Inside Education

2015 Winner: Excellence In Science And Technology Public Awareness

Turning Alberta students into idea generators around energy and water

In its 30th year of operation, Inside Education has been on the leading edge of education in Alberta by providing an exciting way for the next-generation to learn about science and technology. Executive Director Steve McIsaac says their newest initiative unites students across Alberta through a central theme.

“One of our major program areas is our Youth Learning Summit, which is a gathering of high school students from across Alberta,” McIsaac says. “For each program we have 20 high schools represented, and they travel down to Banff for a three day summit on a theme focusing on either energy or water.”

McIsaac and his team works with leaders in the community to give the best experience to the high school students. The objective is to turn these learners into idea generators, which McIsaac says is instrumental to creating a shared learning experience.

“The students that attend are leaders at their school, so they’re challenged to go back to their community and implement some kind of an education action plan. So there’s really thousands of students that benefit,” McIsaac says. The summit gives students an opportunity to share their knowledge in a positive and exciting way, which is something McIsaac says is important to his team.

Creating a positive learning environment

McIsaac says his team wants students to looks at conflicting views in a positive light. The Inside Education team keeps an open mind when bringing in experts – described as “navigators” or “idea generators” – and past guests have included representatives from the University of Calgary, Devon Canada Energy and the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.

“One of the things we like to focus on to get people engaged is that it’s not interesting what you’re against, but we want to know what you’re in favour of,” McIsaac says. “We want people to be engaged in these complicated topics and themes, and not to sit on the cynical sidelines. We try to motivate them to be critical thinkers rather than critics.”

The philosophy is important because it helps students and the team explore commonalities, which helps keep the focus on the future. McIsaac and his team believe education is less of a race and more of a shared journey, and focusing on commonality makes the experience feel like an adventure.

McIsaac says by working with students and actively listening to their needs, the youth have played an important role in shaping the initiative. Six years ago when the program started, students were nominated by their instructors, McIsaac says, but over time students have become drivers in the application process.

Paving the road to the future

McIsaac says when his team reviews the applications, frequently they discover students have asked their teachers to apply on their behalf.

“We’ve had the occurrence where young people find out about us and they lean on their teacher and say they want to go to the summit,” McIsaac says. “The teachers go through the process of the application, but the students select themselves because of an interest and desire to find out more.”

The Youth Education Summit was created in 2009 to fill a gap Inside Education saw in their programs. Prior to the summit, Inside Education typically worked directly with teachers to enrich the learning process in Alberta.

“The program was a realization we wanted to provide opportunities for student leadership,” McIsaac says. “It was also expressed by the teachers we worked with, saying that there were student leaders that wanted to be engaged in the topics, science and issues today. It was an opportunity to reach a large number of young people by sending representatives from their schools.”

McIsaac says more students are realizing the importance of finding the safest way to develop new technology and sciences, and they want to play a role in paving the road to the future. The hands on experience they receive at the summit is essential in helping them understand the various options available to improving science today and in the future.

“We’ve learned from the students that they don’t want to wait to grow up, but they want to be the decision makers and agents of change today,” McIsaac says. “What we’re trying to do is educate and motivate the next generation of environmental leaders and stewards. These people are going to be the scientists, the technologists and the decision makers of the future.”