Go back to article: Museums theme – Science vs technology in a museum’s display: changes in the Vienna Museum of Technology with a focus on permanent and temporary exhibitions and new forms of science education

Giving science learning time, space and meaning

Research into science teaching also focuses on the cooperation with non-school institutions and locations for learning. Thus, the cooperation project also aimed to establish positive interaction between schools, the University of Education Vienna and Technisches Museum Wien. The concept of hands-on science learning here was designed to create learning opportunities by allowing the participating institutions to complement each other and use each others’ resources in a form of ‘complementary didactics’.

Encouraged by this underlying concept, by the wide range of science issues taught in the individual classes and by the vast variety of the objects available from the Museum the project leaders decided not to opt for a fixed programme. Instead individual ways of learning and teaching were to be found for each class. The challenge here was to pinpoint the best resources, methodology and procedure for the topic chosen by the class. In this way, key questions formulated by the class formed the basis of their science project and the processes it involved. Thus, the project was also defined as responding to the individual needs of, and providing individual support for, all participants. Careful monitoring and supervision was designed to meet the high standards of complex education processes in a flexible, demand-oriented, topical, and both practical and theory-led way.

Figure 16

Colour photograph of a young girl using a microscope

Children working with microscopes at a hands-on science workshop

i.    Methods

Hypothesis-led learning in principle includes these basic steps:
1. Conjecture
2. Observation
3. Argumentation
4. Hypothesis development
5. Hypothesis testing

Depending on the specific issue at hand, only a selection of the above steps proved necessary. An opening workshop introduced the class to the thematic focus (or research project). The children are invited to contribute preliminary ideas on the process to come. At this point, it may be helpful to ask the children to start a project portfolio (research file) which they use to collect all the material they are going to assemble throughout the project. If required, this first session can also be used to set off an evaluation process by means of an ex-ante questionnaire investigating the status quo for comparison with the results at the end of the project. The method of anchored-based learning uses a recurrent object (doll, mascot, etc., like ‘Twinky’ in Figure 17) to ‘guide’ the children through the individual modules of the project, help them overcome initial barriers and to provide an anchor for individual learning steps throughout the project. This method is particularly suited for heterogeneous groups, e.g. classes with a high percentage of children whose first language is not German or have a large share of special-needs children.

Figure 17

Colour photograph of an historic wooden percussion instrument in the shape of a frog

Example for a recurrent object – children called it ‘Twinky’

Figure 18

A poster created by school children to display their learning progress within the Museum

A poster made by the children of the same class showing the results of their learning process

Examples of activities over the project progress were:

* Chocolate making (parallel to a temporary exhibition about food making)
* Physics of flight
* Easy physical experiments
* Electricity and magnetism

Starting a ‘research folder’ can be an important didactic step for assessing and collecting material. In a first step – and a boost to their motivation – the children designed the portfolio themselves. Afterwards they were invited to keep all important project-related artefacts – worksheets, other material and ‘personal objects’ – in the folder. For the teacher, the project portfolio proved helpful for evaluation purposes, especially to assess skills acquisition and improvement. Similarly, completing worksheets helped the children to consolidate newly acquired knowledge by answering questions on their own or in small groups. A series of worksheets guided the children through the individual modules, providing step-by-step help for finding the solution to a problem or choosing the appropriate procedure.

Another method is using cartoons, which are particularly well suited for introductory modules. In our case, they were used to invite children to think about the questions of science, research and technology for the first time. Cartoons are also perfectly suited for bilingual teaching. Thus, the topics of ‘Observing’, ‘Classifying’, ‘Defining’, ‘Investigating’, ‘Measuring’, ‘Predicting’, ‘Making Models’, etc. can be used.

Figure 19

Example of a worksheet for school children entitled Observing

Example of a cartoon

In order to investigate the sustainability of the learning activities different questionnaires were used.

Science didactics, as it is understood by the University of Education Vienna, puts active learning at the heart of a teacher’s work, and this is also at the core of the hand-on science approach. Based on a moderately constructivist understanding of learning, this requires an orientation along specific methods, which are translated into cartoons. At the very start of the project it became obvious that language barriers play less of a role in acquiring new skills than originally assumed as almost all participating children came into contact with the subject matter for the first time and thus had little previous experience and terminology to refer to. This was confirmed by the evaluation of the data gathered. This resulted in unexpected improvements in the children’s language and articulation skills, which helped to remove major communication barriers. Thus, children who tended to be quiet in school turned out to be remarkably communicative. This allows us to conclude that non-school learning contributes significantly to the children’s motivation to learn and to their communication skills. It also considerably improved the children’s self-assessment competences.[1] This improvement was demonstrated on the occasion of a final presentation of the two-year project at the Technisches Museum. Various children prepared posters and a ten-minute presentation which was shown on stage of the Museum’s banquet hall. One of the six school classes involved in the project used English for their presentation as they were bilingually educated.

a.    Summary

Until relatively recently, science education research has primarily focused on children’s learning in schools. However, the gaze of the research community has broadened and much more attention is paid to the educational affordances of museums, science centres, botanic gardens, etc. The two-year project had significant impact on different fields and on skills of children. Linguistic competence, logical argumentation and understanding of interrelationships were much more developed comparing with lectures in classrooms. Autonomy, teamwork, communication and social competence were strengthened. In-depth knowledge, understanding of the role and methods of research and familiarity with basic scientific concepts were improved. The stimulating role of a cooperation between schools and museums is now much more evident than before.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170810/009