Described as "epic, amazing, cool and unbelievable," the Nutrien Kamskénow program is bringing unique learning opportunities in science to students.
Offered by the College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan in partnership with Saskatoon Public Schools, Kamskénow has grown considerably since it begin in 2009 as a pilot program in one classroom at Pleasant Hill Community School. Last year, the program was offered in 50 Saskatoon classrooms reaching more than 1,200 students in Grade 4-11.
"Over the last number of years I have had a number of classes participate and I can't say enough about how powerful the program has been for my students," said David Buehler, a teacher at Fairhaven School. "I have watched students who had only a passing interest at best in science, technology, engineering and math walk out of this program seeing themselves as scientists. I have watched them engage with people who have made this their career and begin to see how they can do that themselves."
Lana Elias, director of the college's Science Outreach Office, said the goal of Kamskénow is to improve science literacy with the long-term aim of increasing the participation of Indigenous people in the sciences.
The program employs a team of university students who lead inquiry-based sessions at community schools during a 13-week program. During the final week of the program students visit the university campus and have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities in the teaching labs.
"The program has many impacts and is truly a win-win-win — for youth participants, for teachers, as well as our university participants," Elias said, noting the contributions of title sponsor Nutrien and the other supporters that make the program possible.
Kamskénow is based on the Saskatchewan science curriculum and the experience it provides creates a foundation that allows teachers to extend inquiry and discussion and have students reflect on the experience and their learning.
Buehler said the quality of the program's instructors, and the activities and resources they bring into schools, provides students with opportunities that may not otherwise be available and sparks interest in STEM learning among his students.
"They have grown so tremendously in their interests, in their confidence and in their capacity that I can't say enough about the importance of the program and what a great resource it has been for our school and all of the schools that have participated," he said.
For Fairhaven student Sarah Klassen, the unique, hands-on approach offered by Kamskénow instructors was an opportunity for her and her classmates to be actively engaged in their learning and "get to do it ourselves."
"I enjoyed science going into the program. I didn't have high expectations but coming out I feel I enjoy science much more," she said. "I enjoyed bonding with my fellow classmates in way I might not have otherwise, through different activities where I was on my own, with partners or even as a group. It was enjoyable for the entire time.
"Going out of this program I now look at science with so much more anticipation for what I could be studying later on."
Buehler said the opportunity to learn from university students provides his students with role models and a look at a possible career path of their own.
"It give them the opportunity — and I can't stress the importance of this enough — to engage with people who are making these aspects of science their career," he said. "It's not just me saying 'Theoretically you could need this here or need this there,' it's somebody who is actually building their life (through science)."
While elementary students learn from their instructors, Kamskénow's Elias said the program provides an important opportunity for the university students to learn how to communicate science concepts with understanding, practice employment skills and acquire an understanding of the diversity in schools and the community,
"All of those are really rich parts that we want for our students in the College of Arts and Science — I know we benefit from that as well," she said. "We also have a number of our graduate students with a masters or a PhD who have now gone into education as a result of their participation in the program, so we know your teachers and students are inspiring some of our science students as well."