Bringing science to youth – and youth to science – is the two-way rationale behind ‘Xplora', the new European gateway for science education. Launched in early June, this portal knits together teachers, students and research institutes across the continent via a colourful array of services, database projects, chat rooms, cyber-library resources, events and, above all, opportunities to participate in virtual laboratories and experiments.
Xplora is designed to draw the interest of Europe's younger students to the world of science and research. “Research and science start with curiosity. I think this is crucial to encouraging more young people to choose a research career,” Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik recently remarked to students. He and other research policy-makers know that Europe's future ability to innovate largely depends on the talent and strength of the next generations of researchers. Yet not enough young Europeans are entering the R&D realm.
|Xplora makes learning science fun.|
A new push is needed to reverse this trend, and initiatives such as Xplora are part of the solution. Operated by European Schoolnet – a network of 28 ministries of education – the new website has been developed with financial support from the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for Research (FP6) and, notably, from the Nucleus network of EU-funded projects.
Xplora's whole raison d'etre is to make science education fun and interesting for young students. Its playful yet didactic approach to a young audience can be seen right away on the homepage, which amusingly materialises in sequences as a sort of giant eye rising over a lunar-type surface. Indeed, the depiction of an eye-as-planet forms the ‘o' in Xplora's name. Though some of the site's functions and sub-menu pages still need refining, the graphics and flash files very quickly grab one's attention, prompting the user to investigate its services, projects and resource materials on offer.
Importantly, the site is designed as much for teachers as students. There's an on-line library offering a wide array of teaching resources, such as open-source software and research reports, as well as science-related games and simulations.
Uniting web-heads in science!
One Xplora features that is likely to gain wide popularity among teachers is its facility for web experiments. These offer distinct advantages over their conventional counterparts in that they enable teachers to:
European Commission, Research DG
conduct an experiment in class which is too expensive, dangerous or complex for a normal school laboratory
prepare laboratory sessions that can be carried out by students independently, with each pupil applying a predefined set of parameters to the experiment in order to produce common analysis in the classroom
achieve better scientific quality from the combination of experiment-with-database, since many data sets from multiple pupils can achieve real statistical significance