2016 Winner: Excellence In Science And Technology Public Awareness
Mixing Science and Fun for Alberta Students
Educating children about science to encourage them to become the next generation of innovators is not easy, but the Alberta Science Network (ASN) does it in a unique way. Their signature program is Scientists & Engineers-in-the-Classroom which is “exactly what it sounds like,” says Executive Director Ed Kusmirski. “We have practicing scientists and engineers go into classrooms and volunteer their time to inspire the next generation.”
With 85% of teacher requests for presenters coming from grades 2 to 6, ASN is providing educational services to over 50,000 Alberta students annually. In addition to their signature program, ASN also provides Teacher Science Workshops, Chemistry All Around You, and several other programs.
Science Networks Assemble!
Before 2014, the Calgary, Grande Prairie, Edmonton and Red Deer Science Networks acted completely independently. In December 2013 the individual groups came together (with Lethbridge and Medicine Hat as affiliates) to combine their efforts to solve common issues. “Being unconsolidated was very inefficient. There was a lot of administrative burdens and a lot of overlaps, so we got together and created the ASN,” says Kusmirski.
In only 2.5 years, ASN has already seen a large increase in their outreach to Alberta schools, with Scientists & Engineers-in-the-Classroom reaching 30,475 students last year.
Tackling Education Issues
Not only is ASN providing educational presentations to thousands of Alberta students, it’s also tackling a big issue. As Kusmirski explains, “the majority of elementary school teachers don’t have a science background. So when they go into university or college they haven’t taken a science course, and yet we’re asking these teachers to teach science to our kids.”
With the Alberta Education science curriculum covering topics like electricity, magnetism, chemistry and structures and forces, educating students on these topics is a challenging task. That’s why ASN stepped in with programming to support teachers with additional tools and resources.
Scientists & Engineers-in-the-Classroom is provided to schools at no cost due to ASN’s numerous donors and partners, and is subject only to the availability of volunteer presenters. Last year, the program received more than 1,500 requests and ASN was able to complete 1,101 presentations.
This high volume of requests is not surprising to ASN. As Kusmirski says, “getting kids excited about science is incredibly easy. Everything we do is hands-on and interactive, and when you ask a question they get really eager and shoot their hand up in the air.”
In 2015, ASN received province-wide feedback from classrooms that had hosted a Scientists & Engineers-in-the-Classroom presentation; 91.2% of teachers reported their students had an increased interest in science after the presentation. Kusmirski says this is a common result. “When I finish my presentations, I always ask (students) if they had fun, and they repeatedly say ‘Oh yeah, that was fun and really cool!’ Then I ask them if it was hard. ‘No, it was super easy.’ Handwriting and colouring between the lines is hard, but science is fun and easy.”
Expanding Their Reach
ASN is currently active in all major urban centres in Alberta except Fort McMurray and they are taking steps to support smaller communities.
“It’s not practical for us to support a request from a teacher for a presentation in an area like High River if we have to get a volunteer from Calgary,” says Kusmirski. “So we are trying to find scientists and engineers in those more rural communities who we can recruit as volunteers and bring them up to speed on a couple of topics. Then when a teacher from a rural area requests a presentation, we can get them to request that local volunteer.”