Hands-on learning for local students

Image: TIM MEEKS/THE INTELLIGENCER Natasha Mathieu, volunteer coordinator of Loyalist College’s Let’s talk Science program was at Parkdale Public School in Belleville Wednesday presenting Budding Biologists, one of dozens of workshops offered for kids from preschool to Grade 12.

By Tim Meeks, Published on: February 20, 2019

They were talking science Wednesday at Park Dale Public School and the kids were loving it.

And so was Natasha Mathieu, a biotechnology student at Loyalist College, who is the volunteer coordinator for Let’s Talk Science, an awarding-winning, national, community-based program connecting educators and youth with outstanding volunteers to deliver a wide variety of meaningful science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities for children as young as three years old and youth up to Grade 12.

Started in 1991 by Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, Let’s Talk Science helps children and youth fulfil their potential and prepare for their future careers and citizenship role by supporting their learning through STEM engagement.
This is Mathieu’s first year with the program and, to date, she has run workshops with 2,000 students at schools throughout the Belleville area, Picton and Madoc.

“We try to get kids interested in STEM activities. My goal for this year is to do around 3,000 kids,” she said. “It’s so much fun, the kids love it, there are lots of fun things that we do like make homemade lava lamps, elephant toothpaste and building structures, it’s a lot of hands-on science that they may not get, so it helps them learn a lot better,” Mathieu said.

Since its inception, well over seven million youth and educators have been reached and an estimated 26,000 volunteers have been engaged with Let’s Talk Science. Supporting education transformation and developing creative, critical thinkers, the organization aspires to positively impact all youth in Canada.

While the program has been around for 28 years, Loyalist has been involved for the past five years, and Mathieu’s involvement has been a baptism by fire. “I had one month of training, it was kind of spur of the moment. The other coordinator was graduating this year and because it’s a student position we had a month to discuss what we were doing and she kind of taught me the ropes and I’ve learned along the way. I just kind of jumped in the pool and started to swim,” she said.

Each year, across Canada, Let’s Talk Science mobilizes thousands of university and college students and STEM professionals. Their trained volunteers visit elementary and high school classrooms, libraries, community events and more to deliver meaningful, exciting hands-on/minds-on STEM learning experiences to children and youth free of charge.

“We try to get the kids interested in getting into a career. Maybe if they aren’t exposed to a lot of science or teachers aren’t comfortable with sciences hopefully we are able to get them interested in the activities that they may not have had a chance to do. It’s a free program for all schools, so it’s at no cost to the school itself,” Mathieu said.

“The program is volunteer-based, so if they see it at the college and they’re interested they can contact me and I get them trained so they can work in the schools and then they can come to Loyalist where we have activities like the Quinte Regional Science and Technology Fair, and they can volunteer there as well. You could be in other courses it doesn’t have to be biotechnology, it could be Early Childhood Education for a student who would like to have more practice teaching in front of kids,” she said.

“Usually all of our volunteers are full-time students, so it’s difficult to schedule during school hours for the younger children, but somehow I got lucky and got two days off this year, so I schedule all my events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It’s on top of school as well, so it can be pretty difficult, and we have some activities on weekends as well,” she said.

Mathieu has reached out to a fair number of schools in the area, but if other schools are interested they can contact: Natasha Mathieu c/o Dr. Karen Holder 376 Wallbridge-Loyalist Rd Box 4200 Belleville, ON K8N 5B9, or email loyalist.letstalkscience@gmail.com