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Scientists and Innovators in Schools visit Haida Gwaii

The start to every adventure should always be “Yes! How do we get there?” This was exactly our response when Friderike, program coordinator of SIS, asked, “Would you and Luis be interested in flying to Haida Gwaii? I have 2 chemistry requests.” At the time, we had no way of knowing just how amazing and rewarding our trip would be.

To reach Haida Gwaii, my husband, Luis, and I took a small plane, followed by a ferry and then drove the rest of the distance. When we arrived, we learned that our plans had changed and we would have to be flexible. Due to the passing of a beloved elder of the community, the entirety of our first school would be attending a memorial service in the afternoon. Instead of the originally planned full day of workshops, we needed to do the whole elementary school in two morning sessions.

We’ve never backed down from a challenge and decided that having the younger ones make ice cream in the first session and then having the older ones perform DNA extraction would be the most fun solution for everyone.

The trick was making sure we had enough supplies for a whole school! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take flammable reagents with us on the plane. Luckily, the only pharmacy in Queen Charlotte kindly reserved for us their only bottle of isopropyl alcohol. DNA extraction was a go!

Our bed and breakfast host, Miriam, volunteered to purchase all the milk and cream so it would be ready when we arrived. We were incredibly grateful for her help, especially considering how much milk and cream was needed. I guess buying that much made some waves around town because when we went to eat lunch at the local spot, everyone knew we had come to make ice cream with the kids! We were so humbled by how close-knit and friendly the community is in Masset.

The following day was an adventure of a different sort. We spent the entire day at the local high school performing experiments related to reaction rates, kinetics and various other things. One of them required the use of ice, so I asked one of the teachers if they could get me some. You have never heard laughter so loud, because it seems she misheard me and came back with a jar of “eyes” from the biology lab. Oops!

Our last two school visits were in Queen Charlotte, where once again, we received such generosity from the community. We needed ice again and stopped by the local grocery on the way to our first school. Unfortunately, we hadn’t realized how different the business hours were from what we were used to in Vancouver and the shop was closed. As we despaired over where to get ice so early in the morning, we had a stroke of luck. A gentleman was inside the store getting things ready for the day and we waved him over to ask about purchasing ice. Once he heard it was for the kids at the elementary school, he not only brought us the ice, but absolutely refused any payment, simply saying, “It’s for the kids” and waved us on our way.

The first school was located in an older two-story home, had two classrooms, and only twenty students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade. We had a really high level of engagement and interaction with them—they didn’t even want to take breaks! Queen Charlotte high school was our last stop and the contact teacher was incredible. She cares so much for her students and actively encouraged them to learn as much as they could from us while we were there.

While it took half a day of travel for us, we would take this journey again in a heartbeat. The students were amazing and their teachers were so caring. Even the local community rallied around us to help us make the experience as rewarding for the kids as possible. We cannot thank everyone in Masset and Queen Charlotte enough for how friendly and accommodating they were during our short stay. We hope to see them again soon!

*This post was written by Sophie Lavieri, a lecturer in Chemistry with the Faculty of Science at Simon Fraser University since 2001. With over 20 years of teaching experience at various other universities, She believes that it is not just what you teach, but how you teach it that makes a difference. "My goal has always been that my students should really enjoy learning chemistry and it is up to me to provide the tools to help them learn.”

Teachers, you can request a visit from Scientist and Innovators in the Schools, too! Our volunteers are inspiring, real-life, scientists who help bring STEM to life for young people. We try to accommodate classroom requests for scientists and engineers from a wide range of backgrounds. For more information, see our webpage or email