Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Scientists take their skills back into the classroom

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.09.06
EDITION: Final
SECTION: City
PAGE: C3
BYLINE: Graham Hughes
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
ILLUSTRATION: Photo: Kier Gilmour, The Ottawa Citizen / Monika Michalska,a chemical engineer, is one of 14 Scientists in the Schools presenters in the Ottawa area. Last year, she conducted five half-day workshops, and this year she's set to work with students in Grades 5 and 7.
NOTE: Back to School

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Scientists take their skills back into the classroom: Volunteers in the Scientists in Schools program aim to spark interest in science by helping students understand that it is about 'asking questions, asking why and wondering,' Graham Hughes reports.

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Monika Michalska is set to go. The chemical engineer has assembled her kit of flasks and bottles and measured out her ingredients, ready to visit area schools to turn students on to science.

Ms. Michalska is one of a group of volunteers in Ottawa and across the province in the Scientists in School program, helping add spark to the science curriculum. The program, launched in the Toronto area in 1989, was introduced to area public boards this past spring.

One of 14 presenters in the Ottawa area's program, Ms. Michalska conducted five half-day class workshops before the end of the school year and is looking forward to working with Grade 5 and 7 students this year.

"The students love it," she said yesterday, "and the teachers are saying this is exactly what they need to light the spark to get their kids interested in science."

Ms. Michalska enjoys her time in the classroom. "It's so great to see the kids excited about it. You really get to see them thinking about it and they ask wonderful questions about it."

Sarah Summerlin, the program's Ottawa co-ordinator, said the other presenters are set to go, and more are ready to join.

As a presenter, Ms. Michalska talks about "gasses, liquids and solids and reactions -- that sort of thing."

Her enthusiasm is palpable. "I get to go into the classroom and do all sorts of experiment with the kids. They get to mix chemicals and we discuss things like what is a reaction and how do we know when one's happened."

Ms. Michalska said the program's goal is to open children to the wonders of science.

"It's just to get kids interested in science, to know that science is all around them, that science is about asking questions, asking why and wondering."

Cindy Adams, the program's executive director, said presentations were made to about 5,500 students in 200 classrooms following the program's introduction to Ottawa public school boards in the spring.

About 25 hands-on workshop topics are available for Ottawa students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8, she said.

The program was begun in 1989 by the Ajax-Pickering branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women, in conjunction with the Durham District Board of Education.

There were presentations in 40 classrooms that year, and in 2004-2005, volunteers brought science to 14,000 classrooms and 350,000 students.

Scientists in School was introduced in Ottawa with the backing of corporate partners Toyota Canada and The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

This year, the Ottawa branch of the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation added its support to the program.

There's another program, too, that is also active in Ontario schools in an effort to get young people interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The program, Engineer-in-Residence, was developed by Professional Engineers Ontario, and is a partnership among engineers, educators, industry and government that brings real-world experience to the teaching of science, technology and mathematics.

Professional Engineers Ontario licenses professional engineers, and regulates and sets standards for the engineering profession in the province.

The project is administered with the help of The Impact Group, a science and technology consulting organization.

The program began as a four-month pilot in five Toronto-area schools in the fall of 1998.

By September 1999, 14 schools were involved, with more than 1,482 students in 113 classes from kindergarten to OAC involved in 843 Engineer-in-Residence activities. Last year, 18 Ottawa schools took part.

Engineer-in-Residence matches a volunteer engineer with an elementary or high school.

The volunteer commits to six to eight classroom hours a month, said project leader Jeffrey Crelinsten.

Working with teachers, administrators and students, the engineer helps bridge gaps between the real world and classroom theory.

Seeing the practical applications of what they are taught piques students' curiosity and gives them an understanding of why they are learning certain subjects, Mr. Crelinsten said.

Information on Engineers-in-Residence is available at www.eir.ca.

Scientists in School is an incorporated, not-for-profit organization and registered charity.

For information on the program see the website at www.ScientistsinSchool.ca. The local co-ordinator can be reached by e-mail at ottawa@scientistsinschool.ca or by phone at 834-9120.

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