Saturday, March 01, 2014

Science program ideas that can engage PEI science students and support present practices

Science Fair numbers and participation drop in PEI Schools
Science fairs are as important to growing up as summer camp or gym class. But fewer PEI classrooms are making the science fair mandatory this year, leaving it up to the student if they want to volunteer. In 2012-2013, there were fifteen percent fewer projects even though the National Science Fair was here as well. Hear what the chair of the science fair, Bill Whalen has to say 

Position Paper
We need the community as a whole to cooperate and participate in supporting a change in our Science delivery in Prince Edward Island schools.

~Bridging The Gap~

 by Keith Tompkins
CEO, EdTech & Labour Consulting Services, Coordinator Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada, PEI

BioScience Initiatives and Outreach – A partnership between the BioScience Community of Prince Edward Island and the K-12 School System

  • Where the Science Community meets the youth of today to build awareness of, education about, and interaction with Science/BioScience/BioTechnology
Identified Problem: The Prince Edward Island K12 school system has a lack of awareness of, education about and interaction with the overall Science/BioScience Community in Prince Edward Island.

Create a series of Science outreach initiatives and resources in support of the Prince Edward Island K-12 education system.

Background / Rationale (with input provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development)
In the Island Prosperity Strategy, the P.E.I. Government has earmarked biotechnology as one of four pillars for its economic strategy and has been a strong supporter of the development of the province’s biocluster. The P.E.I. economy will very much depend on the availability and retention of a well trained, job ready workforce with the right skill set to support its biotechnology sector.

The Prince Edward Island science curriculum is guided by the vision that all students, regardless of gender or cultural background, will have an opportunity to develop scientific literacy. Scientific literacy is an evolving combination of the science related attitudes, skills, and knowledge that students need to develop inquiry, problem solving, and decision making abilities, to become lifelong learners, and to maintain a sense of wonder about the world around them.

Our Island schools have no specific curriculum as it pertains to BioScience/BioTechnology. Many of our high school laboratory facilities have outdated equipment and limited human resources that make an in depth study of biotechnology concepts and techniques impossible.

Informal enquiries of high school students (taking Biology at the Grade 10-11-12 level) over the past four years indicates a lack of awareness and knowledge about BioScience and the BioScience sector here in PEI. Students when asked to name a BioScience company are unable to do so. When asked how many BioScience companies exist in PEI, they are unaware and make a random guess. When asked about specific BioScience activity and/or announcements made through the media in the province, they are unable to recall or name any. These observations are consistent amongst the top science students including our International Baccalaureate students from our largest and most urban high schools across the province. The lack of knowledge about, education in and interaction with the BioScience community and overall lack of opportunities, including career paths to BioScience, is disturbing. This is a concern when we consider these are some of our brightest minds, who each year upon graduation often go on to further post-secondary study in a field of their choice. The question we need to ask is will that field of study be the Sciences? Have we done everything possible to ensure our Island youth have the knowledge they need to make informed study and career path choices.

Although there is an identified problem some Island students do participate in extracurricular activities that foster BioScience education. This situation provides a limited base to build upon.

Some of these include:
Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) – A competition intended to encourage young Canadians to pursue future studies and careers in the exciting field of biotechnology.
Grade 5 Science Day hosted at the NRCINH
Canadian Envirothon North - America's largest high school environmental science and natural resource management competition.
Provincial and Canada Wide Science Fair - The largest extracurricular youth activity related to science and technology in the Provinces and Canada.
Shad Valley – A summer enrichment program with workshops and lectures that focus on the sciences,

Situation, Current Resources:
Aside from the normal curriculum offering of Science subjects and integration of Science into other subject areas the Department of Education hosts the Science and Technology Awareness site (STAS) at STAS houses lists of resources and a list of resource persons who can be called upon to interact with students. By recent admission the Secondary Science Specialists at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development admit they do not have the resources to manage the site and thus it has become extremely dated. By not keeping the site current and dated it reflects poorly on the overall Science and BioScience Community here in PEI.

