Penser avec les mains - Thinking with the hands


The initiative Penser avec les mains - Thinking with the hands aims to reinforce science education at school by making teachers feel more motivated towards teaching science. Teachers are supported with learning and teaching materials, in-service teacher training units and offers of original and stimulating science events that give science a human face.

Argument for inclusion

Pupils of a Primary School in Geneva study the forest in the vicinity of their school.

Current projects (climaTIC-suisse) address the education for sustainable development.

Experts in education and scientists jointly prepare and run continuing education courses to support teachers, mainly at primary school level.
The projects give pupils and students the opportunity to experience and take part in scientific approaches to explain the world around them.

Pupils of a Primary School in Geneva study the forest in the vicinity of their school.

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

The Passerelle (Interface Science and Society) at the University of Geneva, individual researchers from various institutions

Educational partners

Education researchers of the University of Geneva, Département de l'instruction publique de l’Etat de Genève (Ministry of education of the Canton of Geneva), Institut de Formation Pédagogique (Institute for educational training), Geneva, primary and secondary school classes of the Geneva area

Other partners

Current project “climaTIC-suisse”: researchers of the University of Geneva, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Berne, Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), Berne, Foundation for Education and Development, local office Lausanne, International Polar Foundation-Switzerland, Genève, WWF Switzerland, local office Geneva, Conservatoire et jardin botaniques de Genève (Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva), Inter University Center, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Age classes

8-18 years

Thematic orientation

Current project “climaTIC-suisse”: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), Environmental Sciences, Social Sciences

Main Focus

To promote a new type of science education. To provide opportunities for lifelong learning in science education for primary school teachers. To offer original and stimulating scientific events, giving science a human face.

Duration of activity

Several learning activities of several hours to several days throughout a school year. New projects are initiated about every other year, since 2003.


The Passerelle is financed both by the University of Geneva and the Wright Foundation, Geneva. The Ministry of Education of the Canton of Geneva provides human resources for the continuing education courses. Learning and teaching materials are mainly free.


Current project:

Contact person

Sophie Hulo, project leader education

Context and conditions

The Passerelle (Interface Science and Society) was founded by the science and medical departments from the University of Geneva in 1998. The aim of the Passerelle is to conceive, to organize and to coordinate projects and events for the communication of science, creating opportunities for the exchange between the University of Geneva and society. Since 2003, subjects from human and social sciences are addressed, too.
“Penser avec les mains” (Thinking with the hands) was inspired by the French science education initiative “La main à la pâte” (Do it yourself) but has been adapted to the local situation of the French-speaking part of Switzerland. This project is under the patronage of the Swiss Academy of Sciences.

Activities and contents

All activities take place within the framework of a project, which provides the thematic setting. In the beginning and during the course of each project, teachers are offered in-service training. After about two years, a new project is launched, addressing other subjects and offering other activities.
In individual projects, continuing teacher education courses take about 10 hours, spread across a school year; class time varies according to the project and the teachers from half a day to repeated activities over a whole year.

The current project of “climaTIC-suisse” (2006-2008) addresses environmental changes and education for sustainable development. For 2007/08, the subjects forest and energy are offered for pupils from 9 to 12 years, and the subject global change for students 16 years or older. The goal of all these activities is to raise awareness of the complexity of environmental issues by showing the interdependencies between the northern and the southern hemisphere, between the local and the global scale and between natural, human and social sciences.

The migration of the Ibanes

The comic strip "The migration of the Ibanes" is read by pupils in Switzerland and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (current project "climaTIC-suisse").

The thread of the project is a comic strip, “The migration of the Ibanes”, which was created by the Passerelle of the University of Geneva and the International Polar Foundation with support of the WWF Switzerland. Translated into English, German and Italian, this comic strip aims to make the young readers aware of the challenges and risks of global change. It is available in printed and electronic, interactive form. Additional learning and teaching materials are also provided on the web site of the project. The fact that the same comic strip is read by pupils in Switzerland and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) creates the unique possibility to exchange thoughts on the background of very different local settings.

