The mass experiments are designed in a close collaboration between scientists and teachers and must follow a number of rules. Firstly, the subject matter of the experiment must be a real research problem. Usually the unknown factor wil have to do with mapping of data - and the pupils should help the scientists do this mapping. Secondly, the experiment should always be about real-world problems that has a direct relevance to the children's lives. Thirdly, the experiment should fit into the school curriculum and thus be easy for the teachers to adapt into their planning.
The experiment is open to all K12 levels and teacher's material is carefully designed to follow the different levels. Every class will receive an experiment kit along with a manual. It is free for the schools to participate, but they must promise to report their data into the mass experiment website. Currently we scale the experiment to include a maximum of 1.300 classes (app. 30.000 pupils) and there are always waiting lists to participate.
We have so far carried out the following experiments:
2007: analysis of water quality in the school drinking water as well as in the children's own water bottles. It turned out that there was a significant amount of bacteria growing in the water bottles
2008: analysis of taste preferences. It turned out that boys have a slight preference towards sweet taste, that girls taste better (!) than boys and that children love fish!
2009: analysis of indoor climate in the classroom. It turned out that more than 50% of the classrooms had a CO2 lavel above the recommended threshold
2010: analysis of acoustics in the classroom. It turned out that the acoustics in the classrooms are fine for traditional teaching but bad for modern project-oriented work in groups
In the September 2011 experiment 30.000 pupils will map children's skin cancer risk in collaboration with the Danish Cancer society and leading researchers. They will look at the skin colour of the pupils and investigate the effects of sunscreen.
The mass experiments are very popular. We try to make science relevant to the children by using real-world challenges and also teaching them scientific methods. It adds extra value that the results usually gets quite good media attention and that you contribute to a collective body of data. Also some children learn that knowledge is powerful, for instance when you approach your local headmaster with data that proofs that the indoor climate is bad.
Of course, there are also challenges. One challenge is to extend the experiments from "recipe science" where you blindly follow an experiment design, to also include inquiry based teaching, where the pupils design their own experimental methods. Another challenge is the obvious challenge of validity. Data collected by little kids cannot be 100% valid, but the size of the experiment does give indicators of trends.
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