Chapter 4B: Fort McMurray, Alberta

While we expected the set-up at our Fort McMurray venue to be difficult, it was clear that we hadn’t quite prepared ourselves enough. This was an interesting school as it was connected with a YMCA facility. In order to get to the gym, we needed to bypass the YMCA entrance and use their narrow ramp to the gym entrance. There was no other way in unless we wanted to go down the bleachers, which we did for some of our exhibits. However, most of them were far too heavy to carry down stairs so we had no choice but to use the ramp. We quickly learned that we had to either take apart, adjust the height or tilt some of our exhibits in order for it to even enter the gym. It took us longer than expected…. a whole 9 hours!

No ramp large enough to take these carts of wall panels down to the gym

This meant that we had to carry them down…one by one…

Despite our onerous set-up, once we settled in, we were reminded once again why we do what we do. We do this for the students. We do this for science. It was incredible to see such diverse minds completely enthralled in our exhibit. The teachers were especially impressed with how their students responded to our science demos. I don’t think teachers expected much engagement from their non-science students or students placed in the lowest tier of science. However, to their surprise, these students were asking questions, problem solving at the mystery tube and did not want to leave the exhibit. This type of observation has occurred more than once and it really makes me question our education system. By segregating students and putting them in categories like science elite, non-science or lowest tier in science, what kind of message are we perpetuating to these students? It’s no wonder why some students come into our exhibit and feel that they can’t do science or feel “stupid”. I think the reality is, these students don’t get an opportunity to learn in an environment that optimizes their strengths. They’re given this rote way of learning and everyone is evaluated the same way. By doing this, I think we reduce the accessibility to science and the tools science has to offer, while reinforcing this notion  that science is for an exclusive population that can understand it. That’s the exact opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish with science communication and outreach. We want science to be accessible to everyone. So what are some steps we can take to change this? What our team is doing is part of the solution, but I think to really change things, it has to come from the education system.

A popular comic that made its rounds around the internet, depicting what some of us thought (and still think) about the education system (Artist unknown, but if you do know, let me know so I can credit them!)

My engagement piece can sometimes be a hit or miss with the audience and it can be especially discouraging when students don’t want to participate. At first, I thought it was going to be disappointed because no one volunteered to participate. But then after some convincing, I got a few volunteers and then several volunteers. At the end of the presentation, I was thoroughly surprised as to how many questions I got and how many students wanted to share their ideas. So, maybe asking students to think about ideas in the beginning really does help them to brainstorm throughout the presentation. Here are some of their thoughts:

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All in all, we had a great time in Fort McMurray and we finally got a picture of all the vehicles together!

Here’s our whole team: PI crew, Actua and our favourite truck driver, Denis (Image by Lauren S)

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