Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Inspiring curiosity in youth: StFX science and math outreach programs receive nearly $200,000 in PromoScience funding

September 20th, 2018
2018 StFX NSERC PromoScience grant recipients include, seated, l-r, Dr. Robert van den Hoogen (Connecting Math to Our Lives and Communities) and Dr. Geniece Tapley (X-Chem). Back row: Dr. Lisa Lunney Borden (Connecting Math to Our Lives and Communities), Dr. Truis Smith-Palmer (X-Chem), Jennifer Fraser (X-Chem), and Dr. Tara Taylor (Connecting Math to Our Lives and Communities.)

Two StFX-based outreach programs that inspire curiosity in youth and an interest in science and math have received very good news.

X-Chem Outreach and Connecting Math to Our Lives and Communities—two separate programs, each facilitated by StFX faculty—have received a total of nearly $200,000 in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) PromoScience Program. 

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, made the announcement on Sept. 17, 2018, as part of $11.9 million in funding for 163 grants through the PromoScience Program, which supports hands-on learning experiences for young Canadians and teachers. The funding is used to encourage youth to make science part of their education, their careers, and their lives. 

The news was welcome on the StFX campus. 

“It means we can really increase our range, visit more students, improve our activities, buy more equipment, and reach more youth, more often,” says StFX chemistry professor Dr. Truis Smith-Palmer on the $75,000 in funding X-Chem will receive over the next three years. The program also received one-time grants of $5,000 for Science Odyssey and $9,500 for Science Literacy Week. She leads the program with Dr. Geniece Tapley and Jennifer Fraser. 

“It’s really helpful. It will allow us to bring more programming to the communities we serve,” says education faculty Dr. Lisa Lunney Borden, who with Drs. Tara Taylor and Robert van den Hoogen in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, facilitates Connecting Math to Our Lives and Communities, an after school, in-community mathematics outreach program in several Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian communities. The program has received $112,500 in funding over three years. 

“It will help keep programming going, pay for travel, and it also allows us to bring people together to see how we can grow the program,” she says. 

Both programs make a deep impact in the region. 

Offered through StFX’s Chemistry Department, X-Chem is a multifaceted outreach program with over 30 years experience engaging youth in science. They provide children, from about four years old through to Grade 12, with opportunities to do hands-on science and to connect with working scientists. For decades, they’ve been bringing science to children.

They visit schools, host Saturday afternoon science and coding camps, and run seven science and six coding summer camps on campus, including two all-female camps, as well as eight off-campus summer camps, including in Indigenous communities. 

Last year alone, the program impacted about 7,000 students, including about 5,500 in May and June alone, says Ms. Fraser. 

Connecting Math to Our Lives and Communities, now in its fourth year, helps make mathematics meaningful to students while showing them the power of using math as a tool to address problems in the world. Ellen Carter, a doctoral student in StFX’s Faculty of Education, is the program coordinator.

Throughout the academic year, about 15-20 StFX undergraduate and B.Ed. students travel to communities to engage students in Grades 4-12 in hands-on investigations of mathematics related to their everyday lives. At year end, they host a gathering at StFX with workshops put on by community elders and knowledge keepers as well as faculty. In the afternoon they take part in an amazing math race around campus. Dr. Lunney Borden says the program is aimed at helping kids see that math is a really important part of STEM. “It’s increasing engagement and attitude, and helping to demystify mathematics.”

One of the program’s main benefits is it allows students to explore the math inherent in their own culture and to see it is an important part of their heritage. 

“That’s a big part of it, connecting to the community,” Dr. Lunney Borden says. “We’re looking at issues, problems and knowledge from the community to make the links.

“It’s helping kids to see how we can use math to read and write the world.” 

“We’re learning from them, and they’re learning from us,” Dr. van den Hoogen says.

Dr. Taylor notes it is great learning for the student leaders as well. “It’s outreach to them too, to help them learn about the community,” she says. 

The outreach has even extended to school teachers, several of whom have taken program ideas relating to Indigenous and African knowledge back into math classrooms to use with students.

Dr. Lunney Borden says the Mi’kmaw word, Mawikinutimatimk, which means coming together to learn together, can really sum up the program. “That’s the whole goal, to learn together.” 

 

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