Celebrating Science Odyssey with some SMOrES…..

Authored by Kristyn Rodzinyak (she/her) and Meghomita Das (she/her), with inputs from Emily Mick (she/her), Jessica Salas (she/her), Inga Boianju (she/her), Robert Collar (he/him) and Ingrid Birker (she/her)

The rock-fossil-volcano enthusiasts of the SMOrES club (Students at McGill Outreach in Earth Sciences) under the guidance of Kristyn Rodzinyak (Outreach Admin, Earth & Planetary Science) got together to work on several cool new virtual Earth Science-based workshops and demonstrations and introduce elementary schoolkids to the fascinating world of Rocks! Fossils! Volcanoes! And of course, Earth!! This was done in collaboration with Ingrid Birker, public program director at the Redpath Museum as part of the Science Odyssey sessions of 2021. 

Science Odyssey, powered by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)-Canada, is a national campaign that celebrates Canada’s achievements in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and arts. This includes engaging interactions in museums, research laboratories, and classrooms from all across Canada. It is held every year in May when hundreds of science outreach specialists come together to deliver fun, and inspiring activities to Canadians of all ages and instill a strong science culture in Canada.

The game plan was to develop 4 one-hour events to be hosted virtually on the weekends between May 1-16, 2021. The students of SMOrES came up with individual topics for each of these 4 events. Each event had a mix of demonstrations and a hands-on activity that the attendees could perform easily at home (under adult supervision). As part of the workshop development process, all our presenters went through extensive outreach training, provided by the Office of Science Outreach team: Jacky Farrell and Rebeca Esquivel. Each lesson plan had engagement questions, probing questions, and had a list of materials that were required for the sessions. All the events were presented in English. 

Developing the activities to be virtual yet hands-on was an interesting challenge. It was important to us to incorporate a hands-on aspect in order to make the activity more engaging for a young audience but on the other hand, [we] did not want to limit a kid’s ability to participate based on their ability to get the necessary materials”, says Emily Mick from SMORES. 

To streamline the process and draw in more crowds, Redpath Museum handled all the scheduling, registration, ZOOM links, land acknowledgment, and advertisement part of these events whereas Kristyn coordinated with the SMOrES membership to develop the individual events and conduct several run-throughs to ensure the events were conducted smoothly. She also handled the security of the events and moderated the questions that came up in the chat. In the end, SMOrES came up with 4 events:

1. Earth through time with a little help from hot cocoa, presented by Robert Collar on May 1, 2021. This event walked us through how the tectonic plates move and how the surface of the Earth looked like 65 million years ago. It also featured a live demonstration with hot cocoa! This event was attended by 11 registered participants.

With the help of Earth ViewerRobert Collar taught about how the Earth’s surface changes over time and a short introduction to how oceans and mountains form. The ideas were reinforced with a hot chocolate demonstration

 

2. Fossils, the key to the past, presented by Inga Boianju on May 2, 2021. For this event, we wondered if dinosaurs were real and how fossils teach us a lesson from the past. 17 attendees also got a live demonstration of how fossils are formed and preserved using everyday items like cookie dough! 

During the fossils activity, Inga Boianju lead participants through what is preserved in a fossil and different types of fossil before getting a chance to make their own impressions using salt dough.

3. These rocks…..rock! Presented by Emily Mick on May 9, 2021. Emily took us to the world of minerals and rocks, how they are similar yet different and the tools geologists use to identify the rock or the minerals present. 22 registered participants learned more about their favorite rock and what it was made of.

4. The explosive story of volcanoes, presented by Jessica Salas on May 16, 2021. This event walked the participants through the different types of volcanoes and the way they erupt. The 18 participants also learned how to make a miniature volcano of their own!

Jessica Salas showed an overview of shield, cinder, and stratovolcanoes including videos to show different eruption types. An activity to make your own volcano was shared including a demo of mentos/diet coke desktop “volcano”.

 

Inga Boianju, presenter of the Fossils event had some experience with virtual workshops when she ran a similar event last summer. But the Science Odyssey event had its challenges.

“………but this one was shorter and had a bigger than anticipated attendance, and so the challenge for me was to develop interaction and engagement with the attendees over a short period of time, to get them familiar with what fossils are, what kinds there are, and where you can find them, but also make it fun and interactive.”, says Inga.

For each of these events, there was positive engagement amongst the participants. Many raised challenging questions and shared what they knew about the topic for the day.

Jessica Salas, the presenter for the volcanoes workshop, says, “……their questions to me were interesting and sometimes even challenging. They knew a lot about volcanoes and they wanted to share their knowledge with us.” This inaugural event was a huge success amongst the SMORES team and the attendees for the event.

For the next iteration of such events, Robert Collar adds, “To cater to these audience members while still meeting the needs of younger participants, we’re considering dispensing “fun facts” in the Zoom chat throughout an activity. This idea was inspired by Prof. Jeanne Paquette, who would often attend an activity and use the chat function to share additional information beyond the activity’s scope. This idea is especially well-suited to virtual activity delivery, as replicating the discreteness of the chat function would be difficult in a classroom setting.”

The SMOrES team wishes to use the lessons they learned for the Science Odyssey events to develop more hands-on Earth Science workshops for the future. Plans include branching out to higher age groups and even live demos with active student engagement in such activities. After all, what can be more fun than making hot cocoa and messy volcanoes on a wonderful summer weekend? 

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