How researchers and teachers play a role in building the link between reflection and responsibility in science
Since 2012, the Maison pour la Science en Alsace, located in Strasbourg, France, has been supporting school teachers. To do so, the initiative has received financial support under the Investissements d’Avenir scheme. Such support has made it possible to emulate the model of the French La main à la pâte foundation, which aims to improve science teaching methods in primary and secondary schools. The Maison pour la Science is a laboratory of innovative ideas and practices aiming to improve science education across the board. Specifically, it offers professional development courses to teachers.
The Maison pour la Science involves teachers, the scientific community and businesses in a place of incubation and co-construction, located at the heart of the University of Strasbourg. Training activities for teachers take place both at the university and in schools. These activities are designed to closely meet teachers’ needs. They are facilitated by a partnership with the rectorate, the official administrative entity responsible for education in the Strasbourg area, which is the channel for implementing education reforms in France.
This intiative has allowed researchers from the University of Strasbourg and the University of Upper Alsace to be involved in training the new generations of citizens with the support of their institution. It is an example of responsible involvement of researchers in society.
Closely associating researchers with teachers’ trainers help meet several objectives. First, it helps to make science intelligible and interesting to pupils. This works by establishing contacts with actual researchers, who are involved in science on a daily basis and share how they work in their laboratory. Second, this approach helps teachers — notably in primary schools — being confident when teaching science and making the experience enjoyable.
Third, this initiative also helps in putting teachers in the position of observer and experimenter (adopting enquiry-based approach, in line with the principles developed by the La main à la pâte foundation). That way, they can better convey the scientific method to students. Fourth, the approach also helps to develop interdisciplinarity and multi-grade teaching . Meanwhile, it also facilitates educational team projects in schools, with the support of directors and in cooperation with educational inspection units.
Ultimately, the objective is to create an equal opportunity environment; be it in rural areas, in underprivileged districts as well as fostering opportunities for both boys and girls, and for people with disabilities. The other advantage of this initiative is that it opens up new possibilities — in terms of career diversity and students’ counselling, for example. Finally, all of the above foster critical thinking and education for citizenship, using digital technology.
This initiative has proven to be effective. As Jean-Jacques Schaller, research education expert from Paris 13 University, puts it in his 2007 paper: “A place, through the action network which it fosters and which crosses it, is defined as “learning” place because it allows a trace of the relations translating the actors’ collective action to be left.”
He adds: “Individuals are stimulated to reflect on the collective actions they participate in, generating a collective identity which creates meaning and solidarity. Building an alternative and creative society, does it not first and foremost mean, allowing individuals to assert their own story, their ‘being and doing in society’?”
As part of my own work, I had developed the idea of fostering a close link between reflection and responsibility. The action of the Maison des Science en Alsace fits within this approach. It values reciprocal benefits, a greater awareness of what we do by crossing perspectives, articulating disciplines, jobs and professional contexts.
This ‘sideway move’ appears to be a necessity for engaging all actors in a collective and co-responsible action, taking into account everyone’s own recognised and valued skills.
Mélodie is director of the Maison pour la science en Alsace, Strasbourg, France. She is also scientific adviser and head of training with the humanities and social science research blogs platform Hypotheses.org. In parallel, she teaches at political sciences higher education institution Sciences Po Paris and is co-lead of the Investigations on Living Human laboratory at École Normale Supérieure of Lyon, an inter-disiplinary junior laboratory focusing on philosophy, biomedicine and artistic practice.
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