New Brunswick’s science, engineering and technology sectors may be in peril. While Canada needs an additional 1 million skilled workers by 2020, most students are dropping out of math and science courses as soon as they become optional in Grades 11 and 12, a decision which shuns them out of 40% to 75% of available programs at colleges and universities.*
Such an alarming trend has pushed Moncton-based Tech South East, an organization working with the ICT and health and life science sectors, to spring into action.
Jessica Kennedy is Tech South East’s Community Engagement & Outreach Coordinator. She’s a keen believer in getting industry leaders to create partnerships with the education system in order to help reinforce student engagement and retention in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“We work mostly with students in grades 6 through 8. This is when the kids are most receptive, right before they head into high school.”
Kennedy invites guest speakers to make presentations in the classroom, talk about their career paths and foster STEM skills development through project-based learning activities.
“As soon as you bring in someone to see the students who can talk about the innovative tools they are using in their research or business, it just makes the importance of STEM that more relevant. It’s good for the kids to know that there are many cool career opportunities available to them by studying math and science.”
Kennedy is right. Let’s Talk Science, a national, charitable organisation dedicated to improving science, technology, engineering and math literacy in Canada reports that 70% of Canada’s top jobs require some form of STEM education. That’s because STEM studies nurture skills such as creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and decision-making. Unfortunately, students don’t make the connection between chemistry and culinary arts, physics and fitness or technology and arts.
“We help teachers out by providing them with project-based learning activities that complement their curriculum. A teacher just needs to tell me which unit his or her class is studying and we come in with an activity or a project to make science and math cool and practical for the students.”
Take for example Tech South East’s App Challenge that is currently being piloted at Tantramar Regional High School in Sackville. By partnering with Agora Mobile, they are teaching students how to create their own apps using the newly developed VIZWIK platform. Volunteers go into the classroom to mentors the students. Guest speakers also talk about how they use apps in their businesses.
“A couple girls are taking part in this challenge. I have to say that I love seeing young women, who are often a minority in computer programming, take technology head on like that.”
And it’s not just in the schools themselves that we can start engaging future generations in STEM.
Tech Trek, hosted by Tech South East, is Kennedy’s brainchild. Held in Moncton in October during National Science and Technology Week, it’s a free fun-filled learning day for parents and their kids – outside the classroom – catering to both Anglophone and Francophone communities. Not your typical science or career fair, there is no reading and getting pamphlets from endless booths at Tech Trek. Exhibitors are there to lead kids in hands-on learning activities, showing them concrete ways that STEM is used in their sectors.
“Moncton Flight College brought in its flight simulator. For the kids, it was like playing a video game. They loved it and at the same time they were practicing their math and science skills. Fundy National Park demonstrated their salmon tracking equipment and challenged the kids to find a “tracker” hidden under the tablecloth. Each booth has creative activities that get the kids excited about STEM.”
“With technology becoming so much a part of our daily lives, it’s alarming to think that while so many of us use it, so few actually know how to create it. We’re working to help change that.”
Nathalie Landry is a freelance writer and communications consultant. Her communications for social change consulting practice, Echo Actions, is dedicated to helping non-profits and small businesses who want to change the world find the right medium and audience for their message. @EchoActions
*Spotlight on Science Learning: The High Cost of Dropping Science and Math, Let’s Talk Science, 2013. http://www.letstalkscience.ca/our-research/spotlight2013.html
Tech South East: http://techsoutheast.ca/index.php
Agora Mobile: http://www.agoramobile.com/