Science Education in the XXI Century. ICT and Hands-on Experimental Activities.

Science Education in the XXI Century.

ICT and Hands-on Experimental Activities.

Manuel F. M. Costa

Universidade do Minho
Departamento de Física, Campus de Gualtar, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal


Science and Technology has a role of utmost importance in today’ Society and in the lives of everyone of us. Improving Science Education is fundamental as well as effectively setting as major priority to raise the levels of scientific and technological literacy at all levels of our society. Education reforms have been effectuated or are under way in many countries during the last years. The significance of Science Education is becoming a major constituent of school curriculum, comparable to language and literature. Well established pedagogical theories and strategies are being re-analyzed and new approaches tested. We believe that a balanced combination of constructive and conceptual approaches with hands-on experiments’ practices is a valuable and effective solution using the potentialities the recent advances on ICT raised.

Aiming the improvement of quality and effectiveness of Science education in European schools, by promoting an extended use of hands-on experimental activities making use of new ICT tools, the “Hands-on Science” Network was established under the support of the European Commission through the Socrates program.


Hands-on, ICT, constructivism, conceptual learning, physilets.


The pedagogical usefulness and effectiveness of in-classroom hands-on experimental activities is clearly proved in different school levels and disciplines. Recent developments on ICT lead to an easy and enlarged availability of new invaluable pedagogic tools. Computer simulations, multimedia presentations and even virtual laboratories are readily available to all students and educators. In this communication we will report on the use of computer simulations and multimedia material as tools complements or inducers of hands-on experiments.

The development of our societies demands a major effort in the improvement of science education in our schools and in the establishment of a enlarged and generalized scientific and technological literacy in our societies.

In order to be able to cope with the goals of Lisbon’ agenda the EU must grow firm and decided step in this direction. We intend to further prove and make evident the usefulness of hands-on experimental practice and ICT use in Science Education contributing to invert decline of interest among young people for science studies and careers.

The pedagogical usefulness and effectiveness of in-classroom hands-on experimental activities is clearly proved in different school levels and disciplines (1,2). A balanced combination of constructive and conceptual approaches with hands-on experiments’ practices is a valuable and effective solution that using the potentialities the recent advances on ICT raised will allow and improved Science education in our schools (3,4).

In the frames of the action Comenius 3 of EC’ program Socrates, twenty-eight institutions from ten European countries (BE, CY, DE, ES, GR, MT, PT, RO, SL,UK) and a transnational consortium (CoLoS) established in the end of 2003 the “Hands-on Science” network.


The “Hands-on Science” network involves several Universities, Research Institutions, National Government Boards, Private companies, Colleges and Schools and School’ Associations from Portugal, Greece, Spain, UK, Slovenia, Romania, Germany, Belgium, Malta and Cyprus, and the CoLoS (COnceptual Learning Of Science) pedagogic association.

The network counts with the formal involvement of 29 Institutions of different types covering all education levels from elementary secondary, special education, technical and university levels. Also a large number of associate member are already involved from all over Europe. Further associate member are anytime accepted along the development of the network activities, in specific task forces or thematic groups.

Different institutions working in different environments with distinct cultural and socio-economical backgrounds – in large towns, medium sized towns, and small villages, some in rural or industrial areas-covering a large varied geographical area from the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, Southern Northern and Central Europe to the Eastern Europe. They will focus their activities in exploring and promoting the use of hands-on experimentation teaching by extensively employing advanced ICT tools, or simple hand made materials, in integrated interdisciplinary approaches or analyzing the issues in a more sectioned way.

Different approaches, different feelings, and the same conscience, the same objective: to evolve to a positive approach of participated active hands-on experimental learning of Science at school level.

All partners have previous experience on exploring and or developing innovative educational practices and materials in a non university level and many are or were involved in national projects of these kinds and on international collaborations within the EU or with EU and North and Latin American’ or North-African Institutions.

Some of the participating schools have relatively large (up to 30%) groups of pupils from minority groups (language, race, religion) and are experienced in developing pedagogical approaches to deal successfully with the problems that situation poses. A number of schools are experienced in Distance Learning and most have already proper facilities (some financed through EU projects). Several network member institutions had or currently have members of their staff participating in curriculum development efforts in science and technology organized by the respective Ministries of Education, Science and or Culture.

The CoLoS consortium brings together research teams from many US and European Universities (from the DE, UK, IT, RU, SI, FR, ES, PT). It aims to promote the development of innovative teaching methods in science and technology focusing on: learning and understanding fundamental concepts in science; the integration of qualitative and intuitive understanding with quantitative methods; and the use of simulation and network-based material.

Over one hundred different Schools and Institutions are also actively involved in the Network’ activities as Associated Members. Among those a few have role focused on evaluation and or dissemination of the network activities and results. The associated schools and institutions not only are informed of the network activities, have privileged access to web based network and to the produced reports and materials, as they are asked to participate in the activities of the thematic groups as extensively as possible.

A numbers of Observer members from countries outside the EU will also be accepted and welcomed. Our network is relatively large either in terms of the number of partners and countries involved. We involve all fields of science all levels of School teaching with an extensive range of general and specific goals.

In order to maintain the network with a manageable but sufficient size in order to fulfill all requirements and develop its activities efficiently, we proceed with a selection of partners on view of their expertise and previous experience in co-operation projects particularly with other members of the network’ team. A relatively large group of associated members was established enhancing the impact of our activities.

We decided that the network needed a 3 full year’s period of activity to achieve the direct goals and outcomes and specially to guarantee its sustainability in the years after the formal end of the project.

