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Interview with Reni Barlow, Executive Director of Youth Science Canada

Posted in Community, Featured, Science Tutoring, Tips & Advice

Interview with Reni Barlow, Executive Director of Youth Science Canada

In the latest edition of the Ontario School Library Association’s Magazine -  The Teaching Librarian - our President, Joanne Sallay, interviewed Reni Barlow, Executive Director of Youth Science Canada in her column The Buzz.

    Article as seen in May 2021 issue - STEM @ your library:

    This issue’s focus – STEM @ Your Library – is not only exciting but extremely important.

    The term STEM representing the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics has become quite the buzz word in education. The significance of exposing students to programs and activities to help them develop problem solving and critical thinking skills required for school and careers of the future has long been acknowledged.

    If anything, the pandemic has elevated this relevance to an entirely new level, cultivating a curiosity to guide our country’s next generation of innovators and leaders. As a result, parents and teachers are actively looking for additional opportunities to present to their students outside of traditional course curriculum, to reinforce an interest in STEM subjects.

    For this reason, I was quite intrigued to learn about the non-profit organization, Youth Science Canada. It was timely with their signature event, the Canada-Wide Science Fair, our country’s largest annual youth STEM event, taking place this May.

    To learn more about Youth Science Canada and gain insights on how teacher-librarians can help students explore STEM education, I interviewed Reni Barlow, Executive Director of Youth Science Canada.

    TingL: For some of us hearing about Youth Science Canada for the first time, please tell us about your organization.

    Barlow: Youth Science Canada (YSC) fuels the curiosity of Canadian youth through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) projects. We challenge students (primarily in grades 7-12) to investigate scientific questions and develop innovative solutions related to current and future challenges including agriculture, fisheries and food; digital technology; disease and illness; energy; environment and climate change; health and wellness; and natural resources.

    The results are astounding.

    Roughly 500,000 K-12 students in Canada do STEM projects every year. YSC’s network of community-based members hosts 25,000 at over 100 science fairs in every province and territory, where STEM professionals meet the young scientists and review their projects. They select the top 500 for the national finals—the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF).

    YSC also selects youth and projects to represent the country at international youth STEM competitions and events – our Team Canada program – and offers Smarter Science resources and workshops to help K-12 teachers integrate inquiry-based STEM activities and projects into their classroom.

    What programs, workshops and opportunities are available throughout the school year for students, teachers, and parents?

    YSC’s primary focus is to engage Canadian youth through STEM projects. We are in the process of launching a new web site – mySTEMspace/monEspaceSTIM – to help students find a STEM-related question or problem that engages them and then support them through the development of a project. If students choose, they can enter their project in a school or regional STEM fair.

    Since the introduction of our Smarter Science initiative in 2009, Youth Science Canada has delivered numerous professional education workshops across the country. School boards looking to schedule a workshop can contact Youth Science Canada at dominic.tremblay@youthscience.ca. More info on Smarter Science can be found on youthscience.ca 

    Students across Canada are encouraged to take their STEM projects to the next level by participating in STEM fairs. These competitions include regional fairs and the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF). Visit secure.youthscience.ca/fairlocator to find your nearest regional fair.

    Youth Science Canada recently launched a new podcast – Why to How: Adventures in STEM. The first episode featured Canadian inventor Ann Makosinski who started by doing simple projects at home and then gained international recognition for her hollow flashlight and e-drink inventions. The audio and video of the podcast are available on numerous podcasting platforms and Youth Science Canada’s social media channels including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

    Please describe your Canada-Wide Science Fair and the changes to your flagship event due to the pandemic?

    Canada-Wide Science Fair, the country’s largest annual youth STEM event, will take place May 17 to 21, 100 per cent virtually, allowing all Canadians to visit the event.

    The main showcase will be the Project Zone, which will feature over 400 outstanding and innovative STEM projects by Grade 7-12/Cégep students selected at the regional level across Canada. Each project will feature a synopsis and video. A group of about 250 STEM academics and professionals will evaluate the projects and select the top entries that will share in the awards, medals, and scholarships to be distributed at the virtual awards ceremony on May 20.

    In addition to the Project Zone, STEM Expo, the largest youth STEM outreach event in Canada, will feature virtual exhibits with inspiring innovations, demonstrations, and opportunities in STEM. Cenovus Energy, Intact Financial Corporation, NSERC, numerous universities and other STEM leaders will exhibit their trailblazing programs to Canadian students and members of the public through presentations and virtual tours.

    Can you share some success stories from alumni who have participated in your programs?

    Dr. Roberta Bondar, astronaut, neurologist, physician, educator and photographer notes: “As a Grade 13 student, I participated in the city science fair in Toronto and then went on to represent my region at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. It was an experience that would ultimately define my life.”

    John Baker, founder and CEO of D2L participated in regional science fairs and the Canada-Wide Science Fair as a high school student.

    Ann Makosinski, inventor, writer, Time Magazine, Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30, and Entrepreneur Magazine’s Young Millionaire, participated in regional science fairs, the Canada-Wide Science Fair, and represented Canada at the International Science and Engineering Fair as well as the Google Science Fair.

    Adam Noble, Noblegen founder and CEO, won the CanadaWide Science Fair 2013 Best Project Award and represented Canada at the International Science and Engineering Fair.

    What advice do you have for Teacher-Librarians in how to incorporate STEM into student learning and school libraries?

    We’re all born curious, but by middle and high school students can be more focused on giving answers than asking questions. We tend to underestimate the capability of youth, their ideas, and their passion. Teacher-librarians can encourage students to pursue interesting questions and challenging problems that matter to them. Today’s students have access to more information than ever, but they need help learning to identify trusted sources and go beyond the top five Google search results. Teacher-librarians can help ensure that students have the skills, opportunities, and encouragement to tackle any question or problem they choose. Visit our website for more information.

    What is your hope for the future of STEM education in Canada?

    We want every Canadian student – and especially teens – to stay curious, pursue questions and develop solutions to problems that interest them. Our goal is for them to experience the thrill of using STEM to help people or make the world a better place. Answers and solutions generate new questions and ideas; once the fire of curiosity is ignited, it is difficult to extinguish.

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