Newsletter – May 2011 (no updates since)
Opportunities and Competitions – No information posted
Ask and expert – List has not been updated in over 3 years and many experts listed no longer work in the field (onsite visits can be requested)
Resources – BioTech Jr. Speaker Series – The contact person has not worked for the PEI government in over 3 years. BioTech Science Centre – goes to a dead link at Industry
Information posted on the site as it pertains to the PEI BioAlliance and BioScience community is inaccurate and not reflective of current undertakings.

Potential Solutions for consideration (Discussed with the Secondary Science
Specialists at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development)
Taking into account the identified problem, current initiatives or lack thereof combined with time, distance and costs for science researchers, professors, industry professionals to get together with educators and students the BioScience Community in partnership with education requires a creative package of solutions to bridge the identified gap.

Initiatives for consideration (Discussed with Dept of Education Science Curriculum Specialists)

GOAL: Initiate a series of program initiatives reaching every K-12 student allowing them to connect, learn and interact with leading experts from within the Science/BioScience Community.

Interaction between Island schools and the BioScience community could allow students to experience leading edge technology and research conducted by real scientists. Connections to the BioScience community could foster Island students’ appreciation of bioscience, interest in bioscience, and develop attitudes that support collaborative activity. Scientists and researchers could provide their support by being available through a variety of initiatives to interact with PEI students and teachers.

On any given day PEI students could call upon, connect with and interact with a scientist and researcher in a classroom. These experiences could be live and in-person or take place virtually, on demand and completely interactive. This would greatly enhance the students' interest in the subject matter while simultaneously exposing them to the field of BioScience increasing their knowledge base and potentially future course and career choices.

The following is a list of “Potential Initiatives” brainstormed and discussed with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. This list is representative of initiatives the Department feels they could support and implement with support from the BioScience community.

Potential Initiatives:
"Ask a Scientist ” Let anyone with an interest in science ask any question they want (within reason!) and get an answer from a professional scientist or researcher who knows what they’re talking about! We would draw from a list of volunteers from the BioScience Community who are passionate about their areas of expertise and would generously give up their own time to answer questions and to pass on their wisdom to others. The questions could be emailed to experts who would then reply. The questions could be posted to a virtual discussion board for response and follow up comments. The expert could arrange a mutually agreed upon time to meet the students in-person or online in a virtual meeting, webinar or conference call to have a Q&A session. The expert could also utilize video note resources to respond and send/post the responses for students.

Meet a Scientist”
This would be a presentation mode where experts have a chance to meet students and classes and present to them what they do and what they are working on. This could be done again through prearranged class visits or online through video conferencing with virtual meeting tools. Meet the Scientist would be directed by the scientist or researcher choosing to share what they want to talk about (their work, their career path, their experiences). This could then be extended by having a Q&A based on the presentation. This initiative could foster motivating the students to learn more about the world of BioScience thus having the potential for students to choose courses or look at potential career options/paths within the BioScience field.

BioScience Buddy”
Match a scientist or researcher with a class or school designed to provide real time access for a class of students to a researcher or expert from a leading PEI research institution for a month, semester or longer. School or classes form a group and then can utilize the community resources to have the mentor support them throughout a period of time, (their year of study, semester, project). The BioScience Buddy would provide direction and advice to enhance a curriculum component. Questions could be posed, Q&A's held, site visits, Video Conference presentations, virtual tours, chat and ongoing discussion board dialogue carried on throughout their course of work and study. Experts would agree to be the on call – go to person where students and classes could build a relationship through regular contact with the expert. This BioScience Buddy could be invaluable when students and classes are conducting project work or periods of work over extended periods of time and require a knowledgeable, familiar expert to rely on.

