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Members of Global Young Academy test science game "Expedition Moondus" at South African township school
With his strong call to scientists to get more actively involved in science education, Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine Prof. Bruce Alberts met open ears and minds at the International Conference of the Global Young Academy (GYA) in South Africa. Among many other activities, GYA members and their guests used their General Assembly to take global an inquiry-based science game developed by the Dutch Young Academy.
Many GYA members familiarized themselves with the content and the mechanisms of the game. A working group improved the preliminary English translation and checked the game for cultural compatibility with countries of non-Western cultural traditions. No issues were identified and hence it seems that the game can indeed be used worldwide without changes to its content. Prof. Mathias Kläui from Mainz University enthusiastically took the lead for a translation into German in order to make this game accessible to schools in Germany.
After the conference, a group of 8 young scientists, among them 4 Germans, visited Alexandra, the largest township in Johannesburg, meeting with inhabitants who are role models for improving education and job opportunities. One of them had set up an informal initiative to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to discover their potentials and develop them through free-of-charge extra lessons in the academic areas as well as drama, music and sport. Other contacts included a businessman who was amongst the first to introduce formal business in the informal settlement.
As a highlight the group visited Sandton View High School, a governmental school at the borders between Sandton and Alexandra, attended by black children, many from disadvantaged backgrounds. Here the group met a small science class. In the 12th grade, only 28 pupils out of an original 40, most of them girls, continued science lessons as these are perceived as “uncool and very hard”. After initial hesitation, some of the children expressed quite concrete ideas about what they wanted to study if they ever had the chance to go to university. Following an open dialogue between pupils and the international group of scientists, the delegates introduced the science game Expedition Moondus. The students take on the role of researchers exploring an unknown planet called Moondus. They try to find out as much as possible about the planet itself, its nature, culture, and the inhabitants. The students answer questions based on available material on Moondus including observations, notes of other researchers and ‘ancient sources’ of the Moondians. In short, the children think like scientists, formulate hypotheses, test them, and then report the results.
The visit to Sandton View High School was the first opportunity to test whether this game could also be played in other countries and cultures. The GYA group had brought with them a preliminary English version of the game with coloured prints and distributed question in three different difficulty grades to teams of 2 pupils. The children took it up with huge enthusiasm and excitement. They ran to check the information available in the classroom, trying to be the first to solve as many questions as possible. It was obvious that they enjoyed the motivating game very much. After 45 minutes the winners, two girls’ teams, were symbolically awarded the “German-South African Year of Science” pen.
After this success, having received the permission of the Dutch Young Academy, GYA will ask South African authorities to have the game translated into and produced in all official South African languages, possibly accompanied by a monitoring study of the rollout in South Africa.