Thursday, May 10, 2018

The 2018 STAN Conference Experience

Catherine and I at the STAN conference.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Science Technology Awareness Network (STAN) conference, titled Building Bridges, at Science World in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For those of you, who (like me, previously) are unfamiliar with STAN, here’s a bit of a rundown. STAN – formally launched in 2003 – is a Canadian network that works to enhance the profile and influence of the science and technology education and public awareness sector. Members include government ministries, school boards, corporations, museums, science centres, and individuals. Membership is free (but join quickly – with such fantastic programming and potential, I personally don’t think it’ll stay that way for long!) and along with it comes access to a network full of influential, creative, and inspirational organisations and individuals.

In essence, STAN is working on strengthening science and technology culture in Canada. This year’s conference was around the theme of collaboration across cultures, disciplines, sectors, regions, and gender to collectively support skill development for all Canadians.

The lens used? STEAM. For the uninitiated, STEAM (not the kind from a kettle) is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Though the notion of STEM-skills, and STEM-focused learning has been around for quite some time, the inclusion of the creative approach to those fields is still quite new. “Art” is the acknowledgement that creativity plays a key role in using the STEM skills that we acquire over the course of our lives. It opens up a new on-ramp of sorts, a new way to ignite the curiosity of both children and adults. There has been lots of talk about retaining underrepresented populations in STEM – be it women, LGBTQ+ individuals, persons of colour… the list goes on. However, there is a need now for the conversation to shift from one of lamenting the absence of those underrepresented populations, to fearing what STEM fields will become without those perspectives. The inclusion of arts, of creativity, is perhaps a first step in that direction – towards making the STEM fields representative of our diverse population, and the richer for it.

Exploring Science World with Catherine.
One talk that particularly touched me was Chad Leamans’, who is the Director of Innovation for the Neil Squire Society. He advocates for using the immense potential in our schools, in our interest groups, for nothing less than the betterment of society. For example, a STEM club using the equipment to which they already have access and creativity to work to build accommodations for an individual with a disability. The equipment is custom made, serving not only the individual, but posing a design challenge for the kids, and the opportunity to learn to connect with a part of the population that perhaps would be invisible to them up to that point. It’s making the work that the kids are doing matter and giving them a way to make a difference. It’s making accommodations that would normally be prohibitively expensive accessible for all. It’s building community.

But Building Bridges was about more than the theory of inclusion, of diversifying and enriching partnerships, and harnessing the full spectrum of available resources. It was a space for storytelling, for deepening of connections and for planting the seeds for true collaboration. I’m walking away with a head full of ideas and inspiration, and new connections to passionate individuals all around the country.

 Take homes? I thought you’d never ask.

On collaborations

Having fun between sessions!
These need to be built on equal recognition and inclusion. Power relationships can tint them in all kinds of ways, and we need to be aware of these. Listening must be a 2-way street: we can't walk into conversations with our ideas ready-made, they need to be developed together.

On the future of education

We need our students to acquire skills and competencies that automated processes can't replicate for them to be successful in the future: critical thinking, compassion, human skills, and creativity.

We need to break out of the mold where teachers deposit knowledge into the students, the students deposit the knowledge onto tests, and the tests get deposited in the bins (and how wise are high school students for pointing that out to us…).

And one last thing…

If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching Jay Ingram (previously of Daily Planet) and Nikki Berreth (Lit Scientist, Science Slam) do a PowerPoint karaoke – I highly recommend it.

- Liz Vickers-Drennan