Scientists “in the making” attend conference

The aim of the "Be a scientist for a day" project, which began in January (see previous article), was to introduce 9 to 12-year-olds to the methods of experimental science. On Friday 24 June a full-scale conference for the schoolchildren who took part in the project was held at the Globe of Science and Innovation to mark the end of the project.


"So what do you think was in the box?" The answer was finally revealed to the 650 or so schoolchildren taking part in the "Be a scientist for a day" project. Since the beginning of the year, 29 classes from the Pays de Gex and the Canton of Geneva had been taking part in the project, run jointly by CERN, Geneva University's "PhysiScope" group, the education authorities of the Pays de Gex (Inspection de l’éducation nationale) and Geneva (Service de la coordination pédagogique de l’enseignement primaire) and Geneva University's Faculty of Science and Education.

The 9 to 12-year-old pupils were invited to apply investigative methods to boxes containing unknown objects. To work out what they contained without opening them, they had to become "real" scientists: coming up with hypotheses; designing and carrying out experiments; and explaining their results and their interpretation. They compared their ideas and how they had gone about their investigations through a website. Lastly, the classes visited one of CERN's experimental sites or took part in a PhysiScope event comparing their experimental approach with that of "real" scientists. The schoolchildren had to deal with situations comparable to those faced by scientists looking, for example, for particles that they can't observe directly. At the very end of the project, the children were allowed to open the box (unlike the CERN physicists who are never able to do so!). In addition, each class created a poster presenting one aspect of its approach. 

The conference on 24 June brought together the budding scientists, the same way real scientists gather at international symposiums to present their results. Some 130 children from 6 classes travelled to the Globe of Science and Innovation, while the other classes followed the conference via a live webcast. The President of the CERN Council, Michel Spiro, gave a speech to the children. 

The project was hailed as a success by the organisers. "The ‘Be a scientist for a day’ project requires the children to adopt an original investigative approach; it includes teacher training days, an opportunity for those involved to compare ideas, a digital workspace, creating a poster, and an afternoon conference. It's an innovative project that has comfortably achieved its objectives," says Laurent Dubois, a lecturer in science didactics at Geneva University. "This science awareness project for schools in the area has been carried out in full partnership with the local education authorities, which is extremely satisfying," explains Corinne Pralavorio, who is responsible for CERN’s communications with the local community. "There is room to improve certain features, but on the whole it's been a success for all the partners and participants." The project, which forms part of the continuous professional development programme for primary school teachers on both sides of the border, is likely to be repeated next year. It's even starting to arouse interest outside the region and it may possibly be adapted for use elsewhere.

“What do CERN researchers do? I know that they are looking for what is inside the box, and that they want to go to Mars.” Valéria, 9 and a half, École de Veyrier.

“I’ve learned some great things. I am going to think about doing research.” Sylvain, 10, École de Veyrier.

“In CERN, there are scientist at work, and their box is the entire Universe.” Basma, 10 and a half, École Les Grottes. 

“I know that at CERN, researchers try to accelerate particles to make collisions to see what is smaller than a particle.” Yacine, 10, École d'Ornex.


by CERN Bulletin