How to pass on the taste of science?

How can plants help to pollute nature? This question, which confuses many adults, is the subject of an experiment conducted by about fifteen children between the ages of 7 and 11, who gathered this afternoon in a room of the neighborhood center on the Montmousseau plateau, popular in Ivry-sur. -Seine (Val-de-Marne). The workshop is organized by 26-year-old Barbara di Silvestri. He says in a strong but restrained voice to cover a certain trifle: “You have been handed two glass containers, one filled with water and coffee – this plays the same role as the place – “the other vacuum. You have too. in front of you is a sheet of paper towel. With this sheet, you will transfer the coffee from one pot to another and make a bridge to remove the water.

Taste for experience

No one, no two, the children begin. 10-year-old Vivienne thinks she has found a solution. Under the watchful eye of his younger brother Eric, he covers the full pot with a paper towel and tries to transfer the water from one pot to another. “That’s not what Barbara explained to them, but it could work that way,” notes Léo-Paul Grellier, coordinator of Petits Debrouillards Île-de-France, the association that organizes this week-long course to make science fun. The main thing is to let them experiment even if it doesn’t work, they have the right to make mistakes.”

The program developed by Les petits débrouillards Île-de-France aimed to raise children’s awareness of biodiversity in urban environments. “My favorite was our trip to the Jardin des Plantes zoo. I saw rabbits and pandas!” marvels Aaron, 11. “We explained to them the dangers affecting different species, questioned the principle of the zoo and showed the beauty of the different forms that life can take,” concludes Léo-Paul Grellier.

Back to the transfer exercise. Children more or less managed the manipulation. “This is how trees drink water through their roots. It’s called capillarity, a complicated word that doesn’t need to be memorized,” explains another host. Plants also play a role in filtration in this way. lands.” To end the session, the children make bird feeders. They are given half of an orange or tangerine peel, which they pierce with a toothpick tied with a string. Animators will put things there that will be food for sparrows and crows: mealworms mixed with seeds and margarine. “You can take it home and hang it on your balcony or window,” suggests Barbara.

Playful learning

Experimenting with the risk of making mistakes, revealing the fun nature of science… This is the spirit of the Les petits débrouillards network, which has been active for almost three decades in schools and recreation centers to raise awareness of experimental scientific methods among young people. . These are, in fact, rarely used in school curricula… the reason for the French love of science? Some would add to this the less appetite of teachers for these subjects: in primary school they themselves have a more literary than a scientific background. Providing them with better tools is the goal of the La main à la pâte Foundation, which was initiated in 1996 by Nobel laureate in physics Georges Charpak. “We prefer teachers to take a less theoretical approach – say, for example, ‘water boils at 100 degrees’, and a more inductive approach: asking students to follow the evolution of temperature, to write on the board to come to the same conclusion…” – explains director David Jasmin.

But for a school teacher, time is short when there is a lot of knowledge to be imparted. “The famous “reading-writing-counting” triptych has been exaggerated. Today, if we add to it secularism, persecution, moral and civic education, we will see that everything becomes important except the sciences…” David Jasmin laments. . This excess of priorities and profiles of teachers, who are not always satisfied with these subjects, leads to an indisputable observation: the thirty-seven hours allocated to physics, chemistry, life and earth sciences in elementary school programs per year are partially reduced. on the side of the road.

Mathematics, which remains the main selection criterion in secondary school, still leaves out the majority of students, as international rankings regularly show. Numerous Fields medals awarded to the French (2), including most recently, Hugo Duminil-Copin (read our interview below) – are the flattering laurels of the classes in a very bad situation. Because the results are exciting. France has lost its position even more in recent years. In the latest Timss survey of 2019 (1), the evaluations of CM1 students show that our country is in the second and last position among the thirty-two countries tested.