A decentralised and hierarchically organized system of administration of the Network on all its aspects is established. The network Coordinator ensures the proper efficient development of the network. A Steering Committee formed by the all the National Coordinators and the Network Coordinator meet (frequently by video-conference) as frequently as needed every year in order to: analyze the development of the work; assessment of results; writing down reports and further support material; proceed with data diffusion and public relations.

In regular basis each National Coordinator contact all the responsible of the member institutions of their country recalling their work results. A short report is issued and delivered to the Network Coordinator that will disseminate it by the entire network members for discussion and improvement. Whenever final conclusions, among the Network, are achieved they will be published in the web site in order to extend the discussion to the community. Boards or offices of the National and supra-national Educational institutions will receive that information directly. Most of the meetings are (whenever possible) made in the form of web based video-conferencing. Most of them arre open to all Network Members that often will be specifically invited to take part on the meeting. The in person contact between the Network members is considered very important and will be made whenever possible also during the exchange visits and workshops to be organized throughout the different Partner Countries but also on the General Network Meetings that will take place during the Annual International Conferences.

Annual International Conferences are held on the middle of each project’s year and will be attended hopefully by the entire network members. Furthermore it will be open to all scientific and educational community (including students and their parents). The community will be invited to participate not only in conferences and thematic workshops but also in courses and motivating/promoting activities in the classroom or at School. The “3rd International Conference on Hands-on Science. Science Education and the Future of Humanity” will take place in Portugal the beginning of September 2006 (5).

This network is organized in a top-down/ bottom-up structure. This means that not only the Network Coordinator and National Coordinators induce actions produce reports guidelines and induce discussion and interaction. Also all the Network Members on his thematic groups or taskforce or individually through his group will present suggestions, initiate discussions prepare reports and organize local or multilateral activities.

The General Network Meeting presided by the Network Coordinator (once a year during the annual conferences) is on the top of the hierarchy of our structures and to which the Steering Committee will report. The network workforce is divided into thematic groups covering all fields of Science and fourteen main task forces.

Transversal thematic workshops have been or will be organized: “The access of Women to Science” in Germany in June 2004, “The challenges of EU’ enlargement on Science literacy and Development” in Malta, fall 2005; and “Science Literacy and Life-long Learning” in Romania in May 2006.

In January 2004 we launched the 1st European Contest on “Ideas for Science Fairs” with which we hope to induce the generalization of the organization of Science fairs in the Schools. During each annual meeting a workshop will be organized where we will present our work and discussing it with industries’ representative and of the community. Their ideas and demands will be organized and will condition the further development of our work.

Several Socrates Comenius 2.1. projects will be presented by network members in order to develop a number of training courses in the different languages and participating countries. Most of them having an informal interactive structure aiming to allow the teachers/educators to feel the advantages of this pedagogical approach. Practical tools will be giving to the teachers in order to allow them to immediately begin introducing hands-on activities in their classrooms.

The schools involved on the project will play the most important role. However in the network close to each one of them we intend to have a higher educational institution working close together. Several motivational activities will be organized in the different countries inside the school in extra-curricular activities like informal seminars, Science fairs and contests, but also as in-classroom intervention were the students will execute a number of hands-on experiments. A general set of experiments covering the different disciplines of Science (ecology, light sound and waves, geology the earth and the environment, biology animals and plants, genetics and reproduction, speed and mechanics, electricity and energy, sun and space, chemistry, shapes and forms, …) and education levels (up to 10 years old, 10-13, 14-16, 16 to 18) will be studied and supplied to the schools for assessment of the materials them selves and different approaches of its practical in class use.

In Romania the local partners with cooperation of members of other countries when possible will prepare and execute a number of informal courses and demonstration sessions in rural and particularly poor and neglected areas, including gypsy’s communities in the interior of Romania.

Web based meetings and teleconferences will be used as extensively as possible. An ISDN multipoint videoconference system will be established. The use of virtual hands-on learning tools will be explored.

Different approaches will be implemented and tested. Translations and adjusts will be made at Country level.

The Science Fairs and Students’ Science Clubs that will be organized will have virtual versions. A suitable and simply platform will be created allowing a straightforward organization of virtual web-based Science Fairs and students’ a Science discussion e-forum.

The careful assessment of the teachers and students feedback on the Project’s activities and product’ outcomes will be made and is considered fundamental.

We will seek an enlarged involvement of Industries and of the work-world in general in order to get their feedback on educational and special competencies needs. We also aim to gather a cluster of companies (including major industries that will be invited to attend our meetings and assess our activities and outcomes) able to ensure the development and financing of the networks’ activities after the official expected end of the H-Sci network.


The pedagogical usefulness and effectiveness of in-class hands-on experimental activities is clearly proved in different school levels and disciplines. E-books, websites, computer simulations and programming tools, multimedia presentations and even virtual laboratories are readily available to teachers and students these days and are invaluable complements that boost the effectiveness of active hands-on experiments’ based learning of Science and Technology.


This work was developed in the frames of the “Hands-on Science” Network (project nº. 110157-CP-1-2003-1-PT-COMENIUS-C3) that is founded by the European Commission through the Socrates program.


1. “Experimental learning: Experience as source of learning and development”; D. A. Kolb, , Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J. 1984

2. Manuel F. M. Costa, “Hands-on Science” en Teaching and learning Science in the XXI Century, Sasa D Ed., Ljubljana: Faculty of Computer and Information Science, pp.: 1-9 (2004).

3. “Constructivist Teaching in Primary School Social Studies, Mathematics, Science, ICT and Design and Technology”; Gatt S. & Vella Y. (2003).

4. “Physlets: Teaching Physics with Interactive Curricular Material”, Wolfgang Christian and Mario Belloni, Prentice Hall’s Series in Educational Innovation, ISBN 0-13-029341-5 (2001).


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