Tag Archives: Year of Science

BC’s Year of Science and its $1.1M legacy

The Year of Science in British Columbia (Canada) is almost over and in its final days the provincial government’s initiative is gracing Science World in Vancouver and the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences, also in Vancouver, with $1M and $100K respectively for outreach projects. From the Year of Science July 4, 2011 news release,

The Province is wrapping up the Year of Science with a $1.1-million investment to create a legacy of science education for British Columbia youth helping prepare them for jobs in the knowledge-based economy of the future.

Science World will receive $1.0 million to support outreach programs such as the Program for Awareness and Learning of Science, [emphasis mine] focussed on improving interest in science for students in grades kindergarten through eight. Additionally, the Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences will receive $100,000 to support targeted programs, including math camps and mentorship programs, focussed on improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal students in math.

I’m glad to see this money is going to outreach programmes. In my search for more details about them,  I was surprised to find that Science World does not have a news release of their own about these funds; I was less surprised about the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences but given the time frames for these sorts of announcements which can run over weeks and months, it seems odd.

I also searched for Science World’s Program for Awareness and Learning of Science and couldn’t find it on their website. They do have many programmes that could fit under that title but their website search engine (it doesn’t seem like a very good one) did not produce any results.

I find the choice of fund recipients  interesting and wonder what the criteria were and which other informal science education institutions/groups in the province were being considered for these fund.

In any event, I hope we hear more about these outreach projects from Science World and the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences as they progress.

Science and Arts Expo on May 17, 2011 in Victoria, BC

They’ve billed it as an arts/science expo but really, it’s a careers day event with a strong focus on science and industries such as entertainment media and mining. It’s being hosted by the Year of Science (a BC government initiative) and held from 10 am to 7 pm today, May 17, 2011, at the Royal British Columbia Museum. The sponsors for the event are Pfizer and an organization named, Canada’s research-based pharmaceutical companies. (For those who don’t know, Pfizer is a pharmaceuticals company.)

I was excited until I read the programme and realized it’s pretty much like to going to Science World. You can ooh and aah at the exhibits and demos but there’s nothing really engaging for either a child or an adult. It contrasts strongly with some of the projects I see elsewhere as I noted in my March 3, 2011 posting where amongst others, I profiled Blackawton bees, a paper that was peer-reviewed and published in the highly reputable Royal Society’s Biology Letters. The authors ranged in age from eight to 10 years old. They were not in a gifted class but they were being taught by a scientist who decided that the best way to share his passion for science was to encourage these kids to ask their own science question and answer it through experimentation.

‘Show and tell’ science events can be quite pleasurable and informative but there are other ways engage in and share science which you’d never know by attending a science event in BC.

International Year of Chemistry

ChemQuest 2011, an event honouring the International Year of Chemistry, is being hosted by Year of Science BC, Simon Fraser University, and Douglas College on May 14, 2011 from 1 pm to 4 pm on the Academic Quadrangle at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby Campus.

This isn’t the only such event in Canada. Last week, there was a chemistry marathon (part of a larger initiative, 24 heures de science), La chimie pour tous (Chemistry for everyone) from 12 noon to 12 midnight at Université de Montréal. Isabelle Burgun wrote up an interview, for Agence Science-Presse, that she had with the chemist leading this public engagement event, Andreea Schmitzer. From the interview,

ASP – À qui s’adresse cette activité?

AS — Nous désirons sensibiliser la population et insuffler aux jeunes le goût de devenir chimiste! Mais nous visons surtout les plus jeunes, car le goût pour la science s’acquiert très jeune et puis, voir l’émerveillement scientifique dans les jeux [sic] d’un enfant n’a pas de prix!

ASP — La chimie, vous êtes tombée dedans quand vous étiez petite…

AS — J’ai effectivement découvert la chimie enfant, avec mon grand-père, qui était un passionné de science, la physique et la chimie en particulier. On faisait ensemble toutes sortes de manipulation dans le garage. À 6 ans, j’étais fascinée par tout ce qu’on pouvait apprendre et comprendre en manipulant des molécules, et c’est exactement ce que je fais aujourd’hui en recherche. Cette passion héritée de mon grand-père, j’ai à mon tour le goût de la transmettre aux jeunes et aux moins jeunes.

