Workshops aim to raise interest in science

Brett Hawley, left, and Sebastian Hadjiantoniou perform an experiment in front of students.
— photo courtesy of Sebastian Hadjiantoniou

Four students from the Ottawa area were in Hay River recently to offer workshops aimed at putting the spotlight on science and showing students how engaging it can be. Two students from the University of Ottawa and two from Carleton University, part of the Science Travels program, visited four Northern communities between Nov. 19-23. With diverse backgrounds and expertise, they offered a series of workshops at both Princess Alexandra and Diamond Jenness schools in Hay River.

In 2006, the program started offering workshops in Northern Ontario schools and has since expanded to sending graduate students to the NWT due to its popularity.

Workshops ranged from a chemistry magic show to learning about robotics.

University of Ottawa student Sebastian Hadjiantoniou, currently working towards his PhD in biology, said the goal isn’t to teach students science, but rather to break from the traditional style of teaching it and show how much fun it can be.

Our goal is to promote science and give students a lasting impression that science is fun,” he said. “We want to expose them to the opportunities that are out there and maybe they’ll be inclined to pursue a career out of it someday.”

The robotics workshop was a huge hit with students from all communities, giving them the opportunity to build robots using LEGO Mindstorm kits. By using a simplified version of programming software, students could then tell their robots exactly what to do.

The objective is to step out of the box and use logical thinking to figure out ways to make your robot do exactly what you want it to do,” Hadjiantoniou said. “With the Grade 12 students at DJSS, they picked it up within 10 minutes and soon after their robots were fighting each other inside a makeshift ring.”

The DNA-related workshop put students at the scene of a crime they had to solve, using evidence such as saliva and hair. With younger students, liquorice and marshmallows were used to explain how DNA strands hold together.

Hadjiantoniou said the graduate students participated in the program because it was a great opportunity for them to share their passion.

This takes very little of our time and effort and the repercussions are great,” he said. “This also helps us explain science in simplistic terms, which is actually a tool most scientists have difficulty with. By doing these workshops with kids, you get their perspectives of science, and it makes you realize that, if you can’t get your message across, they won’t understand or care.”

After having visited several schools in four different communities – Dettah, Yellowknife, Fort Resolution and Hay River – Hadjiantoniou said he would be going back home with fond memories of the North. He said one aspect of the North in particular struck him.

People are so respectful here,” he said. “Students would stop us in the hallways and say hi, and that’s not something you’d normally see in other schools in the South. There is a level of genuine care and kindness here that is mind-blowing.”

— Myles Dolphin