Every year Falling Walls, a platform for research promotion, chooses science projects that ‘set out to tear down the next walls in science and society’ across eight different categories. Within the science engagement category, Kletskoppen was one of twenty winners, chosen from 207 entries ranging from projects with innovative ideas on vaccine engagement and student solutions to sustainable development goals, to how citizens can help monitor water and soil. The winners will receive a travel scholarship and a ticket to the Falling Walls Science Summit 2023, where they will have a chance to become the Falling Walls science breakthrough of the year 2023 in their respective category.
Kletskoppen organises activities for children from diverse backgrounds to increase their enjoyment of language, broaden their view of science, and appreciate their own (multilingual) knowledge. Their activities include festivals in libraries and community centres and lessons in schools about ‘being a scientist’ using language science. Dr Sharon Unsworth, Associate Professor at the Centre for Language Studies, is the scientific director for the project. “Children’s perceptions of science are almost exclusively shaped by the ‘hard’ sciences and the idea that language can be the object of scientific research is an alien concept.” Unsworth explains that that is what makes Kletskoppen important: it shows that language is not as simple as people assume, and often more interesting and fun than many children think. “Science is not just something for people in a lab coat with a microscope, telescope or stethoscope.”
Unsworth stresses that Kletskoppen is a real team effort, with the programme starting as a joint collaboration between Radboud University and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. Apart from Unsworth, the Kletskoppen team is composed of project leader Pim Franssen, a scientific content team, a programming and production team, and an advisory board. External partners include Bibliotheek Gelderland Zuid, Bibliotheek Transvaal/Den Haag and IMC Weekendschool.
Unsworth can attest that the project can lead to lively reactions. “I have had lots of interesting and fun interactions with children and their families during Kletskoppen,” says Unsworth, “but I think my favourite was during a class I gave about bilingualism at a school in Limburg.” One of the children, who had only been in the Netherlands for a year, was incredibly enthusiastic, sticking his hand up to answer all the questions and taking charge of his classmates. Unsworth: “The teacher told me afterwards that this boy was usually very quiet and she’d never seen him so engaged. We have had similar experiences in other schools. This shows that for multilingual children in particular, allowing them to showcase their own linguistic expertise can be a very effective way of engaging them in language science.” This level of engagement is likely what won Kletskoppen their prize. Falling Walls announces their science engagement breakthrough of the year 2023 at their science summit from 7 to 9 November.