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German Digital Kinderuni
Kinderuni Live event sees students get hands-on in Melbourne

Children take part in the Kinderuni Live event in Melbourne on November 20, 2019
Goethe-Institut Australien

Over 115 Victorian primary school students took part in the Goethe-Institut’s first Australian Kinderuni Live event at Melbourne University recently. The action-packed day saw schoolkids learn about science while working on their German skills.

By André Leslie

Building a model of a chemical molecule with your own hands, working out a banana’s DNA and designing the perfect paper plane were just some of the activities schoolkids got up to recently at Goethe-Institut’s Kinderuni Live event in Melbourne. 

German-language students from Carrum Primary School and Deutsche Schule Melbourne, plus other Victorian schoolkids learning German, met up at Melbourne University for a day which revolved around university academics hosting a series of science workshops. 

„Research shows that kids - and also adults actually - learn a language better if it is combined with things that have to do with their real world,“ said Goethe-Institut Australia deputy director Eva Baker, who coordinated the day with her team. 

„If you combine language learning with another subject that sparks their interest, the motivation is much higher and they can apply the language straight away to things that are actually useful to them.“ 

The inaugural Australian Kinderuni Live event was part of Goethe-Institut’s German Digital Kinderuniversity ("Kinderuni"), a free educational online program for children. Students of the online university can explore 30 different lectures in three faculties - humankind, nature and technology – in either English or German. Schoolkids complete a science experiment at the Kinderuni Live event Fun science and German language learning were the two focus areas at the event at Melbourne University | © Tania Jovanovic / Goethe-Institut Australien Online and in-person

The idea of the live event was to develop hands-on experience and challenge the kids to ask questions. At the beginning of the interactive science show, the students asked varied questions ranging from “Why does a balloon pop when you put a pin in it?” to pretty profound ones such as “Why do humans exist?” 

After the show, expertly hosted by “Professor Einstein” and “Frau Schlau”, students moved into various workshops hosted by German academics from Melbourne-based research institutions. Dr Susanne Seibt from RMIT University, Dr Kerstin Brinkmann from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Florienne Loder from the Bio21 Institute at Melbourne University and Nikola Baschuk from the Hudson Institute all took classes on topics from immunisation to water molecules.

Susanne Seibt, a scientist from Hof in Bavaria who now works as a research fellow at RMIT, showed students how to make edible polymers using chemistry.

„I feel like it is very important to teach kids young and get them interested and hyped about chemistry and science,“ said Seibt, who completed her PhD in Melbourne last year.

„Getting them actually doing science with their hands - that’s what we do as chemists. We stand in the lab and do these experiments with our hands. That’s the exciting part.“ Dr Susanne Seibt runs an experiment at the Kinderuni Live event in Melbourne Dr Susanne Seibt runs an experiment at the Kinderuni Live event in Melbourne | © Tania Jovanovic / Goethe-Institut Australien

A break from the classroom

For teacher Marcus Mulcahy, a learning specialist at Carrum Primary School, the learning activities had an inspiring effect on him and his pupils.

„Going down the line of experimentation with science, like we did today, is not a path we’ve chosen, but it opens up ideas for us,“ he said. „I’m thinking to myself, Gosh, this is so easy and accessible. How engaging. It’s just amazing.“

The event closed with a science-themed treasure hunt and each participant was given a certificate and mortar board cap, which was then promptly thrown upwards for the traditional graduation group photo.

Dinah, a third grade student from the Deutsche Schule Melbourne, said she enjoyed learning science outside of the classroom for the day. Some of her classmates were also involved in actively helping the academics run their workshops. "Professor Einstein" gets some help from a student during the live science show "Professor Einstein" gets some help from a student during the live science show | © Tania Jovanovic / Goethe-Institut Australien

"Just being somewhere different and experiencing new things - that's been cool," she said.

Fifth grade student Joel, a Lego enthusiast from Carrum Primary School, said that he enjoyed building molecules out of playdough and sticks, but his highlight was probably the German food on offer. 

"I liked the pretzels - they were nice," he said. "But I only had one, I didn’t want to seem too greedy."

Eva Baker from Goethe-Institut predicts that Kinderuni Live will become a yearly event in the future. She also hopes that, for the kids involved, learning German will one day help boost their job prospects, especially in the area of science. 

“If a child is here today that is interested in science and maybe has the idea that it wants to study science in Germany later, then that would be great,” she said. “That would actually plant a seed in their head.”