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‘Fun and cool’: how Concordia is teaching kids to love science

Two summertime outreach initiatives introduce children to basic concepts with a big impact
June 11, 2014
By Lucas Wisenthal

Seventy per cent of Canada’s top jobs require a background in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. But while incentive to study is strong, as of 2011, only 18.6 per cent of university graduates aged 25 to 64 had earned their highest degree, certificate or diploma in the subject.

Concordia is aiming to help boost those numbers. This summer, it’s piquing elementary-school-aged children’s interest in science with two interactive outreach initiatives.

Aha moments at the Eureka! Festival

The first — the Eureka! Festival — takes place at the Montreal Science Centre, in Montreal’s Old Port, from June 13 to 15.

At the three-day event hosted by the Science Centre and the Conférence régionale des élus de Montréal, Concordia students, staff and faculty are hosting a range of workshops out of three tent-kiosks.

K'NEX shuttle and launch pad Concordia engineering students have built a number of K’NEX structures, including replicas of the Eiffel Tower, Habitat 67 and a space shuttle. Photo by Concordia University

The subject matter ranges from physics and chemistry to engineering, but visitors won’t be treated to any conventional classroom lectures.

“Science is cool,” says Miriam Posner, technical supervisor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “We want to get kids interested in it at a very young age.”

To that end, Posner herself is introducing visitors to printing and paper-making in the Physics and Chemistry tent. “We’ll be using recycled fibers, and the kids will get to make actual paper.”

A team from Concordia’s chapter of the educational outreach organisation Let’s Talk Science is sharing a tent with Virtual Touch, which will showcase the Illimitable Space System, a digital technology that animates human bodies in real time. The system was developed by Miao Song and Serguei Mokhov, affiliate assistant professors and part-time faculty members in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science.

Meanwhile, at the Concordia-staffed K’NEX Labyrinth, children will be able to navigate a maze made from the popular K’NEX toy.

In all, some 30 university ambassadors will be on hand to show children — many of whom will be bused in by their schools on the Friday — what science is all about.

“Audiences can ask questions and interact with the faculty, the staff and the students. They’ll be able to engage in scientific discussion at a level that we hope will encourage them to explore the subject matter further.”

The return of Westmount Science Camp

Many of the same Concordians — including Song and Mokhov, as well as the gang from Let’s Talk Science — are also leading workshops for six- to 13-year-olds at the Westmount Science Camp in July and August.

The campers, who spend most of the time at Westmount High School, will take part in three field trips to the Loyola Campus.

“We’re going to be designing all sorts of hands-on experiments for them to watch and participate in,” Posner says. “The idea is to give the campers an interactive approach to learning about basic scientific concepts.”

Marc Garneau Former astronaut Marc Garneau paid a visit to the 2013 Westmount Science Camp. | Photo by Concordia University

This marks the second consecutive year that Concordia has participated in Westmount Science Camp. Faculty, students and staff from the Faculty of Arts and Science, the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science and the John Molson School of Business will all play a part in the activities.

For the students who lead the experiments, the experience can be a valuable one — especially if they aspire to careers as educators.

“They’re there to spur childrens’ interest in science and technology,” Posner says. “They’re there to show them that science is fun and interesting.”

The Eureka! Festival takes place from June 13 to 15 at the Montreal Science Centre, in the city’s Old Port. The Westmount Science Camp runs from July 7 to August 15.

Learn how the Let’s Talk Science team is getting kids interested in science.

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