This article presents my last experience in science communication for physics: ‘Gioca con la Fisica’ an experiential activity dedicated to increase children curiosity and deeper interest to physics and scientific principles at the base of inquiry learning.
In occasion of the European Researcher Night of this year, many of the students in Physics of the Department of Physics in Perugia (Italy) decided to offer something different for the little curious minds that came to visit the internal laboratories and important projects developed within the University itself and other institutions, such as, INFN, CERN, ESS, ISS and many others partners; local and internationally based.
GIOCA CON LA FISICA (Play with Physics) start its journey, this Friday the 29th of September in occasion of the #ERN17, as an educational concept centered to a specific standpoint: design a set of experiments able to help children (elementary and primary) to implement inquiry-based learning by letting them protagonists and consumers of scientific and technological information related to phenomena they face in their everyday life.
The idea started to be planned, having clear in mind the whole frame of the learning and scientific environment our working team wanted to recreate. From the smallest aspects to the biggest ones we face difficulties without saving ourselves from tons of coffee and daily communications, questioning again and again the practical passages and the nature of the related effective outcomes; expected and obtained.
We shared how, during the golden age of childhood, was our inner and intimate curiosity that took us to ask questions within the practices and the group games related to science, playing with materials easily available in our homes or in schools laboratories. Magical places when the science teacher helped us increase our inspiration and methodological framing.
We were trained, starting from our senses to change glance, observing and starting to make (lots of) questions 🙂 For this reason, strong attention was given to scientific content and emotions related to the discovery embedded in the concept of experimental learning. The concept that give reference to the need of a “playing scientific academy” is that learning is reinforced by doing and practice what you hear in words. We start to face the world beauties and enigmas, going through a lifetime journey and sharping multiple capacities of expression and understanding by our senses, manipulation and successive inferences.
The essential characteristics of Play with Physics were developed having as reference inclinations between the learning side that pertain to exact sciences integrated to children’s natural inclination to play, invent and explore.
In fact, is still a miracle how children master these qualities, naturally, without biases or mental walls that block the playful learning aspects of knowledge seeking.
I’m excited that more than hundreds of children participated in this activity in a way that written words cannot fully represent from an emotive commitment. You need to imagine lots of children smiling after special effects with molecular and magnetic reactions made in front of them, fostering their questions and frontal interaction with us. We were stopped by big groups of enthusiastic parents saying us ‘Thank you’, as this activity made them reflect on the pleasure to play with their little loved beings using science as medium of reasoning and understanding how dialogue and the language used is able to make an effective difference. In addition to that, there were a continued atmosphere of enthusiasm created even by the students that came by in our laboratory, sharing the funnies side of science as we did. We were a single team, while students started to help us voluntarily and without hesitating a single second seeing how playful learning is not only fun, but crucial for children’s development.
Gioca con la Fisica showcase the power of play in science education:
- Children felt invited to be engaged in scientifically oriented questions.
- The group interactions increased inquiry learning and reasoning process.
- Children started to make inferences on the phenomena observed after we gave them a specif introduction.
- Children formulated explanations after evidence.
- Children connected explanations to scientific knowledge thanks to the fun and colored environment we re-create for them in one of our Physics labs.
- Children started to communicate between them, justifying their explanations with the help of young researchers (scientists) engaged during the performance.
Having in reference this framework we started to make several suggestions for how laboratory activities and language can be changed to improve students’ skills and understanding of science.
From the enthusiasm and engagement of younger and parents who came by in our Department, during the #ERN17 manifestation we understood that:
- Laboratory activities need to maintain a strong inquiry-based pathway to allow students develop practical skills and increase their understanding of the ambiguity and complexity associated with the empirical work. Science requires time and efforts to give results, and even the small percentage of knowledge is worthy!
- Students need opportunities to play, dialogue and figuring how is important to be engaged in critical discussions as long as they work with their senses.
- It is important to foster young people imagination, encouraging students to construct or critique what they see.
We terminate the activity a bit tired from the long journey and organizing time but full of happiness and sense of wonder on how play is fundamental in the learning process of these little minds. Especially in scientific subjects when they need to develop – from a precise set of activities – the ability to integrate diverse elements saw in different situations and correlate them, by inference, to a specific physics effect.
These beautiful minds can teach us a lot about what need to be done and how is important to invest time and research questions to build works and experiences that point to integrated quality instead of simple and disconnected quantity of projects.
If it is true that we still aspire – and inspire ourselves by – to enchantment and responsibility when we seek results in science communication and scientific research developments, establish a connection to children and students interests is the first frame of reference researchers should interact with. Coherence is a value that nowadays is difficult to be maintained cause its risky and recall more responsibility for tangible choices.
Understanding that who cares on the principles that define education as an untouchable value and desire should provide commitment, making the difference with good ideas and the ability to represent them in practice, is something rare can understand the point that moved us. Why? Mostly for the sheer pleasure of figuring how things work and re-purposing those things at will.
Being passive consumers is not fun nor extraordinary.
For more info and details on the outcomes of GCF setting have a look on the Facebook Page @ThePhysicsLab.
Myself and the team that support GIOCA CON LA FISICA hope this contribution will evidence the role of education and the value of Research in Physics education to extol innovating knowledge and integrated ideas based on needs and natural requests of Young.