Science through the eyes of children: Final primary grade pupils at BS St. Pieter design and execute scientific experiment

Primary school children

This year, 42 pupils at Primary School St. Pieter achieved among the three best average Cito scores in the Netherlands.

Recognising these children’s comparatively high cognitive capacity, their parents and the school director decided that it was time to implement a “plus programme.”

As these children appeared to be able to learn more than what the regular education curriculum offered them, the school decided that as of this spring all classes would take complementary subjects such as theatre, philosophy, Spanish and… science.

What does a researcher do?

Two classes of final primary grade pupils gathered in the main hall on Thursday 27 March. They met with professional scientists Annemarie Neeleman and Bart Golsteyn, experts in the Economics of Education at the Maastricht School of Business and Economics, to discuss the characteristics of scientific research and to jointly find answers to questions such as: What does a researcher do? What can be researched? How does one carry out research?

By analysing their own answers, the pupils were guided through the principles of good research. The pupils were then asked to research a specific topic related to their everyday life, namely how well Dutch children are able to perform the “Cup Song”. The ideas they came up with proved that they had understood the main aspects of the general introduction. Together they were able to design a research model that real-life researchers would be able to execute without any problem.

Primary school children

Learning the basics of research

After the weekend, the same group of pupils were invited to SBE to develop an experiment model for the other group. One group made a design aiming to look at whether one can learn English words equally well with the TV on or off. The second group worked on the question whether one can learn English words equally well while listening to classical music as to English language pop music. With a little help from the researchers they were able to find the right ingredients to carry out an appropriate experiment.

When the experiments’ models were ready, each group executed the other group’s model. They split up into four groups of 10 pupils each, learned a list of English words and took a small test.

One group was left undistracted, while the other groups were exposed to English language pop music (One Direction), classical music (Bach), and one episode of Funniest Homevideos, this latter in order to maximize the expected distraction.

The children greatly enjoyed their morning at the university. And so did the researchers. Bart and Annemarie will soon present the results of the experiments to the pupils. As expected, in view of the small sample of the various groups, the results are not very discriminating. Obviously, this conclusion will also need to be considered by the pupils.

So, the basics of doing research have been presented and carried out. Another six years till the INKOM.

By Annemarie Neeleman
Economics of Education, SBE

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