Symbiosis helps Students Introduce Their Families to STEAM
Engaging families in community STEM and STEAM events is easy when you tap into the energy of youthful enthusiasm.
At Science World, the backbone organization for Symbiosis, STEAM Learning Ecosystem, we increase interest in STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and design, and math) by bringing learning opportunities into schools in British Columbia.
After students’ curiosity and enthusiasm are piqued by interactive science demonstrations and fun activities in the classroom, they take home invitