Student Research Center (SRC) South Wurttemberg, Bad Saulgau

Aims

student in lab

Photo from the project website

The major aims of this REC are:
To give pupils the opportunity to perform open-ended experiments and to solve problems they have chosen themselves;
To develop teaching materials and to train teachers in order to use simple physics experiments in primary school.

Argument for inclusion

This REC is a very good example of open-ended student work. Students work on problems they have chosen themselves, they organize their own research process. In addition, this REC involves teacher training, material development for the class-room.

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

University of Ulm

Educational partners

Student Research Center, Kindergartens, Primary and Secondary Schools in South Wurttemberg

Other partners

Ministry for Education State of Baden-Wurttemberg; Administration of the School District Stuttgart; Heraeus-Foundation; Regional Enterprises

Age classes

3-19, mainly 12-19;

Thematic orientation

Interdisciplinary

Main Focus

Physics, Engineering, Informatics

Duration of activity

Since 2000, students work several hours per week for up to several months on their individual projects

Resources

Private and public funding, Sponsoring from local enterprises, Teachers’ , Scientists’ and Student Teachers’ voluntary time

Website

www.sfz-bw.de

Contact person

Rudolf Lehn, SRC

Context and conditions

This REC grew out of the extracurricular activities in physics organized and promoted by the Stoerck-Gymnasium Bad Saulgau (upper secondary level school). After a series of successes of pupils at national and international physics and engineering competitions (Jugend forscht; International Young Physicists’ Tournament), one teacher took the initiative to set up students’ research centre where pupils could work on their research projects in their spare time, even on weekends, when schools would be closed. Broad support both from public and from private sources soon enabled him to open the SRC in a separate building.

Activities and Contents

The SRC offers research infrastructure (e.g microscopes, measuring devices, computers, even a wind tunnel) to school students above the age of 12 for independent experiments and problem solving. Younger students (down to the age of 8) can be admitted. The centre staff (mainly teachers and student teachers) acts as advisors and as brokers to arrange contacts between students and experts at universities, research institutes and research departments in industry. Working in the SRC is an extracurricular activity chosen by interested students, who establish their own small research teams to work on a problem, often with the aim of submitting their work in one of the national or international competitions for student researchers (International Young Physicists’ Tournament, Robot Soccer WorldCup etc.).

Although there is a certain focus on physics, informatics and engineering, interested students can also come and work on questions in biology, chemistry or geology. The SRC keeps in close touch with the schools in the area and also offers teacher training and teaching material development workshops. A special section addresses primary school and pre-school teachers to help them develop experiments and science teaching material for the youngest.

Scientists from the University of Ulm and from research and development departments of regional industry offer advice and help as well as access to equipment and know-how that the SRC might lack.

An example to represent student work is the project “Rain’s got rhythm” carried out by Henrike Wilms (19) and Florian Ostermaier (18), which earned them the national “Jugend forscht” award in 2007.

 2007 National “Jugend forscht” Champions in Physics Henrike Wilms and Florian Ostermaier in search for reflections  ©Stiftung Jugend forscht e.V.

When Henrike and Florian visited a cave during a school field trip they noticed a phenomenon which seemed weird to them: Whenever a drop of water fell down from the top of the cave, it seemed as if it would be hit by a flashlight when it reached a certain height. It looked, as if the light from their pit lamps was reflected more brightly. Henrike and Florian wondered if what they had seen was mere an optical illusion and set up an experiment. With the help of a pipette, a strong light and a photo-electric barrier they were able to capture the effect they had seen on a chip of their digital camera. In doing so the two young researchers noticed that the light effects depended on the shape of the drop: The drop billows while falling down, which results in rhythmical flashes on light, when the shine of a lamp is reflected.

Methodologies and Curriculum relevance

This REC fosters creative and problem-solving capacities of the pupils involved. It gives them the opportunity to engage in open-ended experiments with other pupils who share their interest. Teachers and scientists take the role of advisors/mentors. Participation in various competitions is used as an incentive to tackle complex questions.

The SRC is designed as an extracurricular activity for students with a special science interest. With regard to potential impacts on curricula the main focus lies on the development and testing of experiments and material for pre-school and primary school education.

Mutual benefits

Since university staff members act mainly as advisors, an immediate benefit for the research side is difficult to state. However, it can be assumed that students working in SRC projects are more likely to choose science studies for their higher education to view science as a career option. Unfortunately, there is no data to back up this assumption.

Limits and possibilities

This REC offers unique possibilities to pupils who wish to engage in creative scientific experimenting. Pupils are able to get involved in “real” research: They choose a question, form a research team, discuss and choose their research methods, perform the experiments and interpret the results themselves. However, the impact on the curriculum is low, in particular for the secondary schools. The SRC staff member strive to involve the teachers of those pupils who work on research projects at the SRC, however, the network in which the SRC could be embedded still needs to be further developed.

Links