A lack of hands-on experimental experience and a dearth of positive role models are two key obstacles to getting kids excited about school science. Let’s Talk Science (LTS), an educational charity based in London, Ont., is seeking to remedy both through its Partnership Program, which places university student scientists (most of whom are working on advanced degrees) in elementary and secondary school classrooms across the nation. “We want our program to change attitudes toward science and help more youth to stay in science,” says national program coordinator Sue McKee.
The Partnership Program has chapters in 21 universities (and one college) in nine provinces, and last year reached some 67,000 youth. LTS has made a priority of reaching students in rural and remote schools, says McKee, and when the LTS Partnership Program comes to town, kids can be assured that they will be able to participate in a hands-on activity, sometimes using materials that wouldn’t normally be available outside a university, delivered by someone who is probably (much) younger and cooler than their science teacher. “We often bring in a CSI-type activity. There’s DNA, fingerprinting, identifying bones, blood typing, that type of thing,” says McKee.
Not surprisingly, the program has proven popular with students. Agatha Jassem, one of the coordinators at the University of British Columbia’s bustling chapter (which alone registered 274 student volunteers in ’06-’07), has seen the enthusiastic reaction firsthand. “There’s stuff splashing around and it’s really exciting for the kids, and they’re participating and really having a great time,” says Jassem, a PhD student in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, describing a typical class. “And when they fill out evaluation forms at the end, the best responses we get are that science is cool and it’s not just some boring subject.” McKee notes that the program is still growing, and feels that it’s making a big difference. “The kids are always thrilled to have us,” she says. “We’ve found that our volunteers are definitely having a positive impact on the youth that they’re reaching — in changing the image of science and showing that science is fun.”