Guest Blog – Science on Ice: A Week of Workshops in Igloolik

June 6, 2016

Today’s blog was written by Actua team member, Lucas Kavanagh, Codemakers Coordinator. Lucas spent two weeks recently in Nunavut delivering Actua workshops and wrote about his experiences here. This spring, Actua instructors are in dozens of communities across Nunavut delivering STEM workshops.

Actua goes to great lengths to bring hands-on science and technology experiences to all Canadian youth and this spring I was lucky enough to travel to Igloolik, Nunavut, to do just that. I’ve been to every Canadian province, but this was my first time to the North – an experience very few Canadians are lucky to have. It was an incredible, eye-opening trip to a very warm community in a very cold, but beautiful place.

After a three hour flight from Ottawa, an overnight in Iqaluit, and two hours more by air the next day, my co-worker Mandi and I arrived in Igloolik. This hamlet of close to 2,000 people is located on a small island west of Baffin and was one of five Nunavut communities reached by Actua this spring. It is a centre of Inuit arts and culture with many talented carvers, a film production company, and a circus troupe all calling Igloolik home.

In the week that we spent there, we were able to deliver workshops to every class in both the elementary and high school. For the younger groups we taught them to “think like a computer” by introducing binary numbers, algorithms, and encryption. With technology increasingly pervading life in even the most remote communities, it is essential to introduce youth to the fundamentals of programming at an early age. I recall struggling with binary numbers myself in university, yet kindergarten students were able to pick them up in a matter of minutes!

At the high school, we premiered “Sea Ice Synergy” a new workshop developed in partnership with the Nunavut Research Institute with support from Polar Knowledge Canada. The workshop connected observations of sea ice that youth make in their own community with global concepts such as ocean circulation and climate change. Dr. Ljubicic of Carleton University contributed aspects of her research in documenting Inuit sea-ice knowledge in the development of this activity.

This was an older age group than Actua has previously focused on; the teenaged students were initially skeptical that we could make science fun, but once they started telling stories of their trips onto the ice and began setting up their own experiments, we quickly won them over. I remember asking one student how he was doing with the project and he immediately and automatically responded, “this is boring!” and then almost sheepishly added “…but I’m having a lot of fun!"

Before the trip, our friends at Apartment 11 Productions got in touch with a request to facilitate an exchange of questions between Canadian youth in the south and the North. They were in the process of making a new season of their award-winning kids show, “Finding Stuff Out” on TV Ontario, including an episode on living in the extreme cold. So we packed a camera, a microphone, and a list of questions from students across the country. Through a series of interviews, we got answers from youth living in Igloolik and in turn they asked their own questions about life in the south. Questions ranged from what causes the northern light and what it’s like to never see the sun set to what it’s like to play in a forest, or see a farm. You’ll be able to see the results of this project next fall on TV Ontario.

Our stay in Igloolik flew by far too quickly, even though a blizzard delayed our departure by a day. Personally, this trip reminded me that the developing curriculum with connections to the local environment and community is the way to achieve the greatest impact as it grounds scientific concepts in observations that youth are already familiar with. Hopefully the students we reached were able to take away a new perspective of the inner workings of how their iPod thinks, or how the ice underneath their feet can change the temperature on the other side of the planet.

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