My rough translation:

Who is your audience for this event?

We want to raise public awareness and we want to inculcate in youth the desire to become chemists. But we’re particularly interested in inspiring young children because one acquires an interest in science at a young age and seeing the wonder at science in a child’s eyes has no price.

You were very young when you tumbled into a passion for chemistry.

I discovered chemistry very young, with my grandfather who was passionate about science, physics and chemistry in particular. We performed all kinds of experiments in the garage. At the age of six, I was fascinated by what you could learn and understand by manipulating molecules and that’s exactly what I do in my research today. This passion I inherited from my grandfather is what I want to pass on to the young and the not so young.

That’s it, I’m in a rush this morning. I’ll come back later to fix mistakes. Meanwhile, hope to see you at Northern Voice today or tomorrow.

Science education for children in Europe, so what’s happening in BC?

I’ve been informally collecting information about children’s science education for a few months when yesterday there was a sudden explosion of articles (well, there were three) on the subject.

First off, a science game was launched by the European Commission titled Power of Research. From the March 2, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

A new strategy browser game – the “Power of research” – is officially launched. Supported by the European Commission, “Power of Research” has been developed to inspire young Europeans to pursue scientific careers and disseminate interesting up-to-date scientific information. Players assume the role of scientists working in a virtual research environment that replicates the situations that scientists have to deal with in the real world. The game, which can be played for free under www.powerofresearch.eu, is expected to create a large community of more than 100,000 players who will be able to communicate in real time via a state of the art interface.

They really do mean it when they say they’re replicating real life situations but the focus is on medical science research and I don’t think the game title makes that clear. Yes, there are many similarities between the situations that scientists of any stripe encounter in their labs but there are also some significant differences between them. In any event,

In “Power of Research” players can engage in “virtual” health research projects, by performing microscopy, protein isolation and DNA experiments, publishing research results, participating in conferences, managing high tech equipment and staff or request funding – all tasks of real researchers. The decisive game elements are communication, collaboration and competition: players can compete against each other in real time or collaborate to become a successful virtual researcher, win scientific awards or become the leader of a research institute.

The game connects the players to the real world. It is based on up-to-date science content and players work on real world research topics inspired by the FP7 health research programme that will be regularly updated. Popular science events, real research institutes, universities and European health research projects form part of the game. Players also have access to a knowledge platform, where they can search in a virtual library, zoom-into real scientific images and learn more about Nobel Prize laureates. European science institutions and hospitals will have the possibility to contribute to the game and provide details about their research.

I like the immersiveness and the game aspect of this project very much. I do wish they were a little more clear about exactly what kind of research the player will engage in. From the Power of Research About webpage,

Your researcher

* Become a famous researcher in “Power of Research”

* Research different topics through exciting research projects

* Play together with your friends and other players from all over the world

* Earn reputation, win science prizes and more …

* Gain special skills and knowledge in 9 different main research areas (like Brain, Paediatrics, …)

* Become a leader in your institute and lead it to international ranks

* The game is 100% free and needs no prior knowledge

Meanwhile, there are more projects. From the March 2, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

Children who are taught how to think and act like scientists develop a clearer understanding of the subject, a study has shown.

The research project led by The University of Nottingham and The Open University has shown that school children who took the lead in investigating science topics of interest to them gained an understanding of good scientific practice.

The study shows that this method of ‘personal inquiry’ could be used to help children develop the skills needed to weigh up misinformation in the media, understand the impact of science and technology on everyday life and help them to make better personal decisions on issues including diet, health and their own effect on the environment.

The three-year project involved providing pupils aged 11 to 14 at Hadden Park High School in Bilborough, Nottingham, and Oakgrove School in Milton Keynes with a new computer toolkit named nQuire, now available as a free download for teachers and schools.

The pupils were given wide themes for their studies but were asked to decide on more specific topics that were of interest to them, including heart rate and fitness, micro climates, healthy eating, sustainability and the effect of noise pollution on birds.

The flexible nature of the toolkit meant that children could become “science investigators”, starting an inquiry in the classroom then collecting data in the playground, at a local nature reserve, or even at home, then sharing and analysing their findings back in class.

