Sixth-graders to test science

The Finnish Cultural Foundation has teamed with the Universities of Jyväskylä and Turku to awaken sixth-graders’ interest in science, higher education and research by inviting more than three thousand children from Central and Southwest Finland to act as Science Testers. The project includes a heavily research-oriented aspect, which will lead to the creation of a Youth Science Barometer, providing an indication of the attitudes and interest of young people towards science.

To promote science-based decision-making and scientific literacy at the individual and societal levels, it is important to promote positive values and attitudes towards science and scientists A good start is to offer children high-quality science education, including experiential encounters with researchers with whom they can identify, in ways tailored to their age group.


– Today’s children need even more of an understanding than previous generations of the workings of our increasingly technological society, as well as of nature and the environment. Critical thinking, evaluating information and the ability to adjust one’s actions based on new data are also increasingly important attributes. The importance of these skills will be emphasised when the impact of climate change, for example, gains strength in the next decades, explains Associate Professor Terhi Mäntylä of the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Jyväskylä.

– Direct and inspiring interaction with researchers and scientists can improve students’ knowledge and understanding of science and increase their interest in scientific careers and higher education, says Professor Mirjamaija Mikkilä-Erdman of the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Turku.

Even though a wealth of information is available, it is challenging to ensure that everyone has equal access to it. Our home backgrounds can influence on whether, as children and adolescents, we are interested in science and carry out scientific activity in our leisure time. Pupils of schools situated further from universities, scientific institutions and other units offering STEM education do not have equal opportunities for coming into contact with universities or their staff, due to factors such as higher travel costs.

The Art Testers project, conducted jointly by the Cultural Foundation, the Association of Finnish Children’s Cultural Centers and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland, has been a success. It has brought three entire year groups of eighth-graders in Finland to cultural destinations such as museums, concerts, theatres and dance performances, hopefully inspiring them to visit again in their own time. Our Science Testers pilot project intends to explore whether the same could work in science, explains the Cultural Foundation’s Chairman Jari Sokka.

The purpose of the new initiative is to get children interested in science and scientific careers, and to familiarise them with various stages of the production of scientific data. It will also improve interaction between universities, science museums, scientists and schools, and offer sixth-graders opportunities to find out about research in various fields and about its significance for society.

The purpose of the new initiative is to get children interested in science and scientific careers.

The Science Testers pilot projects of spring 2021 will take school groups to visit researcher-run workshops and scientific establishments, and have them complete related school assignments before and after. The plan is to make it as easy as possible for teachers by making the tasks compatible with the elementary school curriculum and its concept of phenomenon-based learning. The encounters may be arranged online if visits are hampered by the Covid pandemic.

The University of Jyväskylä’s pilot will involve around 1,200 sixth-graders from within a radius of around one hundred kilometres of the university, says Carita Lindstedt-Kareksela of the Department of Biological and Environmental Science. Besides various departments of the university, the project also has The Summer University of Jyväskylä, the University Museum, Central Finland LUMA Centre and the JYU.Wisdom research community as partners.

Our workshops are not only about research, but also about the philosophy of science, how science-based information is applied in society or within scientific community. The aim is to give participants as complete a picture as possible of the scientific process and of how science-based information differs from e.g. so called alternative facts, explains Lindstedt-Kareksela.

At the University of Turku, the pilot is run by a multidisciplinary team from the Biodiversity Unit, with partners including Turku School of Economics, the Children’s University and LUMA Centre of Southwestern Finland.

We will invite around 2,000 sixth-graders from the region. The aim is to spark an interest in science and encourage children to consider university studies or even a career in research. We also want to disprove the stereotype of the mad scientist working alone in a dark chamber, by presenting researchers as ordinary people, says Henna Rouhiainen from the University of Turku.

In Turku, the meetings between students and researchers will be conducted in three different ways. Campus visits will have children spending whole days at the university’s workshops; in school visits, researchers will hold lessons at the school; and in remote encounters, children will follow a researcher-led lesson virtually. Each of these will be preceded by advance assignments done under the teacher’s supervision. Currently, a diverse and multidisciplinary group of researchers and students, who are interested in working with the public and in STEM education, is being sought to run the workshops.

The universities will carry out a joint evaluation and impact study based on the experiences gained from the project. The project will also lead to the creation of a Youth Science Barometer, which will provide an indication of the attitudes and interest of young people towards science for use by STEM educators and the media.

By the end of 2021, the participants will evaluate whether the pilots could be used as a basis for a nationwide Science Testers campaign, in which children from all around Finland, regardless of their geographical, social or economic background, would receive personal experiences of the worlds of science and academic research.