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GUEST COLUMN: Sharing the gift of science

Peter Smith Retirement is no excuse for sitting at home; that should be the motto of the 17 active members of Adopt a Scientist.

Peter Smith

Retirement is no excuse for sitting at home; that should be the motto of the 17 active members of Adopt a Scientist.

Last year the organization, which puts retired scientists and engineers in school classrooms to demonstrate scientific principles, responded to 196 requests from 96 teachers working in 47 different Lambton-Kent schools.

I’ve only been with the group a couple of years, but many of the volunteers have put in years of service and hundreds of hours of classroom work. As far as we know the group in unique. Similar things have been tried elsewhere, but this is the only fully volunteer organization of its kind.

It all started in 1992 when Dow Chemical founded the Science Education Partnership, which provided funding for local school boards to purchase quality scientific equipment to help their educators teach.

The idea was that “hands on” elementary science would increase general scientific literacy and encourage more students to pursue a science or engineering education. Polysar joined in and discussions started with Imperial Oil, where the concept changed slightly.

Instead of supplying equipment, why not also provide a volunteer to demonstrate and explain the science? After all, Imperial and the other companies had active retiree groups that included a large number of scientists and engineers.

And so, in 1996, Adopt a Scientist was formed and the first volunteers entered the classroom. At first the idea was to have each school “adopt a scientist,” who would respond to requests at that school. However, that idea never really caught on, and although the name stayed the concept changed.

As requests from teachers came in the group developed teaching packages, and the scientists formed smaller teams to present the information, each specializing in a different topic.

So what keeps us volunteering? Firstly, we’re all science geeks and kids at heart. We enjoy demonstrating the science as much as the students enjoy watching it, but the real joy is in watching students learn. It has given me a new appreciation for what teachers do. When we go into a classroom there can be anywhere from two to five or six of us, depending on the topic and the size of the group, and it is still a challenge.

But our teachers face that every day, which is why they deserve our help and support.

We are always looking for new volunteers, and if you have a science or technical background and can remember the joy of learning, we invite you to come along and see if Adopt a Scientist is the place for you.

For more, email [email protected]

Peter Smith is a retired engineer and science geek living in Sarnia

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