Immersive and engaging, yes? I have gone to the nQuire website and while I haven’t downloaded the software, I did successfully log in to the demonstration, in other words, the demonstration is not limited to a UK-based audience.

Meanwhile there’s this project but it seems to be different. It’s spelled differently, INQUIRE, and the focus is on the teachers. From a March 2, 2011 news item on Science Daily,

Thousands of schoolchildren will soon be asking the questions when inquiry-based learning comes to science classrooms across Europe, turning the traditional model of science teaching on its head. The pan-European INQUIRE programme is an exciting new teacher-training initiative delivered by a seventeen-strong consortium of botanic gardens, natural history museums, universities and NGOs.

Coordinated by Innsbruck University Botanic Garden, with support from London-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), INQUIRE is a practical, one-year, continual professional development (CPD) course targeted at qualified teachers working in eleven European countries. Its focus on inquiry-based science education (IBSE) reflects a consensus in the science education community that IBSE methods are more effective than current teaching practices.

Designed to reflect how students actually learn, IBSE also engages them in the process of scientific inquiry. Increasingly it is seen as key to developing their scientific literacy, enhancing their understanding of scientific concepts and heightening their appreciation of how science works. Whereas traditional teaching methods have failed to engage many students, especially in developed countries, IBSE offers outstanding opportunities for effective and enjoyable teaching and learning.

Biodiversity loss and global climate change, among the major scientific as well as political challenges of our age, are core INQUIRE concerns.

That final sentence fragment is a  little puzzling but I believe they’re describing their scientific focus.

My favourite of these projects is one I came across in December 2010 when children from a school in England had a research paper about bees published by the Royal Society’s Biology Letters. You still can access the paper (according to another blogger, Ed Yong, open access would only last to the new year in 2011 but they must have changed their minds). The paper is titled Blackawton bees and lists 30 authors.

1. P. S. Blackawton,
2. S. Airzee,
3. A. Allen,
4. S. Baker,
5. A. Berrow,
6. C. Blair,
7. M. Churchill,
8. J. Coles,
9. R. F.-J. Cumming,
10. L. Fraquelli,
11. C. Hackford,
12. A. Hinton Mellor,
13. M. Hutchcroft,
14. B. Ireland,
15. D. Jewsbury,
16. A. Littlejohns,
17. G. M. Littlejohns,
18. M. Lotto,
19. J. McKeown,
20. A. O’Toole,
21. H. Richards,
22. L. Robbins-Davey,
23. S. Roblyn,
24. H. Rodwell-Lynn,
25. D. Schenck,
26. J. Springer,
27. A. Wishy,
28. T. Rodwell-Lynn,
29. D. Strudwick and
30. R. B. Lotto

This is from the introduction to the paper,

(a) Once upon a time …

People think that humans are the smartest of animals, and most people do not think about other animals as being smart, or at least think that they are not as smart as humans. Knowing that other animals are as smart as us means we can appreciate them more, which could also help us to help them.

If you don’t ever read another science paper in your life, read this one. For the back story on this project, here’s Ed Yong on his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog (a Discover blog) in a December 21, 2010 posting,

“We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.”

This is the conclusion of a new paper published in Biology Letters, a high-powered journal from the UK’s prestigious Royal Society. If its tone seems unusual, that’s because its authors are children from Blackawton Primary School in Devon, England. Aged between 8 and 10, the 25 children have just become the youngest scientists to ever be published in a Royal Society journal.

Their paper, based on fieldwork carried out in a local churchyard, describes how bumblebees can learn which flowers to forage from with more flexibility than anyone had thought. It’s the culmination of a project called ‘i, scientist’, designed to get students to actually carry out scientific research themselves. The kids received some support from Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist at UCL [University College London], and David Strudwick, Blackawton’s head teacher. But the work is all their own.

Yong’s posting features a video of  the  i, scientist project mentioned in the posting, images, and, of course, the rest of the back story.

