Recent decades have seen science courses in schools, with their dry and sombre tones, upstaged by more glamorous subjects. The Science on Stage festival aims to steal back some of the limelight.
Facts are the bedrock upon which science is built and they should remain sacred. However, the way they walk, talk and dress often puts young people off scientific subjects at the very time Europe needs more scientists than ever. “The great tragedy of science,” lamented 19th century British scientist Thomas Huxley, “[is] the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”
|Italian students strike up good chemistry with the audience|
© Science on Stage
Scientific subjects at schools and universities have seen a gradual exodus in recent years. The increasing complexity of science and the perception that it opens up relatively limited career prospects are partly to blame. But another big problem is the dry and abstract fashion in which science curricula are normally approached in schools, as attested to by many students and a growing number of teachers.
The six-year-old Science on Stage programme is an attempt by a network of like-minded teachers from across Europe – many of whom met last weekend at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, to share experiences and take stock of the initiative's successes and challenges – to inject a touch of glamour, entertainment and fun. There are both national and European awards.
“Science on Stage is clearly having an ever-increasing impact on the national level: inspiring new projects, raising the awareness of the best teaching methods and materials and allowing teachers to network on a European level,” said SoS Coordinator Helen Wilson.
All the world's… a lab
First launched in 2000 as Physics on Stage, SoS – which is backed by EIROforum, a network of seven large-scale European research infrastructures, such as CERN and the European Space Agency – has expanded its remit to cover all the sciences.
The most recent SoS festival was held at CERN in November 2005. Each of the festival's five days had its own theme, including Einstein day to mark the centennial of the great scientist's groundbreaking special theory of relativity. The other days were dedicated to space and astronomy, the life sciences, sustainability, and technology in society.
Thespian teachers and students also trod the boards. Romance and suspense were in the air as José Muñoz Santonja and Ismael Roldán Castro enacted the love affair between a curve and its asymptote and liberated a logarithm from its heavy exponent. Charles Dauwe from Belgium showed the audience that secondary school physics was literally like riding a bike by demonstrating the physical concepts in the curricula with the aid of a bicycle. A group of Italian students brought to life the laboratory of Dmitri Mendeleev as he discovered the periodic laws of chemistry.
Catherine Garcia-Maisonnier from France walked off with first prize for her ‘Building a weather balloon at school' performance and second prize went to Belgian Wim Peeters for his ‘Physics is cool' activity.
The next SoS festival will take place from 2 to 6 April 2007 in Grenoble, France, which is home to two EIROforum facilities, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility and the Institut Laue-Langevin. National activities are already underway in 25 countries to prepare and select projects for the festival, with many competitions and events scheduled for September and October 2006.