Day camp forges love of science in youth

Click on the slideshow above to view captions.Photos: Actua.

Future mining engineers, medical doctors and chemists in Fort Chipewyan and Fort McKay got to conduct their own experiments while participating in the DiscoverE science camps hosted in their communities over the last few weeks.

The camps were run by the University of Alberta in conjunction with Actua Canada, a nation-wide organization that encourages the development of STEM skills – science, technology, engineering and math – in Canadian youth aged six through 16.

“We really want to focus on bringing more projects in our science camps to kids who may not have that sort of opportunity,” said Courtney Handford, an instructor at the Fort McKay camp. “We want to try to breach those barriers that kids might have to getting access to science programming.”

The Fort McKay camp was held Aug. 11 to 15 at the local Wellness Centre, while the Fort Chipewyan camp took place July 28 to 31 at the Archie Simpson arena.

Throughout the week, kids were introduced to activities that saw them wearing the hats of biologists, chemists and engineers through role-play and experimentation, building obstacle courses for marbles, mapping out the inner organs of humans and creating their own toothpaste and testing it on eggshells.

“We try to cover a wide range of science topics while we come here; not just science but also engineering, just because we want to expose them to as many subjects as possible to see if we can garner some sort of passion or hit something that they are really into,” Handford said.

Some kids weren’t sure if they could have fun at a science camp over the summer and lamented that they were doing school-like activities when they should have been having fun in their free time. But after realizing how much fun it could be to wire a traffic light or play in a river, many were enthusiastic about the opportunity.

“We get the kids to write thank you letters to the sponsors and I think that’s when it really hit me, the impact we were making,” said Keely McPhee, an instructor at the Fort Chipewyan camp. “You read some of the things and they’re like ‘Thank you Shell for sponsoring this camp,’ and then they’ll add a really cool fact like, ‘Did you know there are 206 bones in your body?’

“One of the kids who just was not listening all week and was not engaged at all ended up drawing a picture of himself as a mining engineer,” McPhee continued. “I asked him to label his picture and he was like, ‘These are the diamonds I’m going to mine and this is how I’m going to get them out.’”

DiscoverE camps have been hosted previously in both communities; the students may have also seen the instructors previously when they visited their respective schools earlier this year.

According to McPhee, a large part of the DiscoverE programming involves tailoring lessons to make them relatable to the places where the camps are run. That is also a major goal for all Actua programs, especially when it comes to engaging Aboriginal youth.

“Aboriginal youth are part of Canada’s fastest growing youth population yet continue to be the significantly most underrepresented,” said Leslie Cuthbertson, Actua’s senior director of partnerships and communications.

“As part of our national missions, we have designed what we call a National Aboriginal Outreach Program specifically designed to engage Aboriginal youth in ways that are locally and culturally relevant and ways that help Aboriginal youth understand that the science and engineering that they already are aware of through their own traditional knowledge is very much connected to the careers that are potentially open to them in the future,” she said.

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