As it turns out one of my favourite science education/engagement projects is taking place right now (this is based in the UK), I’m a scientist, Get me out of Here!, from their website home page,

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! is an award-winning science enrichment and engagement activity, funded by the Wellcome Trust. It takes place online over a two week period. It’s an X Factor-style competition for scientists, where students are the judges. Scientists and students talk online on this website. They both break down barriers, have fun and learn. But only the students get to vote.

You can view the scientist/student conversations by picking a zone: Argon, Chlorine, Potassium, Forensic, Space, or Stem Cell. The questions the kids ask are fascinating, anything from What’s your favourite colour? to Do you think humans will evolve more? The conversations that ensue can be quite stimulating. This project has been mentioned here before in my June 15, 2010 posting, April 13, 2010 posting (scroll down) and  March 26, 2010 posting (scroll down).

ETA Mar. 3, 2011: The scientists get quite involved and can go to some lengths to win. Here’s Tom Hartley’s video from last year’s (2010) event,

I find the contrast between these kinds of science education/engagement projects in the UK and in Europe and what seems to be a dearth of these in my home province British Columbia (Canada) to be striking. I’ve commented previously on BC’s Year of Science initiative currently taking place in a Dec. 30, 2010 posting where I was commenting on a lack of science culture in Canada. Again, I applaud the initiative while I would urge that in future a less traditional and top/down approach is taken. The Europeans and the British are making science fun by engaging in imaginative and substantive ways. Imagine what getting a paper published in a prestigious science journal does for you (regardless of your age)!

Democracy, participation, and science culture

Should citizens have any input into how science research is funded? Dan Hind in his Dec. 14, 2010 article, Time to democratise science, for New Scientist argues yes persuasively (from the article),

THE natural and social sciences exert a huge influence on the ways our societies develop. At present most of the funding for scientific research is controlled by the state and the private economy. Perhaps it is time to look at their track record and consider an alternative.

Science is not, and can never be, disinterested insofar as its objectives are concerned. Decisions to fund this research instead of that research can never be purely technical. Assessments of what is likely to produce interesting or useful knowledge are inevitably alloyed with the desires of those who control the money to develop particular forms of knowledge and with them new resources of power.

Given the mixed track record of the patrons of science it is surely time to consider an alternative. If we are serious about science as a public good, we should give the public control over the ways in which some – and I stress “some” – of its money is spent.

At the end of the article there is this note about the author,

Dan Hind is author of The Return of the Public (Verso), which argues for a new kind of participatory politics

There does seem to be seem sort of trend towards more participatory science as per citizen science or crowdsourced science projects such as Foldit (my Aug. 6, 2010 posting) and Phylo (my Dec. 3, 2010 posting).I’m not sure how much traction participatory science research funding is going to find. That said, there was a UK project run by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research) where members of the public were allowed to ‘vote’ on particular projects. You can read more about the project in the May 25, 2009 news item on Nanowerk describing the grants that were chosen. From the news item,

Ten research grants to help solve some of the biggest health problems facing the UK have been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The projects focus on developing new techniques for screening and treating major public health issues such as cancer, stroke, AIDS, influenza, MRSA and dementia.

The grants, worth £16.5m, have been given by the EPSRC, acting as the lead Research Council in a cross Research Council Programme called “Nanoscience through Engineering to Application.”

Segue: As for participatory politics (as per Dan Hind), I’ve noticed a local (Vancouver, Canada) backlash response to the notion of public consultations (city government officials want to increase population densities). Oddly enough, when people take the time to participate in a ‘consultation’ they expect that at least some of their comments will have an impact on the decisions that are being made. I gather some experts find this irksome and a challenge to their professional authority.

Back to the main topic: My impression is that the UK enjoys a science culture that is not to be found in Canada—not yet, anyway. There is discussion about public dialogue and engagement in science not just in the UK but elsewhere too that simply doesn’t exist in Canada. Yes, there are a few fragile attempts at creating a science culture here. I’m thinking of the Café Scientifique groups, Canada’s National Science and Technology Week, and the open houses put on by the universities but there really isn’t much.

The Year of Science (a science culture project) was declared in the province of British Columbia (BC) in the fall of 2010. From my Oct. 14, 2010 posting,

To inspire young minds across the province and foster a culture of research and innovation Premier Gordon Campbell today proclaimed the 2010-2011 school year as the Year of Science in B.C.

