“Plastic-Docs” - new experiment in the Virtual Lab
May 11, 2021
BASF's online educational program Virtual Lab, in which children can experience the fascination of natural sciences through gaming, focuses on environmental pollution and the dangers of microplastics. The free offer gives children the opportunity to slip into the role of a researcher and conduct experiments in the virtual world of a laboratory.
With a wide range of experiments that are now available in many languages, BASF has created an online platform for schoolchildren between the age of eight and twelve with the Virtual Lab since the Year of Chemistry 2011. Here they can explore scientific phenomena and discover the joy of experimenting. The experiments do not focus solely on chemistry but aim to cover as many scientific phenomena in everyday life as possible. Why does laundry change color? How do solar systems work? Why does bread taste sweet after being chewed for a long time? These are just a few of the questions that the children investigate during their research and thus establish a connection to their everyday observations.
Participation campaign on the focus topic “Plastics and the environment” in the German version
In particular, the latest experiment “The Plastic Pros - Our Environment Needs Your Help!” aims to help children develop an awareness of the challenges of reducing plastic waste and an understanding of the complex issue of the circular economy. The experiment, which asks young researchers to identify recycling methods for different types of plastic, demonstrates that many problems do not yet have solutions and that their ideas and participation are needed. At the end of the experiment, an expert test is connected, asking which actors could reduce plastic waste by which actions. This gives the users ideas and suggestions for their own behavior in everyday life and raises their awareness of the problem. “Beyond the technical knowledge acquired in the experiment, the children should understand themselves as actors - as actors in this context and recognize their own options for action. We also want to show that even scientists have not yet been able to answer all the questions. This is what the young researchers deal with in our quiz rounds in the Future Lab on the topics of microplastics in the ocean, plastic waste in the environment or plastics from renewable raw materials. So far, the Future Lab is only running in the German version of the Virtual Lab; it could, of course, be integrated by the regions into the country-specific language versions as well,” says Nicole Wessa-Schmid, who is responsible for BASF's Virtual Lab.
Motivational and reward elements: Magnets and dirty water world
Anyone who does so much research and thinks about a sustainable, future-oriented approach to plastics must also be rewarded: For taking part in the quiz in the Future Lab, each child receives a Dr. Blubber magnet, meaning that four different magnets can be collected over the four quiz rounds. With a bit of luck, a day trip with the class to BASF's Kids' Lab in Ludwigshafen or a visit to a science center in the participating school's respective region may even be in the offing.
The additional online game Mikroskopia combines learning with fun and is another incentive for the children, in addition to the fun lab awards to achieve in the lab. In this fictional dirty water world, the goal is to move small colorful dirt particles so that they form a line and thus disappear. Cleaning up the dirty water becomes a sense of achievement for the children, and with enough research points from the experiments, many levels await the young explorers.
Education without borders through language diversity
The Virtual Lab expands BASF's local Kids' Labs, where schoolchildren can experiment on site. Kids' Labs exist in a wide variety of forms at BASF sites in now more than 40 countries. Some experiments from the Virtual Lab are already available in ten different languages, allowing students in different countries to experiment online. With a module in simple German, the Virtual Lab can also be used to expand technical vocabulary for children with a migration or refugee background, and the English lab is of interest to bilingual schools. Work materials and handouts additionally offer teachers the opportunity to didactically link “hands-on” experiments and virtual experiments. Especially in the time of the pandemic, the Virtual Lab thus responds to the challenges schools are facing due to the necessity of online teaching and the changed daily school routine. “Working with the Virtual Lab is an ideal offer for digital learning - from home or at school, on the private tablet or on the whiteboard in the classroom. It combines the acquisition of media skills with science learning. The multiple integration of the Virtual Lab in the context of digital teaching and homeschooling has led to a surge in user numbers,” says Wessa-Schmid.