Urban Science

Science is a cornerstone for meeting the challenges of an increasingly urban Europe. If Europe’s cities are to adapt, grow and meet their citizen’s needs then science must be at the forefront. Over 67% of the European population live in cities. Enabling those cities to deliver services effectively, efficiently, and sustainably while keeping their citizens safe, healthy, prosperous, and well-informed is amongst the most important challenges in this century. Improving the attractiveness of cities is targeted by the Lisbon Strategy and the EU’s strategic guidelines for cohesion policy (Integrated Sustainable Urban Development) for 2014-2020.

Without a strong scientific base Europe will not meet its Europe2020 goals of smart and sustainable growth. This includes more research and innovation to overcome challenges faced by issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and increasing urbanisation. Unless young people choose to study science, then it is highly unlikely that the scientific expertise will be developed to fill the jobs needed to solve major EU wide problems created by climate change and urbanisation, and create new jobs in the green economy (as identified in Skills for Green Jobs – CEDEFOP 2010). There is a clear need to motivate more pupils to study science and be ready to tackle the challenges of an urban Europe.

The Urban Science Project aims to meet the needs of an urban Europe, where scientists of the future have the skills and knowledge to create healthy and sustainable cities. Urban Science will focus on how science can develop solutions to urban issues, so motivating pupils to view the positive benefits of science to the urban environment. It will support teachers with exciting and innovative ways to teach science that has real life meaning for their pupils. It also aims to meet the needs of pupils to be competitive in a rapidly changing world where scientific understanding is vital. Partners will promote a hands-on inquiry based approach to science that engages learners in everyday issues that have relevance and meaning for them. We will use the urban environment as ‘living laboratories’ in which pupils explore how science can help create healthier places to live and work.

The potential impact is large. There is very little science specifically targeted at addressing urban issues, and research by the partners suggests there is a big demand for outdoor science activities. During the project we expect to reach 150 secondary schools and 3125 pupils. Through training activities we will reach 300 teachers. We expect to reach greater numbers after completion of the project through our exploitation and dissemination activities.

The overall aim of Urban Science will be ‘to improve the teaching of scientific inquiry and investigation so that pupils develop the competencies to actively contribute to creating healthy cities, gain scientific skills for employment, and are more motivated to study science.’ We will achieve this through linked specific objectives:
• Review the needs of science based businesses to identify the science skills and competencies needed for healthy cities and the low carbon economy.
• Enhance the support available for teachers to increase their professional competence in teaching science in the urban environment using inquiry and investigation.
• Develop formative assessment models that assess science competencies rather than knowledge.
• Provide learning modules for teachers to deliver science in the urban environment.
• Science that develops the competencies of pupils to be confident learners, creative thinkers and adept at solving problems.
• Increase the motivation of pupils to study science and connect science with careers in a low carbon economy.

Urban Science will be solutions based. There are science programmes that teach investigation skills. However, we want pupils to explore solutions to urban issues not just the issue itself. This puts a greater emphasis on creative thinking and problem solving skills, and ensures that the science pupils learn is seen to be practically applied. A solutions based approach also enables us to put curricula topics into a meaningful context. For example, a scientific understanding of ant behaviour and how they regulate flow in and out of their nest can be applied to urban traffic to reduce congestion, pollution and journey times. Understanding the chemistry of photosynthesis can be applied to develop systems to grow an alga that removes CO2 from the atmosphere and produce bio fuels for cars. Understanding cycles and flows of materials in ecosystems has led to the development of building materials from agricultural feedstock that can naturally biodegrade back into nature.