Translating advanced climate science into a compelling lesson plan for teens may seem like a tall order, but a recent event Dal hosted gave junior high teachers from across Nova Scotia a head start on the task.
Attendees at the Atlantic Science Links Association’s 2022 conference explored this and several other important subject areas during the free day-long event, which introduced junior high teachers to new and innovative ways of illustrating contemporary science concepts.
“It’s not always easy to hold the attention of junior high school students. Having connections in the real world helps, and they do [ASLA] do this through the way they present, what they present and the materials they give us,” said participant Sarah Kuehm, who teaches science to seventh through ninth grade students at Bedford Academy.
Kuehm has been coming to ASLA’s teacher training events since it started in 2017.
“It’s a lot more focused than any conference I’ve ever attended,” she says. “I can walk away from here and go, ‘I’m going to try that with my students.'”
As a volunteer charity, ASLA’s mission is to bridge the gap between the scientific community, schools and the public through outreach. Its five-member board consists of President Arunika Gunawardena, Executive Director Rajesh Rajaselvam and James Brenan, all of whom are professors in the Faculty of Science. dr Gunawardena and Rajaselvam were the main organizers of the teachers’ conference, along with biology PhD student Shanukie Embuldeniya, who serves as ASLA’s part-time administrative assistant.
ASLA President Arunika Gunawardena holds an opening address.
During the day-long event in August, teachers split into groups to explore four thematic areas:
- Using satellite imagery to show changes in the Earth’s surface over time (guided by Amy Mui)
- Exploring structure and function in biology using plant and animal tissues (under the guidance of Sophie Tattrie, Gillian Gass and Arunika Gunawardena)
- Minerals and Crystal Structures in Earth Sciences (with guidance from Richard Cox and James Brenan)
- Engaging in cell biology through e-books (guided by Gabrielle Tompkins)
After a lunch break, Dr. Rajaselvam and Embuldeniya took the group on a tour of the tropical plants section of the eighth floor greenhouse at LSC before beginning their final two activities of the day.
To build on what they were shown, the teachers in attendance were given a program and lab manual with lesson plans and ideas for incorporating the day’s activities into their classrooms. They also left a USB stick with digital resources, including image files for use with ArcGIS geospatial software, which was demonstrated during the Viewing Earth from Space lesson.
“It’s always great to have experiences that are practical, easy to implement and not too overwhelming to teach,” commented one teacher in an anonymous review after the event. Another teacher praised the materials. “I love geology and this is the only conference where I get useful materials to implement the curriculum at my school. I am happy to have the opportunity to improve my teaching on this course.”
Teachers, ASLA organizers and volunteers pose for a group photo at the end of the day.
investing in youth
First held in 2017, the conference is a highlight of ASLA’s outreach program. The pandemic halted in-person gathering opportunities in 2020 and 2021, with Dr. Rajaselvam noted that in the pre-COVID era, ASLA reached approximately 4,500 students in the province each year through guest speakers, lab visits and other outreach activities provided by its volunteers.
The organization — funded by NSERC, Dalhousie’s Faculty of Science and Engineers Nova Scotia — is also in the planning stages for the next edition of its Junior High Science Contest, which was last held in 2019 and was attended by more than 1,950 students from 29 Nova Scotia schools.
“We want to make personal contacts again,” says Dr. Rajaselvam, a University Teaching Fellow. “Through our program, we can help spark an interest in science among Nova Scotia’s youth.” The hope is that the day’s events will create a trickle-down effect: teachers will take their lessons to their classrooms and share them with students who, in turn, will develop an interest in science that will last throughout high school and college.
The Dean of the Faculty of Science, Dr. Chuck Macdonald, addresses the conference participants.
It’s important to encourage interest in science among Nova Scotian youth, regardless of whether they ever come to Dalhousie to study, said Dean of Science, Dr. Chuck Macdonald, in his opening remarks. “Science can take you down so many career paths, and junior high is all about developing an interest in science. As a faculty, we are excited to support ASLA’s outreach program and thank all faculty members and volunteers who helped make today’s event possible.”
Visit ASLA’s website to learn more about ASLA and get involved in its outreach activities.