Science East’s Illuminate is bringing tech home for students, parents & teachers

Written by Cherise Letson

April 3, 2014

If we want kids to get excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) we should let them teach  themselves.

That’s the goal of Science East’s Illuminate!, a program that engages middle school students in STEM studies through hands-on activities and play.

“While they are doing these activities, a lot of the time, we get them to build something that has a certain purpose or get them to do some mapping,” says Karen Matheson, director of education at Science East. “We turn the learning over to them instead of being someone who’s saying ‘this is the way it is’.”

Science East starts in the classroom by changing the way teachers approach STEM. “We have been able to reach over 9,000 people in two years, getting to work with schools and having the chance for teachers to see different ways of doing activities with their students,” Matheson says. “We’re walking out after doing a group, and the teacher is like ‘Aw, I need to do more of this with my students. I’m going to work on doing this.’ That’s a huge impact.”

Illuminate! also teaches other skills necessary to thrive in today’s workplace, no matter what the field. “People are looking for different skills for new hires to bring in. We’re expecting people to be good communicators, be able to solve problems and just be a bit more proactive,” Matheson says. “Those are the kinds of things we really want kids to learn.”

To help with that Illuminate! brings in local partners to show kids and their parents what a STEM career is like at community events held around around New Brunswick. Everyone from land surveyors, veterinarians, doctors, dentists, welders, carpenters and jewelry makers have participated to show kids all the places science and technology can take them. “We like to invite these people so that everyone sees that STEM is in pretty much everything that we do,” says Matheson.

For instance, Smart Skin Technologies CEO   Kumaran Thillainadarajah wants to show kids the variety of things you can do with engineering. Thillainadarajah began his company while studying at the University of New Brunswick. Smart Skin’s creates an artificial touch-sensitive film, or ‘skin’, that can measure pressure on an object. This sensor technology is currently being marketed to the sports training and industrial processes sectors. “We all really enjoy our work here. So we though it would be encouraging to the kids and give them some sense as to what an engineer or scientist does,” says Thillainadarajah, who hopes the program will lead more New Brunswick students to study science and technology. “One of the challenges that a lot of technology and start-up companies have in New Brunswick is finding good engineers. Hopefully this will encourage more students to choose that discipline, or investigate becoming an engineer or scientist.”

For Jordan Ritchie of Smart Skin, Illuminate! dispels the myth that engineering is gruelling and boring. “For us it’s a really important thing to show kids that the professional paths they can follow can lead to just as much fun as playtime.”

Check out when Illuminate is visiting your neighbourhood – or book it for your school here.

Wicked Ideas writer Cherise Letson is the News Editor @TheBrunswickan for one more week. Follow what she’s got to say @CheriseLWrites


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