Science savvy

Science savvy

Challenging students to get excited about the world of science
June 24, 2009
Final question round at Carleton University
Isabel Deslauriers

What do you call a circular piece of DNA? What are the four forces that affect fermions? Name the large muscle that pushes on the lungs of a turtle. And what the heck are fermions anyway? These are but a few of the questions that faced a throng of sixth and eighth graders at the All Science Challenge at Carleton University in Ottawa at the end of May.

Let’s Talk Science, a non-profit organization that aims to increase scientific literacy in children, runs the event to engage students in the wonders of science and motivate them to some day choose a career in the field. This year, the Challenge was held at seven different universities across the country.

Throughout the day-long event, 17 teams of up to four students from Ottawa elementary schools went through several rounds of quizzing — on everything from biology and psychology to chemistry and math — and activity-based contests. “We started off with rounds of questions in one building, competing against different teams, and then we went to another building to do hands-on activities” says Rowan, 12, from Broadview Public School. “Our favourite part was when we had to build a working Morse code machine.”

In the final round, a quizmaster read out questions to the 10 remaining teams, who discussed their answers before submitting them. In the end, team Superheroes from Henry Larson Elementary won by knowing the average depth of the world’s oceans. (Answer: 3.8 kilometres.)

“The good side of science involves hands-on activities and learning that science is fun,” says Teddy, 12, from Broadview. This is exactly the sentiment Let’s Talk Science likes to hear, given that it plans to expand the Challenge into a nation-wide event in the next few years.

The winning team with Henry Larson teacher Sally
 

The winning team with Henry Larson teacher Sally Speck
Isabel Deslauriers

Isabel Deslauriers, Assistant National Coordinator of the Let's Talk Science Partnership Program says that reaching non-science-oriented kids is one of the organization’s main goals. “This event is for all students and a large part of our mandate is to show kids that science is an important part of their life whether they’re in science or not,” she says.

And school teachers, such as Henry Larson’s Sally Speck, are helping to get this message across to their students. Speck, a French and science teacher, says she and her fellow teachers have already begun brainstorming about how they can implement similar science-based activities into the curriculum. “We want to show the kids that science is a part of everything,” she says. “We are going to work hard to integrate science into other subjects such as art and history.”

Watching the elimination round, Kimberley Matheson, a psychology professor who is Carleton’s Vice-President of Research and International, was humbled by the students’ knowledge, admitting that she couldn’t remember the answer to one of the psychology questions.

“It saddens me to see that many universities are having problems attracting students to their science programs,” says Matheson. But the All Science Challenge has strengthened her optimism about the future of science in Canada and she believes things are gradually turning around. “This is a wonderful event. It is so nice to see young students engaging in science.”