Learning should be a voyage of discovery. Teachers at the Xplora Science Teachers conference shared their novel approaches to motivating students to treat science as an exciting exploration – and become the new generation of scientists Europe needs.
“A sense of curiosity is nature's original school of education,” the American scientist Smiley Blanton once remarked. However, examinations and the performance-driven, information-intensive nature of science syllabuses can stifle that sense of curiosity.
|Finding the right chemistry in lab classes.|
Science teachers and educators, policy-makers, as well as representatives from the scientific community and industry attended this gathering at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory which straddles the Swiss-French border, to share ideas and experiences on how science can be made more interesting and relevant to students. They examined novel teaching approaches, interesting experiments, the use of ICT in the classroom, as well as the complementary role that science centres, research organisations and industry can play.
“Young people are losing interest in science,” said Stephen Parker, head of education and science at the Commission's Research DG. He attributed this declining interest to a number of factors, including the growing complexity of science, the perceived lack of career prospects, the nerdy and uncool image of scientists, as well as a belief that science is irrelevant to the issues of importance to them.
To address these misconceptions required efforts not just by the individual teacher and school, but also at the regional, national and European levels, he noted. The European Commission is closely involved – and will continue to back – a number of initiatives to promote science education and enhance its image amongst young people. In fact, Xplora and the PENCIL initiative, of which it is a part, are both supported by the Commission.
Delegates got the chance to gain some hands-on experience of various science teaching initiatives, programmes, networks and methodologies at the conference workshops and exhibition. Brigitte Pagana-Hammer of CISCI (Cinema and Science) introduced her project and explored with teachers attending her session how movies could be used in their classroom. “We take scenes from famous films, like Die Hard or Deep Impact, and examine the science behind them,” she explained.
In the coming months, CISCI will release a DVD containing 150 suggested scenes that teachers can use in their classroom either to introduce a particular scientific concept or as part of a multidisciplinary project that could, say, touch upon astronomy, physics, the environment, biology, politics, history and economics.
From manufactured reality, some delegates went on to explore its virtual cousin. For example, Menelaos Sotiriou of the CONNECT project aims to create the classroom of tomorrow by connecting formal and informal learning environments. He began by observing that the workplace and many aspects of society had changed fundamentally in recent decades. However, schools, despite massive strides in teaching methods, had not yet managed to shake off the role of ‘knowledge factories' assigned to them by the Industrial Revolution.
As an increasing number of teachers shift more towards student-centred teaching methods, CONNECT is working to facilitate and accelerate this trend by developing technologies that empower students and provide the missing link between formal and informal learning environments.
We will ECSITE you!
Science centres and museums are another way of raising public awareness of science, they also play an important educational role. “All science centres and museums receive large numbers of students and pupils in an informal learning environment,” said Catherine Franche, the executive director of ECSITE, the European network representing nearly 400 such institutions in 30 European countries. “They have developed and use innovative ways of presenting scientific concepts and have facilities that are often not available in schools.”
But it is not just ECSITE that gets young people all excited about science. Many research institutions and facilities open their doors to the public. For instance, CERN organises hundreds of school visits each year and runs special training programmes for teachers to bring them up to speed with the latest findings in particle physics and how they can be introduced in the classroom.
CERN's Mick Storr and Rolf Landua introduced teachers to the various interactive teaching tools developed by the particle physics laboratory. In addition, Douglas Pierce-Price presented to delegates the activities conducted by the European South Observatory (ESO) to support schools in their teaching of astronomy.
Industry, too, has been getting its feet wet. Representatives from Siemens and Intel outlined the educational programmes they are undertaking to promote science in Europe and other parts of the world, as part of their corporate social responsibility and as a means to ensure their own long-term sustainability by supporting new cadres of potential scientific talent.