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Take Me to School: How Science World Continues to Serve Teachers

Last week, Science World held its first Pro-D workshop online.

Twenty educators attended this professional development workshop that focused on how to deliver computer coding activities in a distance-learning setting.

It’s a unique challenge, inventing methods for teaching computational thinking and coding without the physical technology that’s available in the classroom.

Nicole Vieira and Science World's school support team have spent the past few weeks listening to teachers' needs and experimenting with solutions.    

Nicole is hopeful and excited. “We are finding ways to keep learning alive.”

As face-to-face time between students and teachers decreases, there’s a sudden urgency to understanding how to facilitate independent learning.

More than ever, students need to learn not what to think, but how to think. Which is what Nicole has always taught.

Take Me to School

On Nicole Vieira’s fifth birthday, she put on her backpack, approached her mother and said, “Take me to school.”

When she learned she had to wait 5 more months for kindergarten, she says she felt so betrayed. "Like, how dare education already be available, but I must wait longer?”

On childhood camping trips next to oceans and lakes, she found herself wondering constantly, "Why does the world look the way it looks? And how is it doing it all by itself?"

The answers never failed to astonish her.

“When I learned that water can shape a rock to be round, I was like: ‘What?!’”

Her enthusiasm for education grew throughout her academic career, landing her in front of the classroom, teaching mathematics to high school students.

In her five years as a teacher, Nicole focused on competencies rather than content. She was passionate about equipping students to look at problems from multiple angles, interpret data independently, and draw their own conclusions.

“Many people find it hard to believe you can teach Pythagoras' theorem without worksheets and tests,” she shares.

She credits her own grade 7 math teacher Mr. Lightbody for inspiring her to educate this way. He showed her how to teach herself advanced concepts by analyzing patterns across equations.

After years of feeling constrained by the formal classroom setting, Nicole made the difficult decision to leave for informal education.

She dreamt of a career helping educators give new generations of students the same gift Mr. Lightbody had given her.

And on Science World’s school support team, where she supports teachers in their transition to online and remote learning, she’s found her niche.    

“I used to struggle with how to respond when a student asked, ‘When will I ever need to solve a quadratic equation in real life?’ Because, honestly? Probably never.”

“But,” she says, “How you’ve broken down this problem into smaller steps, how you’ve written out a list of instructions or visualized a pattern and applied it in different contexts? These thinking processes and problem-solving strategies, these are what are so valuable. These are skills you will use every single day of your life.”

Nicole says the school support team is planning a number of initiatives for teachers, including a weekly drop-in chat where educators can convene, ask questions and brainstorm ideas for this global transition.

When asked about the moment Nicole knew she was driven toward experiential and inquiry-based learning, she recalls a camping trip when she was 8 years old.

En route to Porteau Cove with her family, Nicole spotted a mining museum from the backseat of the car, and begged her parents to pull over.

 “No, Nicole, we’re going camping,” they said gently, and continued on their way.

In between hot-dog roasts and ocean dips, Nicole prepared what she now understands to be her first lecture.

She sat her parents down and spoke for 5 minutes about the educational value of museums and the importance of learning. She says, "They were speechless! And I knew I had won."

At the museum, Nicole was astounded by the massive equipment and an underground tour of the copper mines.

But what she found most incredible was learning about how a determined and resilient community that—despite floods, fires and avalanches—had remained completely self-sufficient for as long as they could.

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