Fête de la science
Interview: Goals and challenges of the Fête de la science 2017
To coincide with the Fête de la science 2017, Valérie François, who is in charge of scientific outreach at Inria, talks about the importance of the science festival and its goals and challenges, which teaching and generally raising the awareness of people of all ages.
The year's flagship event for scientific outreach
« As far as scientific outreach goes, this is really the year's flagship event for the general public and families! There are several goals in sight: teach the public more about the institute and its research, remind the educational community of the institute's outreach initiatives, take advantage of the contact with families to shed light on the notion of digital science, and, who knows, generate interest in a career in science!
The importance of outreach
The science festival is also an opportunity to display a different approach to computing. We run unplugged activities [editor's note: activities without a computer, to grasp the concepts behind computing]. They are fun, friendly, within everyone's reach and suitable for all ages. They are very popular: a real eye-opener for parents, who often have no idea of what an introduction to computing might involve. Once they've done the activity, they've got the message!
An example of one of these unplugged activities, which is easy to run with primary-school children, is the "silly robot". We make a small labyrinth with the equipment available to hand (chairs, for example) and two children play the game. One is the emitter (who gives the instructions to the robot) and the other is the receiver (i.e. the robot who follows the instructions). The emitter gives a series of instructions to the child who is playing the robot. The point of the exercise is to lead the robot out of the labyrinth with instructions such as "take one step forward, turn left, etc.". This series of instructions, which symbolises an algorithm, has to be given all at once.
There are lots of mistakes, which shows the children and their parents that there is no built-in intelligence in the robot: if the "robot" hasn't managed to get out of the labyrinth even after correctly following the algorithm (i.e. the instructions), it's probably because one of the instructions was wrong or missing. The problem stems from a human error. The game can then be started over or corrected until the robot succeeds in leaving the labyrinth.This exercise illustrates a number of basic concepts: the algorithm (the series of instructions), the test (the robot's attempt to get out), the bug (an error), the correction and then the test again.
This naturally leads into the next session: a programming session with Scratch or with an educational robot such as Thymio or Poppy Ergo, because the child has understood that, if the program or the robot don't do what we want them to, it's because there's an error in the list of instructions!The child realises that the machine is not intelligent: it's the child who supplies the information, which might be correct or incorrect.
The discussion with the public is also an opportunity for us to explain why Inria is backing the ClassCode project to introduce children to coding and the computing mindset at school (Class-Code MOOC): the parents see why it is so important to educate children and make them aware of the issues and challenges of our society, where digital science is everywhere.
Raising awareness... at every age
As part of the celebrations for Inria's 50th anniversary, Dorian Mazauric will run an activity focused on the giant graffiti on the forecourt of the congress centre in Antibes – Juan les Pins. It will be directed more at adults. The themes chosen (e.g. optimising the cost of building an electricity grid between several towns) will help convey the notions of optimisation and Boruvka's algorithm (in this case). But the activity will also make everyone more aware, in a very pragmatic way, of how algorithms are used in everyday life. »