A Taste of Green – An implementation of an OSOS project on the quality of olive oils


Image taken from: https://pixabay.com/en/olive-oil-salad-dressing-cooking-968657/  (Creative Commons)


The OSOS project (Open School for Open Societies), is an EU project, involving the “Idis Foundation – Città della Scienza” as a coordinator in Italy, with the final goal of promoting and supporting a renaissance of civic culture based on the idea of common good. The schools are among the main actors of the process, opening up to the territory, trying to reinforce the idea and practice of public ethics, involving students, families and local communities in the perspective of social empowerment. Externally, the project involves the local communities as primary stakeholders, prompting them to take part and assuming responsibility in the innovation process.

In the following paragraphs, you can read about the implementation of an OSOS project in our school in Italy, involving other local community stakeholders. The project on the quality of olive oils involved 12 students attending the fifth year of the course specializing in Chemistry and Materials, age between 17 and 19, and lasted for three months. The students have been assisted by their teachers of Analytical Chemistry, Chemical Industrial Technologies and English throughout the field investigation, the lab experiments and analyses and the writing of a scientific report. The project is potentially the starting point of a network cooperation among members of the local community, which can eventually develop in further experiences and practices in the future.


The pedagogical dimension of OSOS projects

On the pedagogical level, the OSOS approach involves a transformation of the traditional paradigm which considers education as mere transmission of knowledge, based on the reformulation of a frontal lesson by a substantially passive student/receiver. By contrast, the objective here is to move from an activity that begins and ends within the classroom to an activity that extends its boundaries embracing the territory in which the school is located. In addition, the approach of the project goes beyond the boundary of the single discipline and involves an interdisciplinary, or better trans-disciplinary learning, closer to the needs not only of the labour market, but also of the school and the territory. It must always be kept in mind that the educational system promotes ideas to develop critical thinking, and enhances the use of problem solving strategies to change the world around us.

One of the key dimensions of the concept of open school is linked to the culture of inquiry, experimentation and innovation. The goal is to help the students to become protagonists of educational activities that reflect the real educational needs while offering solutions to their local communities.

Each OSOS project is divided into four phases: feel, imagine, create and share.

  1. In the phase called “feel” students are interested in local issues and outline how to deal with them.
  2. In the phase called “imagine” students develop solutions to problems by coming into direct contact with local communities.
  3. In the third phase, called “create” students devise appropriate solutions to the problems they have decided to study.
  4. Finally, in the last phase called “share” they communicate their results inside and outside the school.


Background reasons of our local project

Following the principles and guidelines described above, our chief objective was to have the students focus their attention and develop their investigation on an object that could be at the same time highly recognizable and representative of the identity of the local territory (San Giovanni in Fiore, CS, considered as a significant example of the landscape, economy and society of a vast number of local communities in Calabria and Southern Italy in general). The object had to be something of actual importance in the daily life of the community, involving families, economy, environment and perspectives of development. It was crucial to choose an object that could be representative of the local identity outside the community, arousing attention, participation and interest from other actors, communities, partners and stakeholders. Necessarily, the project had to involve the specific knowledge and skills related to the field of Analytical Chemistry and Chemical Industrial Technologies, in order to let the students experience, test and practice the competence acquired. For these reasons, our choice was to focus on one of the most important and widespread products of Calabrian (and Mediterranean) agriculture: Olive Oil.

Description of our local project

Samples of extra virgin olive oils obtained from the olive trees of the territory of San Giovanni in Fiore (CS), Italy, and samples common brands of extra virgin olive oils sold on the national territory, have been analysed according to EU regulation n. 61/2011 of the Commission of 24 January 2011.

The extra virgin oils examined were characterized by investigating their acidity, the number of peroxides, the rancidity, and the spectrophotometric parameters that provide useful elements for assessing the composition and the quality. Furthermore, the IR analysis provides useful data that help carry out quality control.

Analysis and characterisation of Extra – Virgin Olive Oils (EVO OILS)

The characterisation of olive oils in terms of cultivation variety, geographic origin, genuineness and quality is a matter of great interest for the local community of San Giovanni in Fiore (Calabria, Italy) where the school is located. Oil is an important resource for the perspectives of economical and commercial development of the countries of the Mediterranean. The peculiar features of an oil, determining its quality, depend on several factors, such as technological features (picking, crushing, kind of extraction, fluidification, mixing, filtering), agronomical (kind of plantation, cultivation practices, irrigation, fertilisation), genetical (cultivation variety of origin), environmental and climatic (terrain, climate), ecologic (altitude, light exposure), season or harvesting year.

