Biological Sciences High School Outreach Programs

Getting Up Close And Personal With Sharks

Did you know sharks have been on Earth longer than trees? Or that some sharks can live to be over 300 years old? Sharks and rays are closely related and are part of class Chondrichthyes, meaning fishes with skeletons of cartilage, and only their calcified teeth end up as fossils. This class also contains the chimaeras, or “ghost sharks”, which are a small subclass of deep-sea cousins with unique adaptations. The huge amount of evolutionary diversity contained within these three lineages is staggering, but they are also one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates.

Students will learn about the diversity of sharks, rays and chimaeras we have right here in the Pacific Northwest and the unique adaptations that make them so special. Preserved specimens will be displayed for students, and the workshop leader will show video footage and give a brief presentation on some of the current shark research happening at SFU. Students will complete an activity exploring the effects of different fishing methods on this vulnerable group, and/or an activity demonstrating the role sharks play in the marine food web.

Learning outcomes

  • Think critically about human impacts on the natural world
  • Learn about the diversity of Chondrichthyan life histories and adaptations
  • Recognize the importance of seeking trustworthy sources of information before making a decision

Curriculum competencies reviewed

  • Questioning and Predicting: Ask questions to address myths and misconceptions, seek to understand patterns and trends in data 
  • Evaluating: Consider data sources and ways to improve investigation methods as well as social and environmental implications of findings

Max group size: 25-30 students

Time Required: 1-2 hours

Appropriate level: Grade 8-11

Location: Burnaby campus

Click here to enroll your class.

Catalase In Action

Hydrogen peroxide is a common by-product of various metabolic processes in living organisms. Catalase is an enzyme that speeds up a reaction to breakdown hydrogen peroxide in living cells, rendering the hydrogen peroxide harmless.

How do scientists answer their research questions? In this guided inquiry, students will have the opportunity to formulate and test their own hypotheses by designing & conducting an experiment about enzyme activity. The focus of this workshop will be about allowing students to make mistakes and explore options that will result in them answering their assigned research question(s).

This flexible grade 10 – 12 Biology or Environmental Science workshop can be modified for further classroom discussions about:

  • The role of enzymes in biological systems under normal, abnormal, or toxic conditions
  • Reactive oxygen species as environmental stress indicators in aquatic environments
  • Activation energy & enzymes

This workshop can be 2-3 hours long and is suitable for up to 30 students.

Click here to enroll your class.

Life under the Microscope

Cell biology workshops expose kids of all ages to the interaction of live cells and microscopic organisms with their environment.  Using hands on, interactive exercises with real microscopes, students not only learn to use this equipment, but gain an appreciation of how human activities impact these microscopic environments. Customizable, age appropriate workshops include a variety of interesting activities, focused at a cellular level, which aim to answer questions such as:

a) What’s in the food we eat?
b) Where are the brilliant colours in plants made and stored?
c) What are the plant defence substances? Where are they stored? What do they look like?
d) How do plant cells contribute to make our planet a beautiful and livable place?

Older students will appreciate being exposed to the diversity of the living world by exploring the structure and functions of organisms from all 5 kingdoms. Students will explore what makes a flower beautiful and soft, what do we eat in a salad, what do we eat in nuts and seeds, what makes some plants quite nasty and poisonous,  what makes flowers fragrant, and what attract bees and other pollinators at the cellular level. 

This is an hour-long workshop.

Click here to enroll your class.


Participants review the structure and function of DNA and learn about some applications of molecular biology. Students will load samples onto an agarose gel, pass an electric current through the gel, which separates fragments of DNA based on size, and then visualize how far the DNA has traveled through the gel using a dye that binds to DNA.

This workshop is 1.5 - 2 hours long and is suitable for students from Grades 10-12.

Click here to enroll your class.

