Building a culture of innovation, one science fair at a time.

Mon, 2011-10-24 20:46 -- Mike Newnham

The editorial that begins the issue states:

  • Talk of innovation overflows from cabinet ministers’ speeches, think-tank reports and corporate executives’ talking points; innovation is invoked as a seemingly mystical cure for any financial ill. Weak export numbers? Innovate. Low productivity? Innovation will fix that. Forestry sector struggling? Rub a little innovation on it. Being innovative—like kindness to animals or regular toothbrushing—feels like the sort of thing toward which we should all aspire, which explains its frequent invocation. Yet proponents often leave the term ill defined and poorly understood. Which is problematic, because while Canadians love talking about innovation, we’re not very good at actually
  • Canadians need to push their governments, their businesses and their schools to implement concrete policies to foster innovation. If we haven’t yet, perhaps it’s because we allow talk of an “innovation agenda” to reside in the realm of academic abstracts. With this issue, Canadian Business launches a campaign to move from theoretical discussions to concrete solutions. Our Economy of the Future series will highlight the obstacles preventing Canada from being more innovative. More important, we’ll also offer case studies with clear solutions to our woes. First off, staff writer Rachel Mendleson on instilling a spirit of innovation in our kids (page 49).

Below is the content about Smarter Science from the article:

  • Science fairs, all year long

    How to get teachers to think beyond the textbook and kids to think like scientists.

    As far as elementary school goes, there is perhaps no better platform for innovation than science fairs, which give kids an opportunity to explore a subject they love, and solve problems of their own design. But what if everyday science classes operated the same way? That's the thinking behind Smarter Science, an Ontario-based program that arms science teachers with the tools to get kids thinking like scientists all year long.

    Piloted in the Thames Valley District School Board in 2006, Smarter Science was the brainchild of Michael Newnham. While working as the board's science consultant, Newnham studied the process scientists use to conduct experiments. By focusing on the various skills—everything from observation and data gathering to analysis and reflection—Newnham and his colleagues developed a framework for teachers to use in their science classes, beginning as early as kindergarten.

    At the heart of the framework, he says, is a "gradual release of responsibility, where you shift the responsibility over from the teacher to the student." Smarter Science lessons often start with a hands-on question designed to allow kids to play and explore. To begin a unit on heat, for instance, a Grade 1 class was asked to determine whether mittens would warm a teddy bear’s paws. “What you're doing over time, is you're teaching them to become independent investigators," says Newnham. "You're teaching them to think like scientists."

    After conducting workshops with teachers in 75% of the province's school boards (the program is now under the umbrella of Youth Science Canada), Newnham says he is now trying to develop a model for evaluation, which, in a results-oriented culture, will be crucial to widespread adoption. In the meantime, he's working hard to encourage teachers to think beyond the textbook. "You stand in front of kids everyday, modelling what should be," he says. "If you want them to be innovative and creative, you’ve got to be."


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

Your cranium must be protecting some very valuable brains.