Science Gets Kids Talking

Let’s Talk Science program seeks graduate student volunteers

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Linda Jewell, left, and Amanda Naaum

They call themselves Let’s Talk Science (LTS). But Let’s “Do” Science might better suit the U of G chapter working this year on new science and engineering activities to link graduate students with area kids and teens.

So far this year, the Guelph chapter of the national science outreach organization has enlisted about 75 volunteers from across campus to visit schools and communities and hold campus events promoting science education and literacy.

LTS co-ordinators Linda Jewell and Amanda Naaum hope to attract another 25 volunteers to the Guelph program, now in its fourth year. They will hold an information and training session on campus for grad students for all seven U of G colleges this month.

Besides helping to stir a passion for science among kids, they say, the program holds out benefits for U of G student volunteers. Those volunteers run science activities for groups from kindergarten to Grade 12, mostly in Grades 1 to 6.

Says Jewell: “It’s a great way to get teaching experience – if you’re nervous, trying to convey ideas. Most of our ideas are complex, and it’s great to get experience breaking it down to speak to someone not in the field.”

Although most volunteers hail from the College of Biological Science, the program has student leaders from all seven colleges.

Several projects are new for Guelph this year:

A partnership program connects volunteers with a teacher or classroom for more than one visit each year.

Last year, senior high school students in the program learned how to test food samples using DNA barcoding. For that activity, Naaum drew on her PhD studies with integrative biology professor Robert Hanner, who has used the technology to uncover mislabelling of fish in restaurants and supermarkets.

With funding for LTS this year from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, U of G’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO), and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Naaum is running insect bio-surveillance programs at high schools in Guelph, Fergus and Dryden, Ont. DNA sequences from specimens caught by the students will be entered into the BIO’s barcode database of living things.

This spring, LTS chapters across Canada will run the second annual All Science Challenge for teams of middle school students. Jewell hopes to attract about 20 teams to campus for this one-day Jeopardy-style contest.

LTS will take part March 3 in Philopolis, a daylong series of lectures and workshops being run by U of G grad students in the Department of Philosophy. Participants will learn about species concepts and biodiversity.

In 2010-11, the Guelph LTS program reached about 3,600 children. Most were around Guelph, although one volunteer spent time in two northern Ontario communities. The program involved about 40 schools and 60 classroom teachers.

Now in her second year as LTS co-ordinator, Jewell speaks to youngsters about her PhD studies of plant pathogens with Prof. Tom Hsiang, School of Environmental Sciences.

Among her audiences are kids in U of G family housing, where she lives. She says reshaping concepts for younger learners “forces you to understand your own ideas.”

Naaum, a self-described “science nerd,” joined the Guelph chapter last year and took part in a session for the Go ENG Girl program on campus teaching girls about engineering careers.

Established in 1993, Let’s Talk Science is based in London, Ont., and runs science education programs across Canada.

LTS will run a training session for new volunteers Feb. 16, from 5 to 8 p.m., in MacKinnon 310. RSVP to uguelph@letstalkscience.ca.