Principles and goals

The principal object of the La main à la pâte program was to assist teachers to discover and teach science and technology by implementing investigation approach in education that can stimulate a scientific mind, an understanding of the world and expression skills in students.

The ten principles, drawn up in 1998, summarise the essentials of what La main à la pâte offers: 

  • The first six provide a simple description of the underlying educational method. However, one of these principles refers to the scientific notebook comprising individual, group and collective written wor
  • The last four relate to support, including support through the Internet sites and by scientists from academic research or from the business world.


The 10 principles of La main à la pâte

  • Students observe an object or a real world phenomenon and experiment on it.
  • During their investigations, the students use argument and reasoning, sharing and discussing their ideas and results, constructing their knowledge as a purely manual activity is insufficient.
  • The activities the teacher propose to the student are organised sequentially with a view to progressive learning, They are related to official programmes and offer students a great deal of independence.
  • A minimum period of two hours a week is assigned to the same theme for several weeks. Continuity of educational activities and pedagogical methods is ensured throughout schooling.
  • Each students keeps a record of experiments in their own words.
  • The main objective is a progressive grasp of the operative scientific and technological concepts together with a consolidation of written and oral expression.
  • Requests are made to families and/or the neighbourhood for class work.
  • Locally, scientific partners (universities, grandes ecoles) support class work and make their skills available.
  • The teacher can obtain modules to be implemented, ideas for activities and responses to their questions from the La main à la pâte website. They can also participate in collaborative work through dialogues colleagues, training personnel and scientists.


Educational Procedure

From learning about things to early-learning activities, schools have always offered remarkable scientific projects and activities. However, despite the efforts made, this teaching usually remains theoretical and academic. At the end of secondary school education, students do not perform well in sciences and are not really attracted to scientific issues.

Having observed this, in 1995, La main à la pâte decided to promote the teaching of sciences in primary school favouring the build-up of knowledge by exploration, experimentation and discussion. Science is no longer the learning of set phrases to be memorised, but becomes an active, interrogative and experimental practice and a collective construct.

The teacher provides the students with situations enabling reasoned investigation, guides them without doing the work in their place, makes them discuss viewpoints by paying a lot of attention to the elaboration of the reasoning and the mastery of language; makes them express valid conclusions in relation to the experimental results obtained, he organises continuity in time and the progression of learning (c.f. test workbook).

Science classes are organised around themes. This enables progress to be made in both the acquisition of knowledge, procedures and spoken and written language. A sufficient period of time should be devoted to each subject to allow for the stabilisation of acquired knowledge.

Scientific education requires professional competence linking scientific knowledge and educational practices. The teacher guides the activities and the learning while exploiting available material, documentary and human resources. La main à la pâte enables teachers to become involved in a dynamic and motivational relationship with scientists, training personnel and teachers.

Mastery of language

Practising scientific activities in class contributes to the mastery of language. Children learn to seek the right word and the correct phrase (causality principle) to describe their observations. They also learn to produce and decode graphs, results tables and charts.

Oral Expression

La main à la pâte encourages oral exchange on observations, assumptions, experiments and explanations. A lot of students with language difficulties express themselves more voluntarily during scientific activities where activities have caused them to involve themselves in a common task and to deal with universal phenomena. The rigour of scientific discourse can contribute to the formation of a critical mind. Scientific debate can train a person for citizen debates: the students learn to argue their point of view, to listen to others and to work for a common goal. They also learn to freely exercise their mind while constraining it with the realities of the world of science.

Written Expression

Writing is a means of working on one’s own thoughts. It also enables one to synthesise and to formalise new ideas. It makes it possible to record the results of an experiment like those of a debate.

Citizenship Education

La main à la pâte is based on a new form of partnership between civil society and the school. It ensures the association of parents with children’s investigations, and causes teachers, scientists and associations to contribute, thereby contributing to the re-forging of urban or rural social links.

Access to scientific material allows students to come into contact with science, but also to familiarise themselves with research procedures (discussing with one’s peers, arguing one’s point of view, agreeing on observations and interpretations, etc.).

Access to the La main à la pâte website assists teachers in communicating among themselves and with scientists and training personnel.

Beyond these considerations that are inherent in investigation procedures, La main à la pâte has, for several years, been offering educational projects specifically targeted at societal issues: health education, sustainable development education, risk education, etc, enabling children to understand how science allows one to grasp these issues and to better play the role of a citizen.