The ISL’s Tess Charnaud, pictured, wants to inspire children about science
Photo: Mike Zenari
Since childhood, science has been Tess Charnaud’s obsession: “The everlasting ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ like why is the sky blue, why do plants breathe, why are cheetahs so fast or how does electricity get from the pylon to my house?”
The answers she got in childhood were often disappointing, so she sought a way to learn more and to answer those questions for others.
Charnaud came to Luxembourg ten years ago, following a successful career as head of science at a UK school. Initially she set up a tutoring business, before joining the International School of Luxembourg, where she currently teaches biology and chemistry at secondary level, in addition to studying for her doctorate in education.
Teaching has changed a lot during her career and Charnaud no longer uses a chalkboard, but says that much of the content is the same. However, she admits that things like Crispr (a technique in DNA manipulation), genome editing and stem cell use in disease treatment have all become realities in her lifetime. “What also continuously changes and evolves is how I teach. I’ve tried to develop a repertoire of skills and change my approach as the children grow and develop. A good teacher needs to adapt in response to changing student needs,” she explains.
“Obviously I want to inspire future scientists, but even at a basic level, I hope to make scientific learning something that is enjoyable,” she says. Her goal is to help her students interpret and analyse data and evaluate methodologies, and she sees these skills as applicable beyond the laboratory. A host at Scienteens Lab (see previous article), Charnaud believes “there is nothing better than seeing real science,” be that through experimental learning or through visits to world-renowned science institutions like Cern, in Switzerland, or via hands-on field trips. “It’s a cliché, but seeing is believing. The more students see science influencing their lives, the more excited they become by it.”
Outside teaching, Tess is also a juror on the Luxembourg Biology Olympiad committee. She agrees that science is still a male-dominated environment but believes that “things are changing”. Events aimed at increasing female participation are becoming more evident in Luxembourg: “I’ve been involved in Greenlight for Girls, a new international initiative that held its first event at the Vodafone HQ” in May. She also notes that the US embassy ran a “women in science” event with a panel discussion and access to women mentors, and that Women in Digital Empowerment organised a “celebrate girls in ICT” event in April. “I also took part in a workshop run by the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology to promote gender equality in Stem,” or science, technology, engineering and maths.
Knowing she might inspire a young person to study science is what makes Charnaud wake up each morning with a fire inside her: “Every day I get to work with young minds and share my love of science. I still get excited by the inner workings of photosynthesis. I’m always looking for ways to inspire children of both genders. Who knows what ground-breaking scientific discovery they might make in the future?”