Experimenting in fun – Scientific fundamentals taught at travelling workshop

From left, Anna Cassidy, Charlotte Buth, Michelle Staszuk and Angele Turenne dip their soapy index fingers into a Petri dish to demonstrate cohesion. They learned that soap makes pepper sink to the bottom of the dish during a travelling science workshop that came to Hay River on May 17.

Some kids might have difficulty grasping the scientific meaning of words like solid, liquid, gas and cohesion, but when applied to fun and engaging experiments, they may just hold onto them.

That is the idea behind fun science experiments that took place May 17.

Two members of the Actua organization visited Hay River to teach kids from Kindergarten to Grade 4 some basic principles of science in demonstrations using everyday items.

Actua is a national registered charity based in Ottawa that has been offering hands-on educational experiences for 20 years.

Around 34 participants in the Hay River workshops gathered at NWT Centennial Library to build their own catapults and learn how to make pepper grains sink in water.

Stacey Barnes’ eight-year-old son Zackary attended the workshop and built his very own catapult out of Popsicle sticks, elastics and a plastic spoon. Groups were separated by age, but Zachary wanted to check out both experiments.

“They learned the dynamics of how the experiments worked and had fun at the same time,” said Stacey Barnes. “He’s still playing with his catapult.”

The organization’s two outreach instructors from Toronto had just landed in the North and were to make their way to communities like Fort Providence, Behchoko, Kakisa, Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.

Their plan is to bring their brand of science teaching and experimentation to remote and rural communities and at risk youth.

“This program breaks the barriers of accessibility,” said Erin Carmody of the Actua team. “We go where the kids are and get them familiar with science so they’re comfortable with it, and that increases their confidence.”

On Thursday afternoon, the afterschool crowd trickled into the workshops and transformed into small groups. To learn the principle of cohesion, mini groups gathered around small tables, and watched as a thin layer of pepper flecks in Petri dishes submerged in water as soon as they dipped their soap covered fingers below the surface.

Another group was learning about force and still another group glued together Popsicle sticks and readied to see who could catapult colourful puff-balls the furthest.

“There is a big push right now for scientific literacy,” said Elysia Jellema of the Actua team. “It also helps kids to understand the world around them and make connections. Math and science don’t have to be scary subjects.”

Currently, the organization has teaching pods setting out to travel to Northern Ontario, northern B.C. and Nunavut, along with the NWT. The project reaches out to 200,000 kids annually to teach the fundamentals of science, engineering, technology and math.

by Angele Cano

Northern News Services