Examples of some of the 3D printed models created by Science AL!VE Summer Virtual Academy participants. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the instructors printed the projects designed virtually by participants and delivered them via mail.

Science AL!VE's virtual academy keeps youth engaged this summer with STEAM programs

August 13, 2020

While COVID-19 forced the cancellation of many summer camps this year, Science AL!VE has found a way to continue their programs and make their content more accessible to youth across the province. This means students in kindergarten to grade 7 still have the opportunity to explore DNA molecules, build gadgets, learn the science behind wizardry and use forensics to investigate crimes.

Science AL!VE is a not-for-profit organization based out of Simon Fraser University's Faculty of Applied Sciences that aims to close the gender, culture and socio-economic gaps in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) education. Since 1994, their weekend and afterschool programs provide youth with a safe, fun and creative space to engage in STEAM activities throughout the year. In addition to offering camps at the SFU Burnaby and Surrey campuses, Science AL!VE instructors also travel to Haida Gwaii and northern B.C. to deliver their programs directly to rural communities.

“I value that Science AL!VE strives to provide accessible science programming for everyone – and making it a priority to reduce financial and geographical barriers of access for children,” says Science AL!VE instructor Zahra Haq, who is also a recent SFU health sciences graduate.

Pictured here are some of the hands-on STEAM programs that Science AL!VE is known for providing over the years. Despite the activities being held online this year, organizers have developed creative ways to replicate the camp experience for participants.

Despite the programs being held online, organizers of Science AL!VE have developed creative ways to make it more personalized, and to maintain the fun and engaging elements of the program.

“We understand that things look very different, but our staff have been working hard to replicate the ‘camp’ environment as much as we can in a virtual space by having small class sizes and engaging content,” says Haq.

For example, the science shows are now offered as pre-recorded videos and multiple shows are offered throughout the week. In the Gadgets & Gizmos program where participants learn about 3D printing, instructors offer to print the 3D models designed by participants and deliver them via mail. The popular instructor dunk tank activity will also continue, but via video rather than in person.

In recent years, Science AL!VE has reached up to 12,000 youth per year. The organization has been supported by multiple faculties across SFU and is a part of the Actua network.

Science AL!VE’s impact is apparent when speaking to the instructors, some of whom were once participants themselves.

“As a child I didn’t really have a strong interest in science, but attending Science AL!VE showed me just how fun and interesting pursuing further studies in STEM could be,” says Chiara Piccolo, who was a program participant when she was in grade 2. She recently graduated from biomedical physiology and kinesiology and is headed to medical school this fall.

“Having the opportunity to attend our programs encourages students who may not otherwise consider a career in STEAM to view all their options,” adds Piccolo.

While unexpected circumstances may have led to this year’s virtual programs, there is a silver lining. An online platform allows Science AL!VE to reach audiences beyond their usual geographic region, and is a medium they may continue to use beyond the pandemic.

"Being launched into a fully online summer academy will prepare us for future innovations at Science AL!VE to continue online delivery of programming and help us reduce barriers to our STEAM programs for years to come.”

Registration for the Science AL!VE Summer Virtual Academy is still open. Visit www.sciencealive.ca for more details.