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2013 NSERC Awards for Science Promotion

Intergenerational Landed Learning Project

In contrast to previous generations of Canadians, most young people today have little first‑hand exposure to a working farm. This is especially true in highly urbanized settings like Vancouver.  Consequently, many children can grow up without understanding where their food comes from, the environmental and health consequences of their food choices, and the challenges that farmers face.

This prospect inspired the Intergenerational Landed Learning Project, recipient of a 2013 NSERC Award for Science Promotion.  The Project uses an innovative intergenerational food-growing approach to make science accessible and relevant for kids of all ages and socio-economic background. Target groups include new immigrants, low-income and Aboriginal youth, and girls.

Based at a working farm on the campus of University of British Columbia, the Project was launched in 2002, by professors Jolie Mayer-Smith and Linda Peterat.  Its flagship program teams groups of children aged 8 to13 with volunteer gardeners.  Together, they spend 10 to 12 days during the school year doing hands-on, garden-based science. The participants grow food crops while learning about soil ecology, plant structure and function, environmental issues, nutrition, and health.

In 2005, the Project expanded to include summer camps, and in 2008 a satellite program was established at the Okanagan Science Centre in Vernon, BC. The Project’s newest undertaking is a six-week outreach program in Vancouver, involving inner-city teenagers aged 13 to 18, who grow sustainable food in their schools and communities.  The program inspires interest in plant and soil science and encourages careers in environmental leadership and sustainability.

Since its advent, the This link will take you to another Web site Intergenerational Landed Learning Project has involved more than 2,000 young people and 700 volunteers, and has attracted 35,000 visitors to its Web site. The Project brings garden-based science to youth and adults of all walks of life, giving participants a new view of their communities and their own lives.  The novel intergenerational and mentorship design of the Project has been adopted by other educators and inspired new programs in community and school settings across Canada and internationally. Teachers view the Project as a unique opportunity to make science “real” and to reach students who have been unsuccessful and uninspired at school.  For some, participation is truly transformational, contributing to new teaching practices that help them support and extend the dynamic learning they see happening in the garden.

Normand Voyer, Department of Chemistry, Université Laval

When Normand Voyer started his career as a chemistry professor at the Université de Sherbrooke in 1988, many of his students recall how impressed they were with his enthusiasm for teaching and his desire to instill in them his passion for science. Today, some of those same students are amazed at how far these qualities have taken him since then. His desire to nurture a broad public appreciation of chemistry has set entirely new standards for such activity, displaying an increasing amount of energy and imagination as the years have gone by.

He began by developing exhibits targeting youth for the Sherbrooke Nature and Science Museum. Soon after, he organized an undergraduate chemistry seminar that is still held annually, and by 2005 he had also established 24 Heures de la chimie!, a much more ambitious day-long marathon of events that includes popular lab sessions for kids, films about chemistry, a chemical “magic show”, and a variety of social and sports activities.

He also took to the road with La Caravane Défi Chimie, a travelling program visiting high schools and appealing to the impatience of young minds with “speed science”, which challenges them to turn a set of instructions into a working experiment in a matter of minutes.
For the International Year of Chemistry in 2011, he developed “Chemistry of Love”, an innovative and dynamic event which has so far introduced more than 400 000 people, young and old alike, to the importance of chemistry in everyday life using a variety of activities – from molecular cooking to criminal investigation.

Now a faculty member at Université Laval, Dr. Voyer’s dedicated outreach efforts appear to have yielded concrete results: the number of new students in the first year chemistry program has reached record levels. In fact, some of his former students credit their own careers in chemistry to his influence. And while his impact on campus is clear, he has regularly contributed to radio programs that bring chemistry to a wide listening audience, as well as hosting annual lectures to engage the public perception of this field.