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Loving science in Chester

Old Man Winter picked a bad time to be in a grumpy mood as far as science-loving students at Victor Sammurtok School (VSS) were concerned in Chesterfield Inlet this past week.

Many schools across the Kivalliq were closed from Feb. 5-7 as extreme windchill in excess of -60 C sent the region into a deep freeze.

Jefferson Kukkiak and Vayda Mimialik work on the effects of music and blood pressure on Feb. 8, 2018, in preperation for the upcoming science fair at Victor Sammurtok School in Chesterfield Inlet. photo courtesy of Glen Brocklebank

Students at VSS lost almost a week of class time in Chester, putting them behind schedule in preparing their projects for the VSS Science Fair and a chance to qualify for the Kivalliq Regional Science Fair in Rankin Inlet from March 2-5.

Teacher Glen Brocklebank introduces his students to the process of how projects are judged at the fair, including what they will be evaluated on and where their mark comes from, as well as the curricular goal they're expected to achieve in the science unit during the year.

He said he encourages students to focus their science project on a topic they're genuinely interested in.

"We don't structure it as a pick-a-science-fair project, but, rather, we try to find areas the students want to engage in and learn more about," said Brocklebank.

"That way they're more likely to do really well because they're learning something that is of intrinsic value to them.

"Back in class now, we're four days behind where I wanted to be at this point, so we're concentrating on turning their ideas into a scientific process."

Students at VSS take the regional science fair seriously, having at one point sent a student to the Canada-Wide Science Fair for a Kivalliq record of 13 straight years.

The regional fair is an annual event where the relatively small size of VSS is not a hindrance to the performance of its students.

At the 2017 regional fair hosted in Chester, VSS students tied for first place, and took third, fifth and sixth overall.

In fact, VSS students take the regional fair so seriously, Brocklebank fully expects a number of them to give up their days off during teacher Professional Development Week from Feb. 12-16 to work on their projects or, at least, complete their research and get some experimenting done to make up for lost time.

Brocklebank said a culture of high expectations at the regional fair has been developed at VSS during the past 16 years or so.

He said Chester students know if they do well at the VSS Science Fair, they stand a good chance of doing well regionally and advancing to the Canada-Wide Science Fair.

"We're proud of the fact we had at least one student attend the Canada-Wide Science Fair for l3 consecutive years and, this past year, we sent two of the three students our region is allowed to the national fair.

"Our students compete in the VSS Science Fair from kindergarten to Grade 12, so every student does a science fair project every single year.

"That predates me, so I've really only picked up on what had already been done at our school, in so far as our approach to the science fair.

"Our students embrace the fact they can compete on equal footing with the entire region, and the proof of that, to me, is the effort they put into their projects every year."

Brocklebank said many "keen" students can get frustrated if they don't come up with a unique idea right away because they want to do a project they know will be competitive.

He said they often have to be encouraged to narrow their focus, pick one aspect of a topic, and look at it really, really well.

"That's why we start with an idea – encouraging them to concentrate on what they like to do, what they're interested in, and what they'd like to learn more about – and then we try to fit it into the scientific process.

"Our success at science fair provides a boost in school spirit because you've got students who are excited about what they're learning, and as a teacher anytime students get excited about learning and ask more questions, that, in turn, gets me even more excited.

"Science fair can be difficult to manage because you have students doing independent projects.

"It's far easier to plan and structure something so that everyone is doing the same thing, but with project-based learning when you see certain kids excel in areas related to science or academics, it makes you feel even better."