How Will Tomorrow’s Scientists Learn?

I was recently invited to speak at science-related meetings on two consecutive days in different places in Europe. One was the official opening of a network of science centers in Vienna, linking decentralized activities in an interactive exhibition that tour Austria. The other was the Science Festival of Genoa, Italy, a young and hugely successful event with exhibitions and high-profile speakers throughout the ancient town.

What struck me on both occasions was the sustained, and evidently successful, attempt to reach out to the two target groups upon whom the future of science and technology will depend. The first group is teenagers, who are deeply interested in all the new technologies and gadgets that surround them. They have made these technologies an integral part of their lives, but their relationship to science has remained distant. The other target audience consists of younger children, whose openness and inborn curiosity have not yet been stifled by formal schooling.

The success of Europe’s newly established science centers and festivals in reaching their potential audiences reflects their invention of a new way of teaching and learning. They have succeeded in setting up a largely informal learning environment, focusing mainly on truly interactive learning. By soliciting questions from children that have little place in the formal educational system, the audience is led to experience the research process – which often begins precisely by asking the right kind of question.

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