Ligra DS | WeLab and WeMap: an environmental service learning project

The idea of the 'WeLab&WeMap' project was born from the collaboration of a young Italian company, DnaPhone, producer of an innovative portable digital educational laboratory, with the University of Parma in order to raise awareness e form effectively to students of all school levels on the topic of environmental respect.

In 2017 the Pilot Project which involved a network of 35 schools in Parma and its Province with the aim of analysing and monitoring the water quality of rivers and streams, thus contributing to the construction of a map of waterways throughout the province.

Actors involved

The context

The 'WeLab&WeMap' project responds comprehensively to the directives of the Italian government, covering all the points highlighted in the Memorandum of Understanding subscribed on 5 December 2018 by the Minister of Education, University and Research (Marco Bussetti) and the Minister of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea (Sergio Costa). The protocol reads:

"Draw up a National Plan for Environmental Education in Italian schools of all levels to raise awareness among children and young people, from a very young age, on issues such as environmental sustainability and quality of development. With a view to
active citizenship".

Directives in this regard certainly do not stop at national borders: first the strategy
Europe 2020 and theAgenda 2030 then have as their aim smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that attaches great centrality to lifelong learning processes, especially in relation to the issues of environmental sustainability and social justice. The achievement of these objectives is not only a necessity set by the most important European programme, but also a cultural and educational prerequisite inspired by the principles of quality and development.

The Project

The project's teaching approach is based on what more and more studies consider to be the most valid and effective learning strategy, namely "learning-by-doing"learning through action, learning by doing.

The 'WeLab&WeMap' project fully espouses this educational approach, thanks to the adoption of technological solutions designed specifically for 'learning-by-doing'.

The technology behind the project is We-Lab, a portable digital lab designed to create a STEAM lab in a simple and accessible way for all students, using everyday devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The We-Lab platform consists of a Raspberry-Pi-based main module and two functional modules, a microscope and a photometer, driven via WiFi by a dedicated APP. Thanks to We-Lab, the pupils are placed at the centre of the teaching project, protagonists of the measurements (the experience) that will then lead to reflections and insights (awareness) to complete the environmental education course. We believe that the learning-by-doing approach, whose effectiveness has already been amply demonstrated, is particularly suited to the subject matter of this project. Environmental education, in fact, does not aim at the mere acquisition of concepts and notions but wants to make students more aware and responsible behaviour, which becomes an integral part of their lifestyle. We-Lab helps us greatly in this. Thanks to its innovative approach it can be taken outside the school structure for experiences of outdoor training and thus makes it possible to carry out the laboratory teaching activities at the heart of the project ('learning-by-doing', in fact) directly in the local area, further shortening the distance between the student and the object of his or her learning, i.e. the environment around him or her.

Environmental service learning

The results

Service Learning is a pedagogical proposal that combines the concept of community service, i.e. citizenship and voluntary work, with learning, understood as the acquisition of professional, social and educational skills. Thanks to this methodological approach, learning becomes community service and community service in turn becomes learning. Service learning promotes concrete actions of solidarity that students undertake towards the community in which they work. In doing so, pupils test, in real contexts, the skills and competences foreseen in their school curriculum, referred to not only by the National Indications but also by the international guidelines, which explicitly recommend linking subject learning to key or citizenship competences. Thanks to Service Learning, students internalise important values, including a sense of justice, legality, equality and above all respect and care for the environment. Being protagonists in all phases of the project makes them responsible actors, aware that they can determine important factors such as the quality of life of the people around them and the environment in which they live.

The pilot project was completed in May 2019 and has since gathered a lot of support in various fields. "Waterway Sentinels" was indeed presented at the EFSA 2018 conference entitled "Science - Food - Society" and on 7 March 2018 it was awarded with special mention for the best ongoing project at the 'Festival of Service Learning' in Florence. The commission particularly highlighted, among the key points of the project, "the effectiveness of the network (school - university - companies) and the bringing together of the school's educational skills, the scientific-laboratory skills of the university and the technological skills of DNAPhone, in an attempt to respond to the needs of the territory". 

In addition, as testimony to the recognised relevance of the project, a docufilm is being made by Officine ON/OFF - Distretto del Cinema, which will recount the entire adventure and its incredible innovative scope.

Future developments

The project, as it has been presented and implemented in the Parma area, is replicable on any territory near freshwater basins and scalable with reference to the realities involved. It is a ready-to-use project for which the scientific method has already been validated and approved and which requires just a few simple activities on the part of the school.


"Using an innovative tool, students will have the opportunity to analyse the distribution of nitrates in the waters of the entire province, to map critical areas and those that maintain optimal quality. The project will produce excellent measurements and thematic maps and will enable the students to convey the importance of large-scale monitoring actions and the integrated reading of the territory".
Professor Marco Bartoli
Department of Chemical, Life and Environmental Sustainability Sciences, University of Parma
"The project is a clear example of Service Learning, a teaching perspective recently introduced in Italy as well, and characterised by the fact that learning becomes service for the community and service to the community becomes learning. Not only learning related to scientific skills, but also and above all learning that enhances citizenship skills, which see sustainable development and the ecological dimension as a challenge involving every human being".
Aluisi Tosolini
Headmaster of the Liceo Bertolucci network leader
"We are proud to participate in this ambitious project born from the synergy of local realities such as institutes of Parma and its province, universities and Fondazione Cariparma. By involving middle and high school students, Welab & Wemap acquires an important didactic, scientific and social value and transforms the concept of laboratory in schools, which becomes, from a place of observation, a place of experience and practice. A project that, applied capillary to the Italian territory, could provide a real and up-to-date map of the health of our rivers, carried out with a view to broadening the skills of our children but also to raise awareness among families and citizens on sensitive issues related to the environment in which we live".
Alessandro Candiani
CEO & Co-founder of DNAPhone

Contact: education@ligra.it 
More details on the project: https://welab.liceoattiliobertolucci.org/