recess radio program

02/17/05
Hand in the Dough Science
    by John Cech and read by Carol Murphy

“La main á la pâte.” It’s a familiar expression in French, and it means that to really learn about something, you need to put your hand in the dough. This is the title given to an initiative begun in France in 1996, through the inspiration and efforts of Georges Charpak, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1992. With the support of the French Académie des Sciences and other participants from the scientific and educational communities, the goal of this growing program is to develop a context for stimulating science instruction and learning in the public schools.

The initiative has involved the development of an exciting new elementary school curriculm in the sciences, one that many schools in France, and an increasing number around the world, are adopting. It’s a hands-on approach that also asks students to work together to solve problems in teams, encouraging the children to discuss and debate their experiments, observations, and conclusions. This called for some adjustments from teachers who were used to a more highly structured process, in which the teacher remained in control of nearly every aspect of the classroom. By letting the children dig into the dough, so to speak, they had to find new strategies for chanelling the energy and enthusiasm that occurs when young people are given these freedoms to explore and to challenge. Thus, part of the curriculum that has been created for “La main á la pâte,” involves a very rigorous insistence on the development of language, writing, and reasoning skills to go hand and hand with the ebullliant mood of the classroom during these new science sessions. And if a teacher is feeling a bit over-whelmed at first, there is plenty of help, through local and regional workshops, a multi-lingual website that offers suggestions, ideas, and advice, and a network of educational and scientific professionals who volunteer their time and expertise as consultants.

You’ll find much, much more about this innovative program on the “La main á la pâte” website, including testimonies from teachers, researchers, and students who have been invovled with this project. Perhaps the words of eight-year-old Pierre best describe the success of the “La main á la pâte” experience -- from a young person’s point of view: “When we start something new in science we are rather happy, excited,” Pierre writes,“ Often, we forget playtime to go on with the experiments.”

Copyright 2005© John Cech

La main á la pâte.

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