To transmit the taste for science, what if we rethink teacher training?


Make people discover, understand, learn the immensity of science, what an ambition for school, college and high school! The curiosity of the child, then of the adolescent, for the world which surrounds him and astonishes him, their wonders and their “why?” »Are the pillars on which to build learning, based on a pedagogy which is based on observation and builds over the years the difficult ability to reason correctly.

We have known for a long time that such a pedagogy can only be active, putting the young person in a situation of research and project, of language formulation. He then enters, very gradually, into this abstraction on which science is built.

How to install this ambition during the dozen years of compulsory education? The school programs focus on building a spiral progression: thus the toddler already knows the word energy, present in family conversations, but the extent of the knowledge that this term covers will only be revealed gradually, over the years of development. studies.

But, beyond textbooks, this knowledge sharing is mainly based on the pedagogy implemented, therefore on the talent of the teacher, his preparation, the support he has received over the course of his career, and finally his taste. for the flavor of a living science.

Training challenges

Regularly, the Ministry of National Education (CEDRE survey) as well as international comparative surveys (Talis, TIMMS, PISA) inform us, with variable and sometimes questionable criteria , on the practices of teachers and on the achievements of our students in science: mathematics, sciences of observation and experimentation, technologies .

Recently we learned that arrived in class 4 th , our students have consistently been decreasing since 1995 their math abilities as science. Only two good news emerges from this international TIMSS study published at the end of December 2020: the difference in results between girls and boys has disappeared, students rather know how to reason better and like to experiment . Comparisons with countries at the same level of development as France are not flattering.

Can we understand this evolution? Already in 1995, the Nobel laureate Georges Charpak had sounded the alarm, stressing the critical importance of the first years of contact with science. At that time, if the teaching of mathematics in primary school was doing rather well, that of the experimental sciences was almost abandoned. For a quarter of a century, the Académie des sciences has never ceased to recall its role and to propose the implementation of an active teaching, starting from primary school, of an investigative pedagogy, of a adequate training and support for teachers.

It is indisputably on this last point that the developments in our country are worrying. They are approached in a general way, for all disciplines therefore, by Nathalie Mons, in a rich , comparative report from the National Center for the Study of School Systems. He thus diagnoses that “more than the quantity, it is the quality of the continuing training of school personnel that raises questions”, while “the effect of training on teaching practices remains limited”. These themes are reflected in the report Grenelle education Which professors XXI th  century?

With regard specifically to science, which is undoubtedly the worst off, a recent report from two Academies (science, technology) provides a detailed analysis of the serious shortcomings of initial training as well as professional development over the course of a career, and the proposals .

About fifteen learned societies “plead (the Minister of National Education) not to let the INSPEs renounce the scientific training of future primary school teachers”.

A living and shared science

Beyond the essential political awareness of the situation and the overall actions that will have to result quickly, we would like to emphasize here, once again, how much we, the scientific community of researchers and engineers, can continue to do. ” work in the local field, by bringing primary and secondary school teachers closer to a living and shared science, and to give an example, that of the network of twelve Houses for science in the service of teachers, born in 2012 under the impetus from the Académie des Sciences thanks to the Investments for the Future funds, for which the La main à la Pâte Foundation ensures national coordination.

Established in universities, permanently associating scientists with education professionals, these Houses offer science moments each year to more than ten thousand teachers (primary and secondary school). The Maison pour la science en Lorraine, associated with those of Alsace and Champagne-Ardenne, thus opens the doors to laboratories and companies in the region, so that teachers know better the plurality of their actors, their teamwork. and their confrontations of ideas, their exchanges and their regulations, their renouncements and their successes.

College SVT professors carry out all the experimental steps that make it possible to amplify a DNA sequence in vitro and interpret it as done by forensic scientists. They benefit from the technical conditions of the genetics laboratory of the Faculty of Science and Technology of Vandeuvre-lès-Nancy, targeting a DNA sequence of a genome then reflecting with a geneticist, Nathalie Leblond-Bourget, on a protocol allowing to ‘amplify this chosen DNA sequence. They use the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technique that the Covid tests have made known to everyone.

School teachers encounter the question: “Is chemistry green?” »From the industrial company Biolie. Having to find the most efficient protocol to extract a coloring from beets, peppers, carrots, red cabbage, chard leaves… They cut, crush, mix with water, oil, alcohol, filter, heat, test , then communicate their results to the whole group. Scientific insight, then given, allows them to glimpse a more eco-responsible chemistry and to design simple experimental activities with their students.

France, in order to meet the orientations recommended by the United Nations in the objectives of sustainable development, is today embarking on an evolution of its primary and secondary school curricula . Applauding, what can we hope if not that these immense societal questions, which intersect all aspects of human activity, do not make disappear, by a treatment as sympathetic as superficial in the classes, the essential acquisitions of scientific knowledge and rigor of reasoning, that our students will need tomorrow.

Let us hope that the necessary political measures will be taken to improve the framework and the practice of teachers! They will better enable our teachers and students to enter the Great Story told today by science, this great and fascinating Story that Michel Serres wanted everyone to tell , from toddlers to specialized scientists, better than yesterday .

Author Bios: Pierre Lena is Professor Emeritus, Paris Observatory & University of Paris at the University of Paris and Jean-Paul Rossignon is Director of the House for Science of the University of Lorraine at the University of Lorraine