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View the documentNon-school science education: A case study from France

Non-school science education: A case study from France

Jean-Marie Sani

Introduction

This article attempts to show how a non-school educational institution can be a valuable resource for complementing school-based education, and how it can be a place of innovation and experiment.

A typology of science museums

It is possible to place science museums into three categories, which have developed over time:

Collection museums are the most traditional - the museum is based on a collection. A principal disadvantage of such museums is the separation of the visitor from the objects on display. Direct contact and manipulation of real objects have obvious advantages over the simple viewing of artefacts.

Demonstration museums. In the second type of museum, demonstration of facts and mechanisms - ‘how things work’ - is very important. The origins of this type of museum can be found in the eighteenth century, but they are more closely related to universal exhibitions organized in many large cities during the nineteenth century.

Interactive exhibits. The third and most recent category is a type of museum where the emphasis is placed on possibilities for direct interaction between the visitor and the exhibition. Different types of information may be obtained depending on the actions performed on an object by different visitors, who will, in turn, react differently to the results of their actions. Computers may serve as an excellent tool for organizing such interactivity between visitors and exhibitions.

The majority of modern science museums are a combination of these three types. Examples are the Exploratorium in San Francisco, United States of America and the Cites Sciences et de l’Industrie, France.

The Cites Sciences et de l’Industrie

The main purposes of the CitI> are:

· to provide visitors with scientific, technological and industrial knowledge and know-how on phenomena and issues affecting their daily lives;

· to provide a forum for debate on current developments in science and technology;

· to operate as a resource centre which relays information from various partner institutions for the benefit of visitors (such as the service provided by the ‘Cites mers’);

· to be a centre for innovation in the fields of communication, education and training in science and technology issues, in partnership with institutions operating in these fields.

Its services consist of:

Exhibitions. These are the most important resources: different exhibitions (permanent or temporary) whose aim is to help visitors understand the effects of the development of science and technology on human life. They combine possibilities for observation, demonstration and hands-on interaction by visitors.

‘Explora’. This is the main exhibition: 30,000 square metres on subjects as varied as the environment, communication, health, astronomy, energy, sounds and space.

‘Cites enfants’. This comprises two permanent exhibitions, for 3- to 5-year-olds, and 5- to 12-year-olds. The subjects include machines, communication, the human body and other aspects of biology. There is also a temporary exhibition on the topic of electricity.

‘Techno Cit146; is a particular exhibition on technology, intended for teenagers, where the visitors can have real contact with diverse objects, and where teamwork is very important. The exhibition is organized in five sections and each one can be reserved for a class of pupils for ninety-minute sessions.

Its resources are as follows:

‘Mathe’. This is a multimedia public library with 300,000 books, 3,000 films and a variety of computer software. It offers an excellent complement to the exhibitions.

‘Salle science-actualit#146;. This exhibition is a presentation of current developments in science and technology, assembled by a team of journalists. It is renewed monthly.

‘Cites mers’. This service space is organized in collaboration with external institutions, where visitors can obtain information on career orientation, vocational education, training, and employment. There is a strong emphasis on the evolution of the job market according to the development of science and technology.

Entertainment theatres. Different places of entertainment complete the complex. These include: (a) the ‘Ge’: a hemispheric cinema theatre; (b) the ‘Planrium’; and (c) the ‘Cinaxe’: a dynamic cinema theatre in which the room moves alongside the film.

These places receive from 3.5 to 4 million visitors a year.

The educational policy of the ‘Cit146;

Support to teachers: A variety of suggestions are provided to teachers relating to projects they may wish to carry out with their classes. These are merely suggestions - not directives - and teachers are free to select their own projects. The orientation and documentation services of the CitI> are available to schools in support of educational projects. The CitI>’s resources facilitate the development of both the content and process of projects:

· content: work on transversal topics which demonstrate the effects of science and technology on society (daily life, professional life, society’s choices, economy);

· process: access to the diverse media available at the CitI> in order to learn how to exploit them effectively to answer questions posed by educational staff at the museum.