Creating Your Own Alien Workshop

This workshop demonstrates basic inheritance patterns and ways in which genetic makeup initially determines an individual’s appearance. Bringing environmental characteristics into play highlights the notion that both genetic composition and environment affect the appearance of an individual. In this workshop students will create their personal alien, “cross” it with another alien, and select a couple of traits of the resulting alien that are most advantageous for life in a certain extra-terrestrial environment. Students leave the workshop with completed worksheets, and a photograph of their alien (if they have a cell phone to take the picture). During this workshop students practice observational, collaborative, communicative and constructive skills. 

Learning outcomes:

  1. When given a set of alien’s features, students will be able to create their own alien based on the basic genetic principle - phenotypic expression of genotype.
  2. Students will then be able to “cross” their alien with an alien of another group and discuss the results of such crossing.
  3. Students will select a couple of traits that would be the most advantageous in a certain extra-terrestrial environment.

Time required: ~2-3 hours

Appropriate level: Grade 8-10

Maximum group size: 40 students

Allergy risk: Potential allergy to Styrofoam. All other materials used are considered common everyday items.

Discover Insects

Insects are the most numerous, diverse animals on our planet, and yet many of us know almost nothing about them. Students of all ages can remedy that by handling real specimens (living and preserved) to gain an appreciation of these complex creatures.

Older groups will focus on the evolution, survival strategies, and adaptations of insects. Insects have many extreme evolutionary patterns that have arisen again and again and students will examine these patterns to answer such questions as:

  • What are the different types of insects?
  • Why are there so many insects?
  • What allowed insects to “win” at natural selection?

Splitting into Fours Workshop

Meiosis is a specific cell division which produces cells with half the original number of chromosome sets. Students will model steps of meiosis and evaluate and analyse its most important points. Students leave the workshop with completed worksheets and drawings of the model that they’ve made. During this workshop students practice observational, collaborative, communicative, analytical, and critical thinking skills.

Prerequisite: Basic knowledge of meiosis

Learning outcomes:

  1. When given a set of pipe cleaners, students will be able to model meiosis.
  2. During modeling meiosis, students will be able to answer the questions in the worksheets.

Time required: ~1.5 hours

Appropriate level: Grade 8-10

Maximum group size: 40 students

Get “inspidered” – Learn about the world of spiders and what they can teach us

The fear of spiders (arachnophobia) is common and seems to be learned during childhood. However, spiders in general are not dangerous and are adapted to fundamentally different lifestyles, including different web-types (burrow, orb web, cob web and their functions) and spider-morphology (e.g. sexual dimorphism).

In this workshop participants will be gently introduced to the world of spiders. They will learn how diversely specialized different spiders are, each perfectly adapted to their world. Instructors will debunk myths and misconceptions and show (and personally experience) how fact-based education drives out fear.

A 2 hour workshop for grade 8-10, max 40 students

Learning outcomes summary:

  • Learn about the evolution and adaptation of basic spider biology (example of web types)
  • Recognize the importance of trustworthy information sources to reduce misconceptions
  • Learn some fun facts that will help change the perception of arachnids

Curriculum competencies reviewed:

  • Questioning & Predicting: Importance of asking questions to address myths/misconceptions
  • Planning & Conducting: Conduction of experiments and evaluating them
  • Applying: Recognize significance and impact of public misconceptions
  • Communicating: Reflection on how “spiders are not dangerous but really cool” impacts own/other’s lives

Take a Stand: Youth for Conservation program

This program takes students on a journey through the waters of British Columbia’s west coast into the heart of the largest temperate rainforest on the planet—the Great Bear Rainforest. Pristine ecosystems and a coastline of immense beauty provide for a way of life rich in culture and history, and youth will learn about the connections that First Nations communities share with the waters and lands. The social and scientific challenges facing this area and the communities that it supports will be relayed by a professional expedition leader and standup paddleboarder.

The Take a Stand Community Innovation Challenge contest is open to Grades 3-12. Students will be encouraged to enter the contest and submit their ideas for youth “action projects” related to educating the public on an environmental issue, protecting wildlife/habitat, lessening climate change, reducing waste, or creating other positive impacts within their communities.

45 mins to 1.5 hours

Open to Grade 3-12 students