Making experiments instead of memorising formulas: Getting children into science and technology works better at unusual places for learning than in a classroom. More importantly: Today‘s little researchers might become the scientists of tomorrow.
A visit to the DLR School Lab of the German Aerospace Center is a truly cosmic Experience for school children: There, they handle real meteorites that have been milled to extremely thin and almost transparent discs. This way, they can be studied through a polarisation microscope. This special light-microscope allows the children to literally take an indepth look into the extra-terrestrial rock sample. On the grounds of its structure and the minerals it contains, they identify the region of our solar system the meteorites originate from.
In another experiment, the future scientists learn why astronauts float weightlessly in space. In a miniature drop tower they can attempt at freefalling. “When they‘re research is finished, the students know why the astronauts at the International Space Station ISS don’t get their feet on the ground,” says Christoph Pawek, physicist and director of the DLR- school-lab. Only in the last year, more than 2,800 school students have conducted experiments on all the possible fields of research examined by the DLR. “The most important thing is offering them authentic insight into current research and draw young people’s interest to it”, Pawek states. He knows: “These school-labs can provide key experiences.”
These experiences are also produced by the school-lab of the Helmholtz- Zentrum Berlin (HZB) for materials and energy. The location alone excites both primary and secondary school children: The project days start in the lobby of BESSY II, the HZBs betatron. “Physics is one of the subjects that ranks very low on the children’s popularity scale . We want to change this,” says Kerstin Berthold, director of the school-lab. It seems like they are suceeding: All available places are almost fully booked for this year. Even school classes from far-away districts of the city come here to learn more about spectroscopy, the way an eye works or solar energy in their own experiments. There are further activities planned around the “fascination of physics,” as Berthold says.
Occassionaly the high-tech lab itself travels to the schools in Berlin and Brandenburg. If so, it does this in a 14-m-long truck: the “Humboldt Bayer Mobile”. There are 15 work stations for the students to experiment in biology, chemistry, geography, medicine and physics – from their first own hypothesis to publishing their results in the online expedition diary. Everything one could need for doing this, is in the truck. It is all made possible by science on wheels.
by Chris Löwer