Creating chemical bonds with kids

November 30, 2006, vol.37, no.7
By Carol Thorbes

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Wearing a white lab coat, latex gloves and protective goggles, SFU chemist Sophie Lavieri is bonding with children across Canada.

The South American-born assistant lecturer takes a portable lab into public schools where she puts on workshops, called Experimental Chemistry for Us, at no cost to the schools.

Thanks to financial support from SFU, the Chemical Institute of Canada and the National Science and Engineering Research Council's PromoScience program, Lavieri has helped more than 2000 children in B.C., Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island bond with chemistry.

Hers are the first workshops in Canada to engage elementary school children in real chemistry experiments. Children don't usually study chemistry until Grade 10. “That's too late for students to be exposed to chemistry concepts,” says Lavieri. “By then, they might have preconceived notions about the subject.”

Lavieri's kindergarten to Grade 7 workshops are also the first in Canada to feature an academic teaching chemistry to elementary school children. She uses a quick clap of her hands to rivet the attention of her disciples. On this occasion, she is turning a Grade 4 class of 45 children at Coquitlam's Roy Stibbs Elementary School into budding chemists.

Their teacher Janette Walker is in awe of Lavieri's incorporation of various lab utensils into imaginative, interactive experiments, and of her ability to talk in child-friendly terms. “Being a chemist myself, I know that the language adaptation would be a challenge,” says Walker.

A coffee filter, coloured felt pens and rock salt are essential props in an experiment that shows children how chromatography, a process for separating chemical components, works.

“Not only do these workshops introduce chemistry concepts, the scientific method, critical thinking and safety rules,” says Lavieri, but “they make science fun.”

The SFU chemist says she needs more support from private donors so that she can take her portable lab into more inner-city and remote schools across Canada.

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