BioScience WoRX”
We understand that the future of innovation lies in our children and that a child’s interest in BioScience could be sparked in the classroom. We also recognize that PEI's science teachers are key in igniting this spark and that it’s their commitment that compels a child’s desire to pursue their interest further.

To address the unmet need among science teachers and their students, BioScience WoRx, would be a local mentoring program (Professional Development) an online resource network for science teachers. The program focuses on instilling an understanding of BioScience’s role in society and is designed to inspire the next generation of scientists and support science teachers’ needs both in and outside the classroom. Science teachers or specific interest groups could be matched up with a scientist or researcher to provide mentoring support throughout the course of a school year. A support person for the teachers who can access who, what, when and where information of BioScience and how it might be applied within the classroom with what they are teaching.

With teachers, scientists and researchers located all across the Island the use of virtual web conferencing tools could be deployed to allow meeting, communication and the sharing of knowledge and information to take place without the demands of travel, time and added expense.

NOTE: Virtual Tools such as referenced here are currently being utilized by Partners In Research (National Sponsor for the SBCC). PIR are facilitating professionals in science meeting students online using Virtual Researcher On Call (VROC)

BioScience Continuum” (used in the Toronto District School Board)
A larger initiative and one which would require considerable consultation with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development would be the insertion of a BioScience Curriculum. One such as used by the Toronto District School Board (attached). If the province is serious about BioScience being one of the 4 growth pillars of our Island economy it will have to be all inclusive and ensure our youth of today are versed in the benefits the sector has to offer and the opportunities available for our youth to learn and work in the sector in the future. To accomplish this over the long term BioScience will have to be more than optional program initiatives and become embedded into the curriculum being offered to our students.

Although a problem has been identified it will take acknowledgement from both the school system and the BioScience Community that both are part of the solution. Only with understanding and cooperation from both sides will any suggested initiatives have a chance of success. The following considerations after thought and reflection have been put forth by the education system. The same exercise needs to be carried out with the BioScience Community to bring forth their considerations.

Education Considerations:
To address the needs of both the English and French streams of Science in schools having some experts and mentors who are bilingual or speak French would be an asset
There are a number of resource sites on the Internet now providing resources etc. There is competition for the students and teachers attention. The BioScience outreach programs need to be relevant and promoted as current and accessible to have a chance of success
Industry will need to be supportive in offering up support experts to assist with the suggested initiatives
The list of experts willing to help must be kept current and relevant

Support and cooperation from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development , the school boards and the schools themselves is essential to any success. Meetings have been held to date with the Intermediate/High School Science specialists in both English and French and they are both supportive having provided both content and feedback for this position paper. Department specialists have also agreed to participate in, promote and help market any initiatives taken to and within the school system.

BioScience Community Considerations:
The following excerpts were taken from the Next Generation Prosperity Strategy For Prince Edward Island BioScience Cluster Development 2012-2015

It appears evident from the statements below that the BioScience Community sees itself as having a role involved with the education, training, recruitment and retention of Island talent to sustain and grow the sector. Creating awareness of, education about and interaction with the BioScience cluster and community with K-12 education would appear essential to this mandate.

  • Valued and nurtured relationships among businesses, research and academic institutions, and federal and provincial government partners Commitment and active involvement of all partners in achieving our shared vision
It is critical that the PEI BioAlliance partners achieve acceptable results in the
following areas:
  • 4. Increased availability of qualified human resources within the bioscience sector of PEI, in the management, technical, process engineering, and scientiļ¬c knowledge areas
  • Implement recruitment, retention, and training priorities of the PEI Cluster Human Resource Development Strategy through the partnership of Skills PEI, academic organizations, and private sector companies
  • Utilize the PEI Bioscience Cluster brand as a means of attracting and retaining skilled employees
  • Identify champions and work to address the key barriers to successful recruitment:
  • Quality of K-12 education
  • Increased attention to Early Childhood Development. Improved quality of education K-12, literacy, numeracy


