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The classes are packed

In the Institute of Chemistry at Unicamp, where she works as a senior technician, teacher Cláudia Martelli came to be known for her “heroic work” that she carries out at Professor Norberto de Souza Pinto State School, in the Jardim Novo Campos Elísios district, on the outskirts of Campinas. “I was always after glasswork that was not being used, and leftover material to be used with students on the night school”, says Unicamp's researcher, Maria Izabel Maretti Silveira Bueno.

“As soon as she found out about FAPESP's program, through a Campinas newspaper, Cláudia came looking for me”, adds Maria Izabel. At that point, she agreed to coordinate the project to reformulate the teaching of chemistry at the school there. The money released by FAPESP was invested in setting up the (only) laboratory used by the 1,700 pupils at the primary, secondary and levels and night school.

The results soon appeared. A survey showed that the lessons in the laboratory contributed towards reducing dropping out from 30% to 5% at the school. The students signed a petition calling for more chemistry lessons, and the parents of former pupils asked for places to be made available for their children to go back to lessons again. The same survey revealed that the objective of the majority of those who stayed on at school was to get a job, or to be appreciated more at work. “The profile of our pupils is not the same as those who study in the city center, who want to take a university entrance exam.

Here, most of them work as builder's laborers, night watchmen, or helping at supermarket checkouts with the packing. Above all, they need to earn enough for bed and board. Our role is to train them for technical functions”, explains Cláudia. For example: notions of measurement and the preparation of solutions were enough for one of the students, who worked in a biscuit factory, to earn her promotion and to take over quality control.

It is not difficult to understand the progress that the laboratory brought to learning. Before it was implemented, the school did not even have a decent sink for experiments. Now, in the comparison made by the coordinator Maria Izabel, it has a structure that is similar to the general chemistry laboratory for first year students at Unicamp. The environment is made up of two benches in the center and two at the sides. Among the main items of equipment are an optic microscope coupled with a video camera and a multimedia computer. Physics and biology kits make it possible to give practical lessons in these two disciplines as well.

Before the arrival of the new laboratory, the teacher had already tried to liven up the chemistry lessons. She would use creativity to find a way round the lack of resources and to wake up the pupils, tired from work, who often fell asleep in the evening classes. She would do demonstrations with simple resources, like acandle and a glass, material that they very often would bring themselves.

“Once they brought sugarcane juice and baker's yeast, and I brought ammonium chloride. It is an experiment that takes three days, until the mixture ferments. I was able to demonstrate the production of ethanol. As we did not have a sink, while one pupils would throw water on the condenser, with a bucket, another would collect the ethanol in a glass”, says Cláudia. “But this was obviously not enough. There wasn't even a place to wash your hands.”