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Getting refugee children to carry out scientific experiments

Published on 15. Januar 2016, 10:02 h
Doris Wolff Foundation funds Bielefeld University project

Since October 2015, Chemistry Professor Gisela Lück’s students have been travelling to a total of 14 schools and youth centres in the Bielefeld region and carrying out experiments together with 7- to 18-year-old refugees. The Doris Wolff Foundation in Bielefeld is funding this ‘Welcome Science’ project with 100,000 Euro. The experiments should impart practical skills to the children and youths and arouse their interest in the natural sciences.


Ein Junge tropft Wasser auf einen Kaffeefilter. So zeigt er, dass schwarzer Filzstift aus mehreren Farben besteht. Mit solchen einfachen Experimenten sollen Kindern und Jugendlichen chemische Vorgänge näher gebracht werden. Foto: Universität Bielefeld
This boy is letting water drip onto a coffee filter and finding out that the ink in a black felt tip pen is made up of several colours. Such simple experiments are designed to introduce children to the world of chemical processes. Photo: Bielefeld University
How many colours are hidden in the filling of a black felt tip pen? To find this out, children need a felt tip pen, water, and a round coffee filter paper. It is such experiments with everyday things that Gisela Lück is using to get children interested in chemistry. ‘It’s about being able to participate in our technologically oriented society’ says Gisela Lück. She believes in the importance of young participants learning something practical that can particularly help them to prepare their career choices. Moreover, through experimenting with her students, the children and youths also improve their German.

Christoph Harras-Wolff, the managing director of the Wolff Group and representative of the Doris Wolff Foundation, points out that ‘this project is something special, because Professor Lück and her students are not only devoting their time to refugee children but also using this time meaningfully: they are using play to impart knowledge of the natural sciences.’

Angelika Epple, Vice-Rector for International Affairs and Diversity, says: ‘People seeking refuge is something that we shall have to deal with for a long time here in Germany. This means that we shall have to think further ahead than just next winter. As a university, we are pleased to do what we can to provide refugees with a more long-term perspective.’ ‘It’s important to get children interested when they are young if we want to have good future students,’ explains Claudia Riemer, Vice-Rector for Studies and Teaching, who launched the project together with Christoph Harras-Wolff.

The ‘Welcome Science’ project will run for one year and is divided into two phases. In the first phase, pairs of students at Bielefeld University are visiting groups of refugee children and youths once a week. They are making glue out of milk, creating their own lavender perfume, or making ink drops look as if they are floating in a liquid. All experiments illustrate chemical processes that the students then explain in a practical and playful way. The necessary materials for the children’s experiments are often to be found in any household. For the second phase, scheduled to start in April, the students will be watching out to see who seems particularly enthusiastic and may possess the necessary perseverance and patience for the natural sciences. Selected participants will then be invited to come to the university once a week and carry out more extensive experiments in the rooms of the chemistry didactics research group. During this phase of the project, the university will be cooperating closely with Bielefeld’s Natural History Museum and its director.

Experimenting is a great success with the children, according to the students’ reports to Philipp Diebels, the academic supervisor of the project. The students document their experiences in protocols. ‘Some of the children are so keen that they are already waiting at the door when we come.’ The project is limited to the Bielefeld region. ‘However, we would be happy to pass on our experiences, so that other regions can also profit’ says Diebels.
 
The project in numbers:
31 students as tutors, 1 teacher as external partner
180 children and youths from refugee centres
14 participating schools and child and youth centres

Chromatography – a selected experiment:
The child draws a circle on the coffee filter paper with the water-soluble black felt tip pen and then drips one drop of water at a time onto the centre of the circle. The water disperses through the coffee filter and spreads the colour towards the outer edge. The dark colour separates into several lighter colours at different distances from the original circle. This experiment in chromatography shows, for example, that black felt tip pens contain more than just dark colours.

Further information is available online at:

www.uni-bielefeld.de/chemie/dc/welcome-science/

 
Posted by NLangohr in General
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