The learning model chosen to design the present activity is Inquiry-Based Laboratory (ILAB), considered particularly suitable to enhance creativity in high school students, in accordance with the results of the study by  I. Rahmawati, H. Sholichin and M. Arifin, [1].

Chemistry learning with ILAB requires a pre-designed worksheet to guide students during the activities. Students are required to solve a real – life problem, which in this case is to characterise and analyse extra virgin olive oils. The project has been designed combining CLIL methodology and Inquiry-based approach. The tasks and activities of the module focus on contents belonging to Non-Linguistic Subjects (Chemistry and Biochemistry), but at the same time aim at improving the students’ receptive and productive skills in English according to the descriptors of the Common European Framework of Reference.

Given the relevance of the topic and of the activities performed by the students in terms of field experience and concrete technical skills, the project is also meant to provide the students with important hints of reflection concerning their future perspectives of professional growth and career-related choices.

Table 1 shows the design of an ILAB worksheet for this type of report.

 ILAB Activity Task Activity Purpose
  1. Problem identification
Quality control of extra virgin olive oils Students are faced with a real-life problem. In this activity the student must determine the main chemical- physical characteristics of extra virgin olive oils Elicit ideas about acidity, oxidation reactions, pigments, rancidity.
2. Formulating hypotheses Chemical-physical characterization of extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) Students are asked to explain

Case#1: What are the quality parameters that defines the chemical-physical and organoleptic characteristics of olive oils and olive pomace oils? Establish the methods for evaluating these characteristics.

Case#2: How do we classify oils according to the acidity measured?

Case#3: Why do high temperatures, exposure to light and oxygen damage the quality of olive oils?

Case#4: Why does a low number of peroxides not necessarily imply a high quality? What kind of analysis must be performed?

Case#5: Why is it important to perform the UV/Vis and FT-IR spectrophotometric analysis?

To determine which basic principles will be used and how they will be connected;

To make hypotheses on the effects of environmental factors on the quality of olive oils; to perform creative thinking skills;

To choose and practice the necessary technical procedures for each specific purpose;

To research and organise the parameters for the quality characterisation of oils.

3. Design experiments a.       Acid-base titration

b.      Redox titration

c.       Spectrometric Qualitative analysis

Students design experiments procedure by determining control variables, independent variables and their own dependent variables Apply the principles and knowledge previously acquired to verify the hypotheses previously formulated.
4. Collecting data Titrations results

Spectroscopic data

Students collect data from their designed experiment, as well as information needed to test the hypothesis. Practicing volumetric analysis, determination of spectroscopic parameters
5. Data analysis Interpretation of data Students organize and analyse the data,

Connect them to the hypothesis, make predictions, select which

Findings are consistent with the information already possessed.

Developing and applying high-order thinking skills (analysing, evaluating, creating);
6. Conclusion Quality control of extra-virgin olive oil Students describe and interpret the findings obtained based on the results of hypothesis test. Production of a written report with graphic representation of the findings.

Partnerships involved in the project:

Family Families of the students provided home-produced olive oils
University University of Calabria, Italy
Oil factory Oil Factory Fratelli Portaro, Belvedere Spinello, Calabria, Italy.
Municipality of San Giovanni in Fiore (Cs) Education and Youth Policy Department



  • Technical equipment for volumetric and rheological analysis, UV/Vis. and FT-IR spectrophotometry;
  • Samples of olive oils (produced by Portaro Brothers Oil Factory), of different kinds and qualities;
  • Samples of home produced oils from families of the students;
  • Internet access to provide the students with opportunities to search for and evaluate information about global oil production.

To find further information:


[1] I. Rahmawati, H. Sholichin and M. Arifin, Inquiry-Based Laboratory Activities on Drugs Analysis for High School Chemistry Learning, IOP Conf. Series: Journal of Physics: Conf. Series 895 (2017) 012117.


Authors: Andrea Checchetti (Scientix Ambassador) and Donato Martano

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