Bring the fascination of the science centre into the classroom
Submitted by rau on 29 April 2008
The project in a nutshell
Science Center at School consists of eight mornings or afternoons, spread over at least five weeks. Only the first half-day takes place at a science centre. Here, a science centre employee introduces the project, telling the children what an exhibit is and what they have to think about when they build their own exhibit.
The rest of the project takes place at school. The pupils work in pairs and choose (from a list provided by the science centre) which of more than 20 exhibits they want to build. They then make a technical drawing of their chosen exhibit, thinking about how they are going to make it and how big it should be. The children would like nothing better than to get down to building the exhibit right away; making a technical drawing slows down this process. It does, however, help the children to work in a more organised way and think before they act.
From their technical drawing and a description provided by the science centre, they then build the exhibit. All descriptions and building instructions can be downloaded from the Science Center at School websitew1. Building the exhibits involves sawing, drilling, cutting and pasting. For this part of the project, extra hands are needed in the classroom: two extra people (parents, trainee teachers or colleagues, for example) should be sufficient.
Girls became more technical
What was striking was the fact that most of the girls considered themselves ‘not really technical’ before the project, whereas most of the boys considered themselves ‘pretty technical’. After the project, the children considered themselves on average more technical than before: 7% more children regarded themselves as ‘pretty technical’ or ‘very technical’.
The project is connected with an educational trajectory for enquiry-based learning and learning by design that NEMO has developed in co-operation with the AMSTEL Institute of the University of Amsterdam.
We distinguished a ‘science trajectory’, to which enquiry-based learning is central (didactics of natural sciences), and a ‘technology trajectory’, to which learning by design is central (didactics of technology). An important aspect of both didactics is that it is the process and not the end product that is most important.
Therefore, guidance by the teacher focuses primarily on acquiring an investigative attitude and technical skills. The Science Center NEMO provides a training session for teachers to prepare for the project.
It is important to realise that enquiry-based learning begins only once the exhibit has been built: the finished exhibit makes a physical phenomenon or technical principle tangible, so the exhibits lend themselves well to follow-up research.
Learning by design
The lesson description explains how to design the exhibit, as well as the materials and tools required. However, no quantities for materials are given. Before the pupils can establish how much of each material they need, they must decide how big their exhibit will be. Once they have decided this, they sketch a 1:2 scale technical drawing, indicating how the components should be attached to each other.
The children present their technical drawings to each other and their teacher, asking for feedback. They use this feedback to improve their technical drawing.
Examples of exhibits
Instructions for these and many other exhibits can be downloaded from the Science Center at School websitew1.
Science Center at Schoolis a project of the National Science and Technology Center, the umbrella organisation of Science Center NEMO, the largest science centre in the Netherlands. The National Science and Technology Center is working with the AMSTEL Institute of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands National Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO) and ten primary schools.
The project was financed by the European Union under PENCIL (Permanent EuropeaN resource Center for Informal Learning) project. Under this banner, 14 European science centres and museums worked with schools and universities to try to find new ways of shaping science education.
Help is at hand
If you are interested in this project and would like more information, Science Center NEMO would be happy to help. Contact Amito Haarhuis (haarhuis@e-NEMO.nl).
w1 – More information about the project is available on the Science Center at School website. To see all the English-language lesson materials for this project, click on ‘Primary Education – Teachers’ and then ‘Lesson materials’: www.sciencecenteropschool.nl/index.php?id=95
Amito Haarhuis is the Head of Education at the Science Center NEMO in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.