With this mandate in hand the Science/BioScience Community and the education system in partnership could initiate any number of creative and innovative program ideas listed above to bridge the gap between the lack of awareness of, education about and interaction with the BioScience Community. The cluster could bring forward a wealth of knowledge and resources to support our Island youth thus leveraging future opportunities in human resources and business development within the BioScience sector. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

When I look back over the many years I've been involved with education and technology, I like many, have seen the evolution and proliferation of tech tools available to educators. Again, like many, I think I learned about  a lot of these tools on a "as need basis". As I became more involved and comfortable I started to combine these tools using different ones to accomplish different things. Later as distance learning became more mainstream I started to experiment with different platforms and learning management systems. As I worked with other educators and students it became more and more challenging to introduce a variety of these tools in combination trying to connect, communicate and collaborate with people meeting the requirements of working and learning from a distance.

Now my thinking has changed. While I would have at one point by choice, supported finding different tools to  do different things required in a distance learning model I now am a convert of all inclusive tools in one place and system. When you look at what is required by way of online and virtual tools to support distance work and learning it really boils down to a set of tools. You need a calendar, the ability to upload, download and share files, the ability to hold conference calls and online meetings, the ability to message those you are working with, the ability to design and deliver polls and quizzes and lastly the creation of to-do-lists. If you have access to all of these tools inside one environment then by design they have been carefully thought through as to compatibility and ease of use in combination.

To support educators, students and parents I founded a community portal called Groups4Schools where this set of all inclusive tools exist in a private protected shared space. The first virtual portal I launched has since been taken over by a BioScience entity and I provide the back end user support for their members and contacts. As for Groups4Schools the portal I founded, I carry out the same responsibilities but also have control over the marketing and promotion of the site to other learners.

Now having said this the challenges I see today are "take-up". It not always obvious to the target audience I engage to see the benefits of working or learning virtually. On many fronts the concepts of efficiency, effectiveness, convenience, and financial savings benefits are not always obvious to learners who have never experienced these types of tools and environments. Are we making progress, yes, but the challenges of gaining learners support to change and try new ways of doing old things is difficult. You might be surprised but even when it is "free" people are reluctant. I think of a recent offering I made to a Home and School Organization who declined my offer of "free access" for all their members spread across several jurisdictions. They stated they didn't have a need for these types of tools, thank you. I must say this baffled me. When I look at what they do ie. represent and communicate with parent groups across many schools and communities by sharing information, forming committees and teams I have to ask myself "do they get it?" With the challenges of communicating across distances, travel costs, renting space and limitations until the next time we can get together to meet I must admit it baffles me.

We can only hope that over time as more and more people fully come to understand the benefits of distance learning will more and more people and groups begin to adopt the distance learning and work platforms out there. Until then our challenge is to work with those who "get it" and continue to invite those who "do not get it" to come join in and take a look. At Groups4Schools we continue to invite any and all in to take a look. Visit us at drop over to our portal and send me a note for access.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

In many jurisdictions particularly within Canada there is a dis-joint between education at all levels and addressing the needs of an information society. As one gets closer to the actual information technology sector and addressing their needs the gap widens even further.

Who is responsible? If you ask K-12 education they will tell you their job is much greater than to just prepare people for work. How could we disagree? Yet would anyone argue that when all is said and done after 12 years of K-12 schooling we should be on a solid literacy footing to move forward and take our place in modern society. Along with the literacy base we should, by the time we/ve obtained a grade 12 certificate, be made aware of career opporunities which exist in a modern society and the qualifications it will take to participate in this arena.

What exposures should our students receive while passing through the K-12 system? Should it be a combination of technology immersion with career insight? Is learning how to use technology enough? Do we also need to know how to apply it to real world situations? What responsibilites does the K-12 system have on behalf of our youth to prepare them for a society that is driven by technology and where some of the greatest career opportunities lies within the technology sector itself?