There was much more going on at the summer science camp for youth in Fort McKay last week than just the typical glue-and-popsicle-stick experiments.
Children from Grades 1-6 got crafty with rock simulations and circuit designs during the four-day session at the local wellness centre. The camp, sponsored by Shell Canada, was presented by DiscoverE, a program from the University of Alberta that operates under the Actua umbrella, a national charity and youth outreach network for all things science.
“We try and teach the kids science concepts in a really fun way…so they generally get to create something that they can take home and show off,” said Lexa Peters, one of the two instructors at the camp. “Our main objective is to really inspire youth in regards to STEM – meaning science, technology, engineering and math. We want them know this is a career they can realistically pursue.”
Camp activities included making paper windmills followed by a discussion about the pros and cons of wind-powered energy, and building doorbells from scratch.
For many of the youth, the doorbell exercise marked the first time they used wire strippers and worked with electrical tape and buzzers to properly connect to a nine volt battery, Peters said.
The fossil workshop was the week’s most popular activity, she added.
“They really liked the dinosaur project where we discussed how fossils are made over time. We buried some dinosaur toys in a plaster of paris and sand mixture and then they got to actually dig them out with certain techniques and feel like real paleontologists,” Peters said.
While there is no major theme to the summer camp, DiscoverE customizes its summer camps according to each community’s wishes.
Fort McKay wanted more of an environmental focus, Peters said, sparking a program that dug deep into geology, exploring igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, among other land and water based topics.
This isn’t the first time DiscoverE has been in Fort McKay. Actua hosts one science summer camp in the community every year, Peters said.
“The great thing about it – other than how hands-on it is – is the curriculum changes every summer, so the kids can come back year after year and never worry about relearning something.”
Actua considers itself “invested heavily” in Northern communities and has long-term partnerships with Nunavut’s Arctic College, the Nunavut Research Institute and Yukon College.
DiscoverE has an outreach agenda focused specifically on young girls and Aboriginal communities, Peters said, as those are two groups “typically underrepresented in STEM.”
“We just want them – specifically girls and those in Aboriginal communities, some of which are pretty isolated – to know that there’s lots more to science than you might originally think and these career options are there and they are available to them,” she said.
“Lots of kids during the camp are surprised science can be so fun. They say things like, ‘I didn’t know about astronomy or chemical engineering; it sounds cool and I want to learn more.’ That’s great for us to hear and keep us going.”