During the course of the project “climaTIC-suisse”, pupils are invited to take part in several investigations that allow them to practice methods to gain knowledge. In a first step, an issue, e.g. the use of wood in the project Forest, is studied at local scale e.g. by field trips and interviewing local stakeholders such as the forest ranger, the mayor or a heating engineer. In a second step, this or other questions are looked at in other world regions, and especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through personal contacts with pupils, university students and teachers from this region. This involves the use of ICT and correspondence by letters. Such project activities of several days to several weeks prove to be very stimulating for pupils, students and teachers.

Activities in the project Global Change are to come up with suggestions addressing a concrete problem faced by the population of the DRC, such as the accessibility of drinking water or the reduction of waste disposal sites. The proposals elaborated by students of the Collège Rousseau, an upper secondary school in Geneva, have been sent to the RDC and will be evaluated there by students of the Bukavu University.

Primary school pupil from Geneva talking on the phone to…

… a primary school pupil from Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Primary school pupil from Geneva talking on the phone to…

… a primary school pupil from Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Methodologies and curriculum relevance

The Passerelle embraces innovative learning approaches, including the use of ICT, artistic elements and the development of teaching and learning units. One focus lies on how scientific knowledge is gained, the so-called scientific method. Another focus is to use the senses when exploring an issue. These aspects are taken into account for a broad range of activities offered, such as extracurricular events for children embedding hands-on in stories telling about a researcher’s everyday life. Other activities are open days, presentations, public debates, learning and teaching units, teacher education courses, theaters, scientific events, outdoor exhibitions and festivals. In the initiative Penser avec les mains - Thinking with the hands, key activities for the exploration of natural phenomena are to observe, to touch, to try out and to understand with help of experiments and hands-on.
All learning and teaching materials concerning the projects of “climaTIC-suisse” are available online ( This website also serves as a platform for the exchange among teachers, pupils and students, scientists and teacher trainers. There, updates of the projects are published as well as works and results by participants, e.g. a short film on forestry and its importance for the local community carried out by a Swiss class (6th year) or a letter of a teacher in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, describing his 5th class’ activities within the project, e.g. the reading progress with the comic strip “The migration of the Ibanes” or a visit to the Botanical Garden.

The involvement of teacher trainers in the development of learning and teaching materials and the organization of scientific events assures the curriculum relevance of the activities offered.

Mutual benefits

The collaboration of researchers and experts in teaching, e.g. teacher trainers, leads to the development of learning and teaching materials that fit with scientific criteria as well as class room practice.

In the current project “climaTIC-suisse”, the internet platform gives pupils, students and teachers the opportunity to be part of a large project network, to publish their results, and invites them to interact, be it with researchers or persons from as far away as Africa. Such authentic, personal experiences are likely to have a long-lasting impact on everybody involved.


The continuous teacher education courses are evaluated by the participants with help of questionnaires. Each year, all partners involved exchange their experiences. This informal feedback, especially of the teachers, feeds back into the adjustment of offers and the development of new projects. Activity reports are compiled for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) every 6 months.

Limits and possibilities

The offers of the Passerelle and its project Penser avec les mains - Thinking with the hands are limited to French-speaking countries, with most of the participants in the Geneva area. This in spite of the use of ICT and a considerable amount of human and financial resources invested.

However, the high amount of resources available is prerequisite of a broad range of innovative offers for communication of science for public understanding and schools. Projects addressed to schools are no ephemeral events but genuine studies continuously taking up a subject during the course of an entire school year. These educational projects enable pupils and students to explore a certain issue, taking into account an issues’ complexity by looking at it from various points of view. Furthermore, these projects are accompanied by support activities for teachers, such as continuing education units and opportunities to contact experts in teaching or the respective subject. Finally, the maintenance of a topical internet platform takes up many resources.

Pictures by "ClimaTIC-suisse".