Get Students Excited to Learn Science with STEM Fairs, Projects and Expos

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Get Students Excited to Learn Science with STEM Fairs, Projects and Expos

How to encourage students to get excited about STEM learning is on the minds of many parents and teachers. The term STEM represents the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and has become quite the buzzword in education and the economy. Early access to STEM education with additional programs and activities for children is viewed as a key driver. For these reasons, Teachers on Call’s online and in-person tutoring service believe in sharing opportunities for STEM enrichment. Enter Youth Science Canada, a non-profit organization with year-round programming in addition to hosting the Canada-Wide Science Fair (our country’s largest annual youth STEM event in May). To learn more about Youth Science Canada and gain ideas on how to help students explore STEM education, check out our interview with YSC Executive Director, Reni Barlow.

        As Canadian leaders in education, the Teachers on Call in-person and online tutoring service understand that parents and teachers are continuously looking for ways to enhance science and math curriculum to make it come to life outside the classroom.  That’s why we are excited to provide information about Youth Science Canada, a charity focused on helping foster an interest in STEM projects. They are determined to provide elementary and high school students with access to STEM programs and activities. This is seen as an integral way to prepare the next generation of innovators and leaders to develop the necessary problem solving and critical thinking skills required to succeed in school and careers of the future. Interested to learn more? Read on for Reni Barlow’s advice and insights.

        Interview with Reni Barlow, Executive Director of Youth Science Canada

        For teachers, parents, and students learning about Youth Science Canada for the first time, please tell us about your organization.

        Youth Science Canada (YSC) empowers all Canadian youth to investigate scientific questions and develop innovative solutions to current and future challenges through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) projects. We help students start projects through mySTEMspace and encourage them to share their discoveries and innovations through our network of 100 affiliated regional STEM fairs nationwide. YSC organizes the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF), the country's largest annual youth STEM event, where the top grade 7-12 students from each region showcase their work. In addition, YSC selects students to represent Canada at international youth STEM project competitions and events and offers professional development resources and workshops for K-12 teachers through our Smarter Science program.

        How do new students get involved going forward for the summer and/or next school year?

        Students interested in completing a STEM project can get involved by starting their project with an account on mySTEMspace (in English or French), which provides access to resources, project workspaces, and information about upcoming STEM fairs. With their STEM project, students can enter their local or regional STEM fairs, which serve as qualifiers for the Canada-Wide Science Fair. Additionally, students can join the purpleSTEMwave Discord server to connect with other young STEM enthusiasts across Canada.

        You are known for your signature event, the Canada-Wide Science Fair. What does your STEM fair look like this year? How can interested parties attend?

        The 2024 Canada-Wide Science Fair will be held at Carleton University in Ottawa (1125 Colonel By Dr, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6), Ontario from May 25 - June 1, 2024. This year, 387 student finalists from across Canada will compete for over $1.3 million in scholarships, awards, and prizes. The event will feature elaborate presentations, engaging demonstrations, and public viewing opportunities for school groups, families, and STEM enthusiasts. The CWSF and STEM Expo are open to the public on May 30-31 and the projects can be viewed online starting May 26, 2024.

        Are you able to share some background on the participating Canadian finalists and their projects?

        The 387 student finalists competing in this year's fair are from all 13 provinces and territories. These finalists, students from grades 7 to 12, have been selected from regional STEM fairs nationwide. Their projects cover a range of topics, including health, environmental sciences, engineering, aerospace, and computer science, reflecting Canadian youth's diverse interests and talents in STEM. The distribution of finalists by province is as follows: 47 from Alberta, 52 from British Columbia, 39 from Manitoba, 15 from New Brunswick, 14 from Newfoundland, 36 from Nova Scotia, 2 from Northwest Territories, 3 from Nunavut, 138 from Ontario, 4 from Prince Edward Island, 9 from Quebec, 19 from Saskatchewan, and 3 from Yukon. Additionally, there are 2 guest participants each from Mexico, Taiwan, and Thailand.

