ScienceLab provides scientific learning and outreach for children aged four to 10, applicable in and outside school. It also gives guidance to families and educators to support this process.
EDUCATIONAL LEVEL (age)
ANALYSIS OF INNOVATION
1. PROBLEM THAT THE INNOVATION TRIES TO SOLVE
Scientific and technological education are one of the essential goals in education for 2020 in the European Union. However, scientific knowledge is largely forgotten by the education system.
The PISA reports have uncovered alarming deficiencies in scientific and technological education. The causes of these poor results can be found not only in the basic level of knowledge of the teachers but also particularly in the approach to scientific learning in schools.
There is little or no science education in pre-school or primary education. Classes in biology and chemistry start when the students are 10 or 12 years old.
2. WHAT SOLUTION IS PROPOSED?
The initiative founded by Heike Schettler provides a model of scientific learning and outreach, applicable in and outside school, that turns children aged 4 to 10 into the protagonists of their own scientific discovery and education process. The children appropriate the necessary knowledge, abilities and skills through a system that helps them ask questions about their environment and to seek answers through experimentation.
The system fosters the children’s curiosity from the early years, regardless of their social and family background. The model was developed with a special effort to reach children from low-income and non-academic backgrounds. As well as providing a learning process for children, it trains the adult population of the learning environment (teachers, parents and non-formal and informal educators) to overcome their fear of science and to feel confident to help children take charge of the learning process.
3. HOW DOES THIS SOLUTION WORK?
ScienceLab started in 2002 as an after-school activity, a programme for children between the ages of four and 10.
It is based on the children’s natural curiosity to understand what is happening in the world around them. Starting from questions that are typical of this age group (Why is the sky blue? Why does water boil?), with guidance from instructors, the children are encouraged to conduct, describe and analyse experiments that will allow them to understand complex concepts and processes in a way that is appropriate and motivating for their age group.
The courses offer a wide range of age-appropriate experiments and guidance on numerous topics in the fields of biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, technology, astronomy, geo-sciences (especially geology). There are now 10 modules that are constantly re-written, taking into account the experience gained by ScienceLab from teaching them.
Courses take place in groups of up to eight children and last 14 weeks, with one unit per week. The teaching approach allows the children to develop gradually, at their own pace, through individual guidance. It also promotes teamwork and linking the knowledge with other subjects, such as geography and history. After rapidly proving that the approach worked, ScienceLab succeeded in being introduced into schools and kindergartens in 2004.
One of the advantages of ScienceLab is that the parents take an active part in the programme: they are left with materials and guidance that help them support their children’s continued learning after the courses have finished.
ScienceLab has succeeded in involving a network of instructors: people interested in this educational area, many of whom are parents or kindergarten and school teachers.
It is also directed at bridging the education gap that results from the social and family background. The programme has made a special effort to reach out to poor neighbourhoods in Germany, to kindergartens where immigrants account for 95% of the population. Here, it has succeeded in offering the same quality education, overcoming language and social barriers.
4. IMPACT INDICATORS AND RESULTS
Because of the evaluation system developed by ScienceLab, it has been seen that the courses significantly improve the children’s observing, analytical, verbal and social skills.
- More than one million children have taken part in ScienceLab activities.
- Between 50 and 100 instructors are trained each month.
- Its programmes are implemented in more than half of Germany’s public schools.
- More than 500 kindergartens have received training.
- Heike Schettler has headed the revision of the curriculum for the Bavarian state education department.
5. INNOVATION HIGHLIGHTS
- Effective pedagogical approach.
- Integration of science learning from the earliest stages of education.
- Methodology continually evaluated and updated.
- Directed to social and educational inclusion.
- Involvement of parents in the process.
- Effective training of instructors, teachers, parents and non-formal educators.
- Availability and suitability of the model to be replicated in different educational environments and countries.
6. GEOGRAPHICAL AREA
Started in Germany. Later on, was implemented in Austria, Colombia, Hungary and France. In Spain there have been sporadic experiments.
7. INCOME MODEL
ScienceLab is now a social enterprise that generates revenue from the students and schools. In the after-school area, the instructors operate as franchisees: they pay a small licence fee plus a sum for continuing training; they fund the courses with a €10 fee per student. Heike Schettler has gained the sponsorship of companies with scientific interests in developing teaching materials and introducing the programmes in the areas in which they operate.