National Education Minister Pap Ndiaye wanted to show he saw the scale of the problem by reintroducing a mandatory hour and a half in the subject from the start of the 2023 academic year. have not chosen a specialty. The result of student dissatisfaction with math: fewer teachers are trained in the subject, more college and high school hours are lost due to teacher shortages…and standards are falling. An unfortunate vicious circle.

Changing the image of mathematics and making them accessible to the general public is the dream of Maison Poincaré, which will open next summer in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. A museum for everyone from fourth graders. 900 m2 will present computing machines, documentaries, practical experience spaces… “We will find, for example, a soccer ball, a simple object, where we can go quite far in geometry, – explains mathematician and director Sylvie Benzoni. Henri-Poincaré Institute , the initiator of the project. What does it mean to make it out of leather? What shapes are used: hexagons, pentagons? We will also explain the face hidden in the bank card, that is, the cryptography that makes it possible to ensure exchanges between the bank and the customer.

General culture

Not long after the Palais de la Découverte opened in 1937 and the City of Science and Industry (1986), mathematics would finally have its own museum. Not to mention the venues for scientific exhibitions in many French cities in recent decades, such as the Espace des Sciences in Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine) and the Musée des confluences in Lyon (Rhône). “However, if we look at the total number of museums dedicated to science, we realize that this main area of ​​culture is minimized,” laments Sylvie Benzoni.

However, sciences can create sparks when shared with passion. The success of the program is proven by the audience for almost twenty years It’s not rocket science. in France 3, peaking with a market share of up to 30%. Its star host, Jamy Gourmaud, hosts today Jami’s world on the same channel. Four or five two-hour popular programs a year, this time in prime time. “I am campaigning for the integration of science into the general culture. I am not specifically appealing to children, but to a lay audience. I want to be interested in people who will never make a career in science, who will never know how to solve an equation, but will allow themselves to be lazy. Galileo, Pasteur, Einstein, our wonderful scientific heritage enchanted by”.

In addition to his TV shows, Jamy Gourmaud has his own YouTube channel, Épicurieux. Like other successful scientific influencers such as mathematicians Yvan Monka or Mickaël Launay, he measures the impact of his short online videos on the general public. “They reach many people who have turned their backs on other media and work through word of mouth. We must take these new educational approaches seriously,” the journalist insists. As in TV, the best recipe remains “enjoyment above all else”! When understanding a phenomenon, the researcher has a feeling of lifting the veil that separates it from reality. It’s exciting, it’s satisfying. This pleasure must be shared there. with as many people as possible,” continues our popularizer.

An informed citizen

If science can give pleasure, it also makes it possible to become an enlightened citizen. Philosopher Elena Pasquinelli testifies: “Climate scientists point out that the general public does not know how to read a graph of rising temperatures, or that these data are collected over a very long period of time, ten or a hundred. However, without a scientific culture, global warming How can we really understand? In matters of health, food or climate, most people fall into the following alternative: either sign a blank check to those in power and the knowledgeable, or maintain the principled invalidity. Removing this would allow every citizen to make their own decisions honestly.” . Questioning the environment at the source of any scientific approach also opens up new horizons. A person who awakens to the interests of nature from a tender childhood will be even more amazed by its beauties. will see and question it a will define new elements to continue. the circle of virtue,” the philosopher notes. Or how science can think.

(1) Timss (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) is an international comparative study that measures the level of academic knowledge in mathematics and natural sciences of CM1 and 4th grade students.
(2) Equivalent to the Nobel Prize in Mathematics.

Passport for employment

In a study published in November 2022, the CNRS revealed that mathematics alone directly or indirectly covers 3.3 million jobs in France, or 13% of workers. Beyond mathematics, if we add needs such as digital technology, robotics, ecological transition, energy, agronomy, health, many sectors require scientific skills. In addition to vacancies for highly skilled engineering professions, job offers for technical and artisanal professions are legion: forest managers, computer technicians, carpenters, joiners, welders, plumbers… Science requires not only intellectual skills, but also manual skills.

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