‘Messy and Magical’: Elementary students to enjoy ‘Discovery Days’ May 3 and 4
Paper marbling, a potions class, math mania or a physics stunts show? These are just some of the options available to the nearly 2,000 elementary school students attending this year’s “Discovery Days” at the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus. Hosted by the Faculty of Science and Engineering on May 3rd and 4th, the STEAM outreach event, is part of the lead up to Science Rendezvous, a marquee event and signature partner of Science Odyssey, a Canada wide 10-day celebration of discovery and innovation. Discovery Days at the University of Manitoba is a fun way for school kids to experience some of what an institution of higher learning has to offer.
Event coordinator Kyla Smith, MSc. student, Physics and Astronomy, is excited to see the reactions of both students and teachers to all that she and her team have brought together this year. Upon arrival, each school group will be met by a UofM volunteer, who will ensure they get where they need to go. Students will see a live science show; either ‘The Feats of Physics’ or ‘The Chemistry Potions Class’. In addition, individual classes participate in a directed, hands-on activity related to a specific topic, which could be anything from math to dissecting owl pellets. Students will also have a chance to visit an area of interactive booths. Everything has been designed to spark imagination and normalize the experience of being on campus, especially for students who may never have visited a university beforehand.
Due to logistical and scheduling constraints, the event is by invitation only. Six school divisions were asked to participate, with some schools as far as two and a half hours away. Smith is proud to report that Manitoba First Nations schools make up over 10 per cent of event attendees. Funding is provided in part by an NSERC grant. The event is free for schools to attend, with transportation costs being funded for schools who self-declare a need for assistance.
Among those preparing for a return visit to Discovery Days are Harbans Rihal and her class at Greenway School. Rihal knows how great of an impact last year’s event had on her students, and is eager to have this years’ class participate.
“[This event] offers a marvelous combination of hands-on-activities and demonstrations. The science demos are done by real scientists in real labs. The students enjoy the messy and magical parts of science [and] come away with a lot of curious questions and an interest in exploring.”
As with all events of this size, volunteers are key. Megan Skakum and Julia Lucht are Smith’s fellow coordinators, whom Smith is training to take her place for next year, when her term ends. She is impressed with their enthusiasm and work ethic, as well as that of the many graduate and undergraduate student volunteers who help to make “Discovery Days” possible.
“Big picture: we want kids to go into science. We want them to have a broad concept of what science is, and where they see it in their everyday lives. We want the general public to understand and have an interest in science, and we want kids to pursue it in whatever way they will. We want students to come to the University of Manitoba for science, if they can. Getting groups that wouldn’t otherwise have access to a university education or maybe wouldn’t otherwise feel welcome at the university. Getting them exposed at a young age to really a wonderful, welcoming environment that we have at UofM, and seeing themselves in it.”
Skakum agrees. She believes that part of the purpose of “Discovery Days” is to make the university less intimidating to youngsters.
“Even to show them that it’s not as scary as they might think it is, to show them that it’s actually fun, and that the professors and other students here are really passionate about it. If they like something, they should pursue it and not be scared to, because it’s not as scary as it seems. This is a huge place, so if you’re a young student in elementary school and you come here, you’re like: ‘This is ginormous, where do I fit in?’ We show them how they can have fun and find a place [for themselves].”