The team members working on the TuWaS! project have put together experimental materials for subject units linked to the curriculum, such as electrical circuits, adapting the materials to everyday classroom instruction in Germany and packing them in experimentation boxes. These subject-specific boxes are delivered to elementary schools. First, though, the teachers attend all-day continuing education seminars held at the Continuing Teacher Training and Materials Center of Freie Universität, where they receive specific training for the experiments they will later perform with their students.
“Right now, there is a major international movement to foster and support young talent. In terms of the natural sciences, that means we have to start at elementary schools,” says Petra Skiebe-Corrette, who holds a doctorate in biology, heads the NatLab laboratory at Freie Universität, which is aimed at elementary and secondary school students, and leads TuWaS! as its project manager. The initiative aims to provide targeted support, early on, for children’s drive to make new discoveries and to show that learning about math and science is fun and enjoyable.
The Fun of Hands-on Learning
TuWaS! has generated an enthusiastic response. “Without our cooperation with Freie Universität, we would definitely not have been able to perform the experiments in the schools at their current level. It does in fact make it possible for us to teach more challenging material. And it’s fun!” says one teacher at Charlotte Salomon Elementary School in Berlin.
By far the most popular experiment among teachers and students alike is named “Lifecycle of a Butterfly.” In this experiment, children study the stages of a butterfly’s development by raising them from caterpillars in special cages. The children are allowed to give their impulse toward discovery free rein in hands-on science instruction and learn how to put what they have learned into practice – just as they will be asked to do later, in their professional lives.
From Berlin to Taiwan
TuWaS! was established in 2007 as a joint initiative of Freie Universität and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The Berlin Technology Foundation (Technologiestiftung Berlin) and the Senate Administration for Education, Science, and Research support the project, which arose from the EU’s “Pollen” project.
The successful concept has been exported for a long time: Freie Universität is also training teachers and providing materials to elementary schools in the states of Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia. At the international level, the scientists from Berlin support projects in Luxembourg and Turkey and help with implementation in the local school systems. The appeal of TuWaS! even extends to the Far East: Just recently, faculty members from National Taipei University of Education and National Taiwan Normal University visited Dahlem as guests and had the program explained to them.
The tremendous response encourages Skiebe-Corrette and her team. And when they speak of the response, they mean not only the many inquiries they have received from schools, but also – and even more – the colorful thank-you notes from children that team members find inside the boxes of materials: “These caring reactions are exactly the right feedback for us.”