La main à la pâte: 20 years on

La main à la pâte, a French expression which means collaborative, hands-on work, was founded in 1996 by Nobel Prize laureate Georges Champak, Pierre Léna, Yves Quéré and the French Academy of Sciences (of the Institut de France). La main à la pâte is managed in partnership with the École normale supérieure of Paris and the French National Institute for Pedagogical Research (now called the French Institute of Education, which is part of the Ecole normale supérieure in Lyon). The project receives financial support from the Ministries of Education and of Higher Education and Research. Its work with the Directorate of School Teaching led to the creation of the PRESTE (National Plan for the renewal of science and technology teaching in schools) in 2000. This was followed in 2002 by new science curricula in primary schools.

La main à la pâte became a Foundation for Scientific Cooperation, by decree in October 2011; the Academy of Sciences, the Ecole normale supérieure (Paris) and the Ecole normale supérieure de Lyon are its founding members. An agreement between the Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, signed in April 2005 and renewed in 2012 – with yearly amendments – sets out the aims, means and methods for the work of the French team running La main à la pâte, which consists of about thirty people. A second framework agreement between the Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sets out the foundation's international action. Several major companies are shareholders of the foundation (Fondation Mérieux, Michelin, Saint-Gobain, Total).

La main à la pâte ( aims to revitalise and expand science teaching in primary education in France and contributes to achieving this aim in a large number of countries. It recommends that teachers implement an inquiry-based method combining the exploration of the world, scientific learning, experimentation, and the mastery of language and argumentation, so that all children deepen their understanding of the objects and phenomena around them.
La main à la pâte has developed all programme in order to support teachers in their efforts to implement inquiry-based science education in the classroom. It disseminates, promotes and organises professional development activities focussing on new methods of science teaching. ƒƒIt also connects members of the science teaching community, in order to form a skills network. Another aspect of the programme is to involve the scientific community, particularly providing classroom support for teachers. Developing and sharing teaching resources is also a key.

ƒƒA website, essentially aimed at teachers and trainers offers  a variety of online services and resources.

La main à la pâte has put in place a network of pilot centres in about twenty sites across France. As a consequence,  innovative local systems have emerged, bringing together very different partners at district, town or departmental level such as nstitutions of higher education, university teacher professional development departments (IUFM), local groups and associations... Involving almost 3,000 classes, they form special zones for the widespread dissemination of the La main à la pâte approach and  promote its best practices.

As part of the future investments programme, the La main à la pâte foundation is responsible for providing professional development opportunities for science teachers at primary and secondary level. This is an extension of La main à la pâte' traditional activities (primary and middle school), which focus on the living sciences and technology, interaction with the world of science and industry, innovation and interdisciplinarity, with a hands-on approach in the classroom.

In September 2012, four professional development centres for science teachers opened in the Alsace, Auvergne, Lorraine and Midi-Pyrénées regions. Set up within large universities and backed by the Foundation, they offer primary and middle school teachers in these regions, professional development activities. These centres will progressively develop their connections in European and internationally.  In addition,every year, a La main à la pâte prize is awarded, under the aegis of the French Academy of Sciences, to recognize work done in primary-school classrooms. Moreover, two professional theses devoted to science teaching are rewarded.

Today, La main à la pâte remains an innovation hub for science teaching. It is supported by institutions and partners that are experts in the field and dedicated to promoting science education. The Foundation's activities are compiled in an annual report, downloadable from its website. Since 2006, its principles have been adopted in the first years of secondary education, as part of an experiment supported by the French Ministry of Education: Integrated Science and Technology Education (EIST). La main à la pâte is a registered trademark of the French Academy of Sciences, which is governed by a committee whose members decide whether the label can be used for certain commercial products and services. For more information, please refer to the La main à la pâte website ( and the book L’enfant et la science written by Georges Charpak, Pierre Léna and Yves Quéré and published by Éditions Odile Jacob in October 2005.