It’s good to see these kinds of initiatives, unfortunately this particular one is undercut by news such as this (from the Dec. 2, 2010 article, Teacher blasts cuts to Vancouver school science budgets; School science budgets slashed by 56 per cent compared to last year, by Naiobh O’Connor for the Vancouver Courier),

School science budgets were slashed by 56 per cent compared to last year and the district now allots only $4.61 per student each year to cover expenses—far below what Mike Hengeveld, Templeton secondary’s science department head and teacher, argues is adequate.

Limited budgets mean it’s difficult to replace equipment like broken beakers or to buy new equipment. Hengeveld even worries about buying a dozen eggs for a relatively cheap egg drop experiment or what’s needed to grow crystals for chemistry class.

“If I went and bought iodized salt or de-iodized salt and [students] make a solution by heating stuff in a beaker—which I hope doesn’t break—if I spend 15 bucks on salt at the store, I’ve blown three or four students’ worth of budget for them to learn how to grow crystals. It’s neat, but I can’t do that in a science class every day. I would just completely and totally run out of money and that’s just on cheap stuff,” he said.

I’m not trying to fault the Year of Science initiative just pointing out that the initiative is problematic when the science education budget for schools cannot support even simple research projects.

This is a larger issue that I can adequately cover in this posting but I did want to draw attention to some of the fragilities of the Canadian situation (and our own situation in BC) vis à vis creating a science culture and/or democratizing science.

Meanwhile, I read with some envy a report titled, International Comparison of Public Dialogue on Science and Technology,  from a UK organization, Sciencewise-ERC – the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology issues. Canada is not mentioned and I imagine that’s due to the fact that we don’t have any public dialogue to speak of.

ETA Mar.3.11: I made some minor changes for clarity (added Segue: and Back to the main topic: and removed an extra space.

Year of Science in the province of British Columbia

This is an initiative by the province of British Columbia announced by Premier Gordon Campbell on Sept. 24, 2010 (from the news release titled),

To inspire young minds across the province and foster a culture of research and innovation Premier Gordon Campbell today proclaimed the 2010-2011 school year as the Year of Science in B.C.

Premier Campbell was joined by Moira Stilwell, Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development, schoolchildren, award-winning science students and science organizations at today’s event at Science World to officially launch the Year of Science.

“Labour market forecasts predict that by the end of this decade, three quarters of all future jobs in B.C. will need some post-secondary education, and many of the most interesting and well-paying jobs will need a solid understanding of math, sciences, engineering and technologies,” said Premier Campbell. “Through the Year of Science, working in partnership with leaders in the science community, our government wants to help B.C. families connect with the passion and exhilaration of science discovery, and call attention to some of the diverse and exciting career opportunities available through science right in their own communities.”

The Year of Science is a major cross-government initiative led by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development. The goal is to engage British Columbians, in particular young people, in science by showcasing how science works, who scientists are, the kinds of work they do, and why science matters in the everyday lives of British Columbians and the communities they live in.

“Science is about creative spirit and inspiration – about developing new knowledge – and the ability to turn knowledge into new and improved goods and services demanded by the global marketplace,” said Stilwell. “Through the Year of Science, we want to create a legacy that will continue to encourage a culture of innovation and research in B.C. and inspire young minds with the thrill of scientific discovery.”

The Premier unveiled phase one of the Year of Science website to provide up-to-date information about Year of Science events as the year unfolds. The site features profiles on businesses, science centres and B.C. science personalities who are shaping the face of science in B.C. Interactive games and activities will be added in October.

I checked out the Year of Science website and I’m sorry to say it looks like one of those websites that are good for you, something I call ‘spinach programming’. If I were borderline about the attractions of science, this site would not help. In fact, it might have the opposite effect intended.  Here’s sample text from the front page,

It’s important for PARENTS to encourage kids to explore the world of science.

Read more …

I don’t know how much a busy parent who’s made the effort to check out this site is going appreciate being harangued (full caps are generally considered shouting) to do more. On the optimistic side of things, it’s good to see the interest from the province and changing text from full caps to mixed case is an easy fix.