        The projects are evaluated by a panel of expert judges, and students can win cash prizes, medals, scholarships, and trips to represent Canada at international youth STEM competitions and events. The fair also features workshops, keynote speakers, and networking events to inspire and connect young scientists. The student finalists include 42 from Grade 7, 93 from Grade 8, 54 from Grade 9, 62 from Grade 10, 78 from Grade 11, and 58 from Grade 12/Cégep 1. By category, there are 135 junior projects (grades 7/8), 116 intermediate projects (grades 9/10), and 136 senior projects (grades 11/12/Cégep).

        In terms of project type, 174 projects (51%) are categorized as Discovery and 169 (49%) as Innovation. The nine YSC project challenges addressed include Aerospace (18 projects), Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food (28 projects), Curiosity and Ingenuity (38 projects), Digital Technology (50 projects), Disease and Illness (50 projects), Energy (21 projects), Environment and Climate Change (53 projects), Health and Wellness (65 projects), and Natural Resources (20 projects).

        Among the participants, 32 students (8%) self-identify as Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, or Inuit), and 180 students (43%) self-identify as Persons of Colour. More information is available on the CWSF 2024 page.

        For successful young Canadian innovators, what types of international competitions are possible?

        Successful CWSF finalists can compete in prestigious international competitions such as the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS), and the Taiwan International Science Fair (TISF). Team Canada has a rich history of award-winning performances on the global stage. During ISEF 2024, Team Canada celebrated its award-winning achievements with four grand awards, including a first place award for Chloe Filion and Sophie Filion's project on The Digital Air Rifle Ballistic Measuring Device in the Embedded Systems category.

        What types of curriculum connections are there for participating students?

        STEM projects and participation in STEM fairs help students develop skills across various curriculum areas, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, language, and the arts. Projects encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, and research skills integral to the educational curriculum and beneficial for future academic and career pursuits.

        While your event will naturally appeal to students who excel in math and science, what advice do you have for the parents and teachers of students who struggle in these subjects?

        For students who may struggle in math and science, the key is to nurture their curiosity and provide them with opportunities to explore STEM in the world around them. Parents and teachers can encourage these students to identify questions or problems that build on their strengths and related to their interests. Students can also be encouraged to participate in STEM activities, clubs, and fairs emphasizing practical applications and real-world problem-solving, helping them build confidence and interest in these subjects.

        Please tell us about your event sponsors and partners who help make these educational opportunities possible.

        Youth Science Canada's programs and events are supported by various sponsors and partners, including engineering.com, Intact Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Youth Can Innovate, Sanofi Canada and Cenovus Energy. These partnerships provide essential financial and logistical support, ensuring that events like the CWSF can offer valuable opportunities for young Canadian scientists.

        Who are some of your most renowned alumni?

        Notable alums of the Canada-Wide Science Fair include Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario’s  Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut and neurologist; Victoria, British Columbia’s Ann Makosinski, inventor and entrepreneur recognized by Time Magazine and Forbes; and Adam Noble, founder and CEO of Noblegen, known for his award-winning sustainable innovations.

        A few years ago in an interview, I asked you about your hope for the future of STEM education in Canada. What is it now?

        My hope for the future of STEM education in Canada is to continue fostering an inclusive and supportive environment where all youth, regardless of their background, socioeconomic status, or geographic location can engage their curiosity and ingenuity through STEM. Youth Science Canada aims to inspire the next generation of innovators who will address global challenges and contribute to a brighter, more sustainable future. I encourage students or parents with youth to visit our website, youthscience.ca, for more information.

        …..

        We hope parents and educators enjoy learning about STEM opportunities for their young scientists. For our president’s past interview with Reni Barlow in the Ontario Library School Association’s magazine, The Teaching Librarian, click here.

        *Pictures provided by Youth Science Canada.

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