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Hands-on science teaching: combining formal and informal science learning

Final Report Summary - HaNDS-ON BRAINS-ON (Hands-on science teaching: combining formal and informal science learning)

The HANDS-ON BRAINS-ON project combined formal teaching and informal learning by the pedagogical hands-on methods originally developed in science centre context. These best practices were now converted and moved into the formal education via teacher training. During the 24 month period (December 2005 to November 2007) the eight science centres developed their educational programmes for primary schools in cooperation with school authorities, universities, teacher education institutes, schools, and pedagogical organisations.

The main target group was primary school teacher education (in-service teachers and teacher students). The critical mass was received: more than 8 000 teacher training days was arranged. This was high above of the original goal (= 5 000). Evaluation and survey of the results took place by mapping the key elements of curricula finding new effective ways to advance learning in science centres and teaching at school. A web-based validation tool for teachers' feed-back was developed, tested and trained via the Xplora portal. The results were presented and disseminated in three conferences and five seminars by all-European organisations ECSITE - Science centre and museum network, EUN - European Schoolnet and ESHA - European School Headmasters Association. The essential content goal received was bringing modern, interactive science exhibitions combining the best practices of informal learning and formal education. Main pedagogical results was finding the key elements of curricula to teach the scientific research process based on learning in science centres and teaching at school. Also the latest research results related to the affect of the informal learning sources especially as to create opportunities for girls was used and further developed in this project. 'The aim of hands-on-based methods is not solely to produce more scientists and technologists; it is also to produce a new generation of citizens who are scientifically and technologically literate.'

Although the quality of the teacher training is important, it is also important to ask, why this project succeeded to reach such the critical mass? It is not only because the science centres have inquiry based content, but the networking idea behind the project. First, with the cooperation with educational administration and organisations, like ESHA, it was possible to find and recognise the key elements of curriculum in different countries. Secondly, each science centre was utilising the pedagogical expertise of the local teacher training institutes, and these experiences were shared in the project meetings. For example, the laboratory working in Milan, Tallinn, and Vantaa, Finland, was giving impacts to all partners. This is the lesson to be learned also for the future projects.

As the Rocard-report states new forms of teacher training are essential for the future project: 'Teachers are the key players in the renewal of science education. Among other methods, being part of the network allows them to improve the quality of their teaching and supports their motivation. Networks can be used as an effective component of teachers' professional development, and they are complementary to more traditional forms of in-service teacher training and stimulate morale and motivation.' The dissemination of the results is essential, and it is important that the European networking can take place both in the human and web-based virtual level.

What was the main feed-back of the teachers attending the project HANDS-ON BRAINS-ON? According the recent article in the ECSITE newsletter (summer 2007) and the survey administrated by the University of Helsinki - Department of Applied Sciences of Education, the teachers attending the process underlined as the main characteristics:
- innovative learning approaches
- integration of other learning environments than the school
- differentiated learning depending on different ways of perception.

The main element was, however, moving from teacher-controlled learning to pupil orientated learning with context-related knowledge. It was also important that the teachers were no impressed about the technology itself but seeing information and communication technologies (ICT) as connection between learning environment, an instruction tool. This can lead in best case according the teachers' interviews into changes in roles and responsibilities of pupils and teachers.