Science is fun! Schoolchildren are transformed into little scientists through algorithms and DNA

The initiative, organized by the IMPACT Center of Excellence and the Center for Biomedical Research and Innovation CiiB of the Universidad de Los Andes, sought to foster children’s curiosity and passion for science through fun activities.

Learning what an algorithm is and understanding what they are used for in everyday life, or extracting and being able to see with the naked eye nothing less than the DNA of a strawberry, were the activities that children from 5 to 10 years old were able to perform last June 18 in the Children’s Workshop on Science, Art and Technology (TICAT), an initiative organized by the IMPACT Center of Excellence in collaboration with the Center for Biomedical Research and Innovation CiiB of the Universidad de los Andes.

TICAT is headed by CiiB researcher Dr. Karina Pino, and aims to equalize access to knowledge and foster students’ scientific skills in each of the workshops. “I am very motivated by the idea of teaching and “enchanting” children with science. I think the main attraction of this workshop is the fact that they have their materials, and they are the ones who must execute the activity. In this workshop, they become mini-scientists,” he says.

For Filipa Cargioli, five years old, “what I liked most was getting the DNA out of the strawberry. We had to crush it, put salt and detergent on it. I took out a lot of DNA. It was much fun,” he explains. On the other hand, Luciano Adasme, seven years old and a student at the República de Siria school, recognizes that science is not his favorite subject at school, “but now we are little scientists, and we can do many experiments. We can even create our spider webs in the lab like Spiderman.” When asked if he still finds science boring, he says he doesn’t. “Now I find it super entertaining,” he says.

The parents of the participants also appreciated the activity. “When the school invited us to participate, my daughter, who is in 4th grade, signed up immediately because she likes science, and it sounded fascinating. What I liked most about TICAT is that the activities are designed for young children and use simple materials. I like the idea of showing science close up. What they see at school is very limited, perhaps more basic. Still, this workshop is outside the curriculum and is very interesting,” says Oriana Toro, a parent of the municipal school Escuela República El Líbano.

The importance of children

For IMPACT’s director, Dr. Maroun Khoury, the relevance of linking the center’s work with young children is to encourage early access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. “It is important to approach scientific topics in an accessible, interesting, and entertaining way, with practical and creative learning techniques, I mean, getting their hands dirty by getting DNA out of a strawberry rather than seeing the helix of the molecule on a screen. Science is not “boring”. What can be boring sometimes is how we teach it. Hands-on learning is the most effective in teaching scientific and mathematical concepts, and the TICAT concept is “first we entertain, then we think and apply this new knowledge”. This allows them to increase their interest in pursuing careers related to science and innovation. What we want is to create opportunities to detect early scientific vocations and contribute to closing the gender gap that exists in these areas between boys and girls,” he says.

When asked about the importance of these activities in the impact that the research center expects to have in the area of biomedicine, its director explains that “for Chile to be truly competitive in STEM fields, which is an important ingredient in the development of a country, we have to discover, nurture and foster talent in boys and girls who are interested in pursuing scientific careers, from elementary school onwards. They are the future creators we want to recruit in science, and why not in the IMPACT Center, which has a long-term scientific and social impact”, he says.

The IMPACT Center is led by the Universidad de los Andes and has funding from the National Agency for Innovation and Development, ANID; the participation of the Pontificia Universidad Católica, Universidad de Chile, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, and Universidad de La Frontera, as well as the collaboration of the Clínica Universidad de los Andes.

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