June 14, 2019

Science challenges welcome more than 400 junior and high school students to campus

Let’s Talk Science invites students to exciting outreach events focused on developing STEM interest
The 2019 SciEngTech Challenge at the University of Calgary campus. Photos by Nick Butt, for Let's Talk Science
The 2019 SciEngTech Challenge at the University of Calgary campus. Photos by Nick Butt, for Let's Ta

The competition was ferocious and enthusiastic. Design a prosthetic hand. Answer brain-busting science questions on deadline. Race around campus solving puzzles in biology, health, engineering and programming.

These scenes and more unfolded across main and Foothills campuses as hundreds of junior and senior high school students from across the city descended on the University of Calgary, taking part in two events designed to raise interest among youth in STEM education and careers.

Let’s Talk Science Challenge

On May 11, more than 170 middle school students and educators arrived at Foothills campus to take part in the 2019 Let’s Talk Science Challenge, hosted by volunteers for the national Let’s Talk Science organization.

“I saw my students work together very well,” a teacher commented. “It’s extremely fulfilling to see all the hard work they put in the classroom pay off in a competition such as this one. Being a teacher, seeing the kids work together like this is really satisfying.”

In a Jeopardy-style quiz show in the morning, students from Grades 6 to 8 worked in teams of four, answering science questions under the allotted timeframe. After lunch, in the space-themed Engineering Design Challenge, student teams designed prosthetic hands to pick up pom-poms and move them from one cup to another.

The Science Conquistadors from Sir John A. MacDonald School accrued the highest cumulative score and won first place out of 39 teams.

More than 40 post-secondary students and industry volunteers helped with everything from judging to managing logistics. Two representatives from the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Ashley Causton, PhD, and doctoral student Marissa Clapson, served as emcees and keynote speakers. Clapson provided an amazing demonstration on the creation of polymers and plastics, and encouraged the young students to be mindful of the environment. Dr. Causton encouraged students to think big, dream big, and offered insight into the great opportunities available in the field of STEM. At the conclusion of the day, Village Ice Cream donated ice cream for all teachers, students, and guests for all their effort and time.

Teams hard at work on a 2019 SciEngTech Challenge Station.

Teams hard at work on a 2019 SciEngTech Challenge Station.

Nick Butt, for Let's Talk Science

SciEngTech Challenge

Three weeks later, the 2019 SciEngTech Challenge took place on the UCalgary main campus, attended by more than 270 students and educators.

The event followed an Amazing Race format with high school students in teams racing across campus participating in a series of science-based challenges. The challenges involved a variety of STEM topics, ranging from biology and health to engineering and programming.

The Never Surrenders team from Sir Winston Churchill High School won first place.

“I really liked the programming challenge,” a student said. “This is the first year it was done on a computer, and it’s really cool to be able to have the chance to actually try and do something that you don’t get to do every day in the classroom.” The students wrote several lines of code in an Assembly language, solving a basic math problem. Rather than test the students in their knowledge about a particular programming language, the challenge probed the students on their ability to think in a deliberate manner like a software developer would.

More than 50 volunteers helped run the day’s events for the 41 high school teams participating. Multiple exhibitions were showcased with representatives on hand from the Calgary Public Library, Cybermentors, STEM Fellowship, Beekeepers, Minds in Motion, FIRST Robotics, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Two University of Calgary professors, Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour, PhD, and Dr. Yuen-Ying Carpenter, PhD, took some time in the afternoon to speak to the group. Dr. Moshirpour emphasized the significance of programming and software knowledge in an increasingly technology-dependent society. Dr. Carpenter spoke about her journey to becoming a university professor, as well as the importance of curiosity and critical thinking. She encouraged students to constantly think, ask questions and reflect throughout their high school and post-secondary careers.

See a full list of sponsors of the two events. Let’s Talk Science is an award-winning, national, charitable organization committed to education and outreach to support youth development.

Tyler Lam was the events co-ordinator for the 2019 Let’s Talk Science Challenge and the 2019 SciEngTech Challenge. For more information, contact ucltspp@gmail.com or visit letstalkscience.ca.