one of the teachers involved, quoted by Rosângela: “When I started to report on my experiences, I was able to realize clearly how much classroom experience is the most important research we carry out in our day-to-day. One lesson is never exactly like another, because each situation calls for adaptations and specific development. At these moments, even if we are not aware of it, we are producing our own knowledge, coupling theory with practice, and reflecting on them both”.
Integrating University and School by means of Research into Teaching (nº 96/08372-7); Modality Program of Support for Public Teaching; Coordinator Rosângela Doin de Almeida – Unesp’s Institute of Sciences / Rio Claro; Investment R$ 46,700.00