It was 7pm on a Tuesday. Lisa checked in on her son studying and found him fast asleep with a quantum physics book laying on his chest. He had been up since 5am working on a project before school and couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. Lisa’s son is just eight years old.
“I really like science a lot. More and more now — and even more than I did before,” says Tristan. “I want to be a scientist but I don’t know what type yet. I want to learn everything about science before I choose my favourite.”
“Tristan craves learning all the time,” explains his mom, Lisa. “Science is almost like a giant toy box for him — geology, physics, chemistry, astronomy and paleontology,” her voice trailing off. Lisa and Tristan’s grade two teacher, Paula, credit Let’s Talk Science for opening the lid on that toy box and giving him a chance to explore and challenge himself in a way that he wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
When Paula heard about Tristan wanting to study more than sleep, “That’s when I thought we really need to do something here,” she says. So, Paula invited Tristan and Lisa to a free Let’s Talk Science Community Outreach Program at the St. John’s Avalon Mall.
Paula had heard that Let’s Talk Science connects educators and youth with outstanding volunteers to deliver a wide variety of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities free of charge to children from three to 17 years of age. She thought Tristan would be intrigued. Little did she know the impact it would have on his young life.
It was at this particular Community Outreach event that Tristan met Chelsea Squires, a 22-year-old post-graduate working on her Masters in Geophysics at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Chelsea was one of a dozen Let’s Talk Science volunteers engaging children with hands-on, minds-on learning activities at the mall that day. She recalls how Tristan stood out.
“He must have coloured 10 different pieces of acetate to see how different colours affected the reflective metal pieces in the kaleidoscope he was making,” recalls Chelsea. “He was even bending the kaleidoscope in different ways to see how the light would refract inside. He reminded me of what I was like at his age.”
Tristan and Chelsea spent the next 1-1/2 hours talking about the experiments and other scientific concepts. “He was so interested and excited because he understood and was familiar with what Chelsea was saying,” recalls Lisa. “They just completely connected,” adds Paula.
While Tristan’s French Immersion curriculum had been expanded the previous year to include an Individual Resource Teacher and special study projects, his teachers and parents agreed he needed more.
“Whatever science we’ve been doing in school, we’ve gone deeper with Tristan,” Paula explains. “When I taught the class about how things float, Tristan quickly grasped that concept and then asked how things fly. Everything interests him.”
Paula saw the potential for Chelsea to be a valuable mentor to Tristan, as so many Let’s Talk Science volunteers are for the children they motivate and inspire by sharing their passion and knowledge for STEM. Paula quickly put Chelsea in touch with Tristan’s current Grade 3 teacher.
At Paula’s request, Chelsea generously agreed to be a liaison between Tristan’s school and Let’s Talk Science to offer the STEM enrichment that Tristan now thrives upon. “She has taken him right under her wing,” adds Paula.
When her schedule allows, Chelsea meets Tristan at his family home, talks with him about science and math concepts, and engages him in STEM experiments and assignments that she aligns with his expansive interests and his school-based curriculum.
The special bond that has developed between Chelsea and Tristan is one example of many Let’s Talk Science mentor-student relationships that enable children to discover and reach their full potential throughout their lifetime.
“I’ve worked through a couple of math classes with him at a Grade 8 or 9 level. That was really intriguing for him,” explains Chelsea. “I recently taught him about the conservation of momentum. We looked at things like how velocity changes when objects crash together. I thought he would like that! He got to write down data and produce charts himself.”
Tristan always looks forward to his time with Chelsea. He eagerly reads books and tackles worksheets on topics like electromagnets that she brings for him in between her visits.
“He is just a different child when he has the chance to do this work with Chelsea,” Lisa explains. “He is thrilled to be learning things he can’t learn anywhere else. You can see the joy on his face. Science and math are really his thing.”
“In any kind of science, we usually have this huge problem and we don’t know what the answer is, nor even the process to get at the answer. Knowing you can be wrong is part of the exploration,” explains Chelsea.
At first, Chelsea noticed Tristan was hesitant to say, “I don’t understand” simply because he was always used to having the answers before.
“Tristan is learning that it’s definitely part of the scientific process that we don’t know all the answers,” says Chelsea. While that can be frustrating sometimes, it can be a good thing because it can lead to some of the best answers one can find.
In working with Chelsea, Tristan is more comfortable with not having the answer to a given problem and more open to solving it with an approach that is both analytical and creative. These are key concepts for children to learn.
“The more creative scientists are more willing to step outside the box,” says Chelsea, “and those are the ones who are making the exciting discoveries.”
Before Chelsea and Let’s Talk Science, Tristan’s parents were noticing his enthusiasm for school was decreasing because he could do all the schoolwork for his own grade so easily.
“In Grade 3, he is multiplying triple digit numbers in his head. The right answers pop into his mind immediately,” marvels Lisa. “We want to foster this capability he has. If a child like Tristan isn’t given that opportunity, he would be so frustrated.”
Lisa recalls asking her son once, “What does it feel like in your head, Tristan?”
He answered, “Like things are flying around in my mind and spinning and there are ideas all the time.”
Lisa is careful to point out that while Tristan has these academic abilities, he is very much an eight-year-old boy. She believes he often covers up his intelligence at school because he doesn’t want to be different.
“I think he feels like other kids don’t get him,” explains Lisa. “He is involved in sports and he has friends, although one of them calls him ‘mini-Einstein.’ He told me, ‘I think that’s because of my hair, Mom.’ ”
“It will be Tristan’s saving grace if he knows we can keep working with Chelsea and Let’s Talk Science,” Lisa says.
Chelsea understands Tristan’s thirst for knowledge.
“I was always interested in planetary science, electricity and magnetism but I didn’t always have access to the science programs I wanted growing up in rural Newfoundland,” recalls Chelsea.
Thanks to the support of donors, Let’s Talk Science is fulfilling its commitment to support all children in building a solid learning foundation in STEM — especially those children living in rural, remote, northern and First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities. The programs and networks created by Let’s Talk Science are increasing youth interest in pursing pathways in STEM through college, university to a myriad of careers.
For Tristan, and the other children like him in communities across Canada, the experiences, connections and dreams fostered through their involvement with Let’s Talk Science is truly transformational.
“I believe Tristan will make a significant contribution to the world through science,” remarks Paula. “Chelsea will be instrumental in guiding and nurturing him in the future.”