The Ontario Science Centre’s Best Kept Secret for High-School Students

By Joanne Sallay

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

The Ontario Science Centre’s Best Kept Secret for High-School Students

How to inspire, encourage and foster a love of learning, particularly in math and science, is on the minds of many teachers, parents, and leaders in Canada. Amongst this group includes the educators at the Ontario Science Centre, who are committed to cultivating problem solving and critical thinking skills for secondary students interested in studying STEM subjects. While the Ontario Science Centre is known for hosting engaging programs, field trips, day camps and even birthday parties, they have an academic secret. Did you know they also have a Science School for students in their final grade 12 year of high-school? This is an opportunity to study Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Advanced Functions, and Calculus and Vectors for a full semester. As the Teachers on Call team believes in experiential learning we were intrigued to uncover this. Our President, Joanne Sallay, connected with Julie Jones, Ontario Science Centre Science School Coordinator, to learn more about this unique academic opportunity. For families with students currently in grade 11, or even younger years looking to get an advance preview, read on:

        At Teachers on Call, we like introducing our community of parents, students, teacher and administrators to unique educational opportunities for learning. In particular, we are always looking for ways to get kids excited about studying math and science, vital to nurturing the next generation of big thinkers. There is no tuition fee for Science School making it a very accessible enrichment experience. How is this possible? It’s supported by the Durham District School Board, Peel District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board, yet students can apply throughout Ontario irrespective of their school. The only caveat is students outside of the Greater Toronto Area are responsible for their own accommodations and transportation. Do not miss out to learn more, as the deadline to apply to Science School is fast approaching!

        An Interview with Julie Jones from the Ontario Science Centre’s Science School:

        Our very own, Joanne Sallay, had a unique opportunity to explore further during an interview with Julie Jones, Ontario Science Centre Science School Coordinator. Fun fact, not only is Julie involved professionally in the Science School leadership, she also happens to be a Science School graduate herself, so she is quite the expert.

        1) The Ontario Science Centre Science School appears to be a bit of an academic secret. What is the inspiration and origins behind it?

        Science School began with the question as to how the Ontario Science Centre could create a meaningful experience for students in grade 13 who had an interest in the STEM fields. The program has always had a mandatory course focused on 21st Century Learning Skills with an emphasis on communication and innovation. George VanderKuur, the first coordinator of the program, noted people who work in STEM fields have a reputation for being bad communicators. He stated, “We want students to communicate science on an everyday-person level” (Maclean’s magazine, September 20, 1982 p54).

        The make-up of student cohorts have evolved over the years. Students who currently attend do not necessarily have interest in pursuing STEM careers but rather demonstrate a fascination for STEM topics. The program continues focus on communication and innovation skills. Students have opportunity to practise and refine these skills in their science and math courses as well as our mandatory Innovation Course (IDC4U).

        2)  This experience likens to an academic exchange program. While it’s assumed most students are coming from the Greater Toronto Area, please share the locations your alumni have traveled from to participate?

        Students come from all across Ontario. They come from Balmertown to Ottawa to Niagara Falls. And from Elliot Lake to Perth to Goderich.

        3)   As grade 12 courses are vital for post-secondary acceptance, how do courses show on a student’s transcript and how does marking process compare to a traditional high school?

        When students attend Science School they are transferred to a school in one of our partner school boards for the semester. Credits earned at Science School are issued by that partner school and transcripts reflect that school’s name. Teachers are seconded from publicly funded school boards to teach Science School courses. Like all teachers in the province, they follow provincially set assessment, evaluation and reporting policies.

        4)   Students at the Science School will take two to three 4U level Math and Science Courses (with exception of Data Management) and a mandatory Innovation Course. What are the similarities and differences between studying theses courses at Science School versus a traditional Ontario high school? What learnings can students expect from your signature IDC4U course?

        Like science and math courses at a regular secondary school, Science Centre students learn concepts and develop skills outlined in the Ontario Curriculum. A significant difference is in the way curriculum is learned. Within courses, teachers focus on hands-on experiences, inquiry and cross-curricular learning. Cross-curricular learning opportunities emerge as teachers make connections between the content of different courses.

        In the Innovation course, students learn through the innovation process and refine their skills of communication, collaboration and critical thinking. In the course, students have the unique opportunity to engage with the diverse visitors at the Ontario Science Centre and learn how to communicate scientific ideas to people of a wide range of ages, backgrounds and interests. Additionally, students also benefit from mentorship of the Ontario Science Centre staff, including scientists, engineers, tradespeople and business administrators.

        5)   For grade 11 students who are interested in applying, what is the deadline and how can students learn more about the program prior to the deadline? 

        Applications are due on March 1, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

        Our Ontario Science Centre webpage provides more information about Science School and includes details about the application process.

        The most frequently asked questions are answered here:

        Interested students and their families may also want to register for an online Information Session on Tuesday, February 21 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. At this session, participants will have an opportunity to have questions answered. Register here on this link.

        6)   To conclude, can you describe what makes the experience at the Ontario Science Centre special and unique?

        The people. The students, teachers and Science Centre staff are all interested in learning. This creates an exciting environment where we explore ideas, try new things and ask lots of questions.  

        We hope you enjoyed learning about Science School. If you are looking for more on this theme, check out our interview with the Right Honourable David Johnston, who is a big stakeholder on this topic of youth innovation!

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