Science comes alive for Sunnyside students

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Grade 2 student Layla Ross reacts to the outcome of her experiment with solutions as Sunnyside schoolmate Jonah Hass tries his hand in the background.

You know students are engaged and enthusiastic when they’re taking school work home without being asked.

“They’ll go home – and they’re supposed to ask their parents first – but there will be experiments happening in the kitchen tonight, for sure,” said teacher Carol Wolsey of her Grade 2 students.

Sunnyside School recently played host to the Scientists in School program, a valuable tool intended to spark children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on discovery.

Wolsey said the beauty of the program is they offer hands-on activities that are age appropriate. In this case the topic was liquids.

“The children are always engaged and amazed. And even though this is like my fourth or fifth time (bringing in Scientists in School), it is so fun to see how excited they are as they discover,” she said.

The “Looking at Liquids” workshop fit in perfectly with the curriculum Wolsey’s class is covering. Each workshop is delivered by a presenter with a strong professional background in his or her topic. Christina Whittmire is a biologist who works for Athabasca University tutoring for environmental sciences. She also worked for the University of Lethbridge as a laboratory instructor in biological sciences.

She informed Wolsey’s class they were all going to be scientists for the day and asked if they knew what scientists do.

“They make gooey stuff,” offered up one, young student.

Before she gave them a chance to do “cool experiments” like chemists do, Whittmire provided some background on states of matter and related topics. When she asked if anyone knew what atoms are, a student replied, with gusto: “If you split them, they make a huge explosion!”

The students tackled experiments which covered things like freezing point and solubility, as well as solutions. The latter involved mixing corn syrup and dish soap and was a definite hit as the students blew bubbles the size of their heads, and larger.

There were also occasions to offer up some valuable life lessons.

Whittmire asked what senses might be used during an experiment, and quickly pointed out it’s unwise for anyone to put an unknown substance into their mouth. Students also learned about the dangers of pouring anything down storm sewers other than water.

By design, all the experiments involved items which can be found in any household. With everything set up in kits beforehand and a couple of parent-helpers there to lend a hand, it’s an experience a lone classroom teacher would have a hard time pulling off alone.

Wolsey said the Scientists in School workshops don’t replace lesson plans; they reinforce what the students have already been taught. The hands-on applications help solidify what they’ve read earlier, and can also reaffirm their abilities to perform skills learned earlier in class, in this case, like reading a thermometer.

As appreciative as Wolsey is of the Scientists in School program, the charitable organization also welcomes a close relationship with the Palliser school.

 “When we are developing a new topic, we often offer training workshops to the enthusiastic staff at Sunnyside,” said Wendy Ellert, regional manager for southern Alberta. “From the welcoming, supportive teachers to the engaged and eager students, our presenters feel they are a real part of this nurturing school community.”

For more information on Scientists in School, go to