Kids Science hands-on events inspire next generation of young scientists
This is my second year running Manulife Kids Science at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and we just finished our biggest event of the year called “Science Extravaganza” which welcomed 100 students from all over Toronto and the GTA, and as far away as Temiskaming, Ontario to SickKids for the two-day event. Students had the opportunity to hear from SickKids scientists leading important biomedical research, visit multiple research labs, and participate in an interactive build challenge for prizes. It’s definitely a highlight of the year!
Manulife Kids Science was started in 2006 by Dr. Lisa Robinson, a clinician-scientist at SickKids, to promote science by educating and inspiring kids with no-cost interactive science experiences. The program’s goals are to reach at-risk youth who may have a lack of access to scientific activities, such as patients at SickKids, remote Ontario communities, and students in priority neighbourhoods across Toronto and the GTA.
Since its inception, Kids Science has been a valuable part of SickKids’ community outreach efforts, reaching more than 15,000 students. It is a fantastic opportunity to reach out to kids and get them interested in science-based activities through interactive workshops. There is nothing better than doing a presentation for a group of kids and seeing the spark of interest and realization come across their faces when they finally grasp a difficult topic, such as how the super-absorbers in diapers hold on to liquid so well, or the chemistry behind mixing household ingredients together to make silly putty.
I have a lot of fun with one of SickKids’ therapeutic clowns, A. Leboo every Tuesday afternoon on our Manulife Kids Science live closed-circuit TV show. We aim to make science very accessible for our patients who either come down to Marnie’s Studio, or follow along in their rooms. We discuss a wide range of scientific topics that interest kids, like grossology and how things move. Engaging with the kids and getting them interested in science is one of my favourite parts of working here, as it gives the patients an opportunity to laugh at our silly jokes, win prizes, and feel more like kids as opposed to patients. And, maybe they learn something too!
Some of these science experiments get to travel outside the hospital walls when I visit schools to meet with students of all ages who may be interested in pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers. My favourite part of my job is answering science questions from kids. The students we work with, within the hospital and outside its walls, are so inquisitive and eager to learn.It is an absolute pleasure to try to answer their questions – especially if I don’t know the answer! Science is about the search for knowledge and answers, and not knowing something is just another opportunity to learn.
In addition to Science Extravaganza, students from multiple schools all over the city have the opportunity every year to come to SickKids to learn more about scientific and health-care fields, what it is like to work at SickKids, and develop an understanding of all the great work that goes on here. The feedback from the teens participating in our events are a significant part of the Manulife Kids Science program, as we are constantly making changes by introducing new speakers, labs, and workshops. In fact, we traditionally only ran one full-day career workshop focused on students interested in attending medical school. But, we received so much feedback and requests for a nursing-based event that we partnered with SickKids’ Collaborative for Professional Practice two years ago to create one. The student response was immediate and enthusiastic. Every attendee commented that they loved the opportunity to speak to nurses from different programs, and almost 75 per cent of students said the workshop made them more interested in pursuing a nursing career. The career-focused workshops have been such a success that we are looking to expand to even more health care and scientific careers for future workshops.
David Manly is the Manulife Kids Science Officer at SickKids.