A multidisciplinary approach: All the themes proposed by the CitI> to classes or teachers are multidisciplinary. This is recognized as a good approach in education, and a necessity for a holistic view of the impact of science and technology on society. To carry out multidisciplinary projects teachers have to:

· use resources which are themselves organized in a multidisciplinary way;

· favour connections between scientific and technological subjects through transversal topics;

· favour treatment of topics using scientific, technological, industrial, social and economic perspectives;

· illustrate the large social debates generated by the evolution of science and technology.

The organization of the educational projects

In the museum, school classes can carry out activities that they are unable to do in the school. On the other hand, there are certain important activities that must take place in the school. Thus, the teacher has to use the educational project method, covering a certain time frame, and incorporating activities scheduled before, during and after the visit:

Before the visit. The activities include:

· work on the topic and emergence of a set of questions, originating in the pupils’ existing conceptions;

· organization of the project material, budget, transportation and timing. Prior to visiting the museum, pupils know that the visit’s aim is to collect information on a particular topic.

During the visit. Activities will include:

· resolving the original question/problem;
· acquisition of methodological tools;
· collection of information in terms of knowledge and know-how;
· writing up a brief synthesis;
· extending the topic to related subjects that appear relevant during synthesis.

After the visit. In this last phase the following activities are important:

· sharing of acquired information;

· organization and reformulating of the information, for instance in the form of a report, school newspaper or exhibition;

· complementary research, using other resource centres (libraries, museums, factories).

It is very important to involve the pupils in a variety of activities. An example of a possible sequence is as follows:

· determine a research subject;
· identify the pupils’ preconceived ideas;
· prepare a set of questions;
· apply a research method, starting from the set of questions;
· evaluate the new knowledge that has been acquired;
· measure the evolution of the pupils’ knowledge compared to the initial subject.

This sequence may be adapted to the pupils’ level of ability, providing for individualized progression.

The role of the teacher

In this type of environment, and in such a didactic relationship, the teacher has a precise role to play. This role is, of course, often evident in the school, but it is probably needed more in a place like the CitI>. The teacher’s role is not to deliver ready-made information to the pupils, but to orient and guide them in the process of structured research, giving them the opportunity to ask their own questions, develop problem-solving techniques, make their own discoveries, and arrive at carefully thought-out conclusions based on scientific evidence. The teacher should help pupils to: formulate questions; organize their research; critically analyze and summarize the results; and formulate new questions based on the outcomes. The teacher must also evaluate the final results.

Conclusion

The role of the staff at the CitI> is to assist teachers in exploiting the museum’s resources to the best advantage in the realization of class projects. The most effective approach is a collaborative transdisciplinary project, with several teachers from different disciplines working as a team, and with activities carefully planned before, during and after the visit.

Present policy priorities

Beyond to the CitI>’s general and long-term objectives, specific short- or medium-term objectives are formulated (covering a year to several years). These presently include:

· the development of experimental activities;

· the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education;

· work with disadvantaged publics in a strategy of partnership;

· focus on a multidisciplinary and systemic approach;

· provision of information and developing knowledge about training, jobs and careers, and vocational education;

· focus on lifelong learning;

· promotion of international development, especially in the field of science and language projects.

The role the Citould like to play in the formal educational system

The CitI> provides a place where teachers may practise innovation in science and technology education, with the help of tools, training and documentation. It aims to make available to teachers and pupils quality information on the latest developments in science and technology as they relate to the scientific and the industrial communities. The ultimate objective is to foster the introduction of new practices and methods in the whole education system. The museum’s close relationship with the formal education system allows it to be a laboratory and place of innovation for new educational practices. A similar role may be played by diverse non-school learning institutions in all countries: museums, libraries, industries, research institutes, art exhibitions. The development of partnerships between the school and non-school learning institutions opens up a wealth of exciting possibilities for innovation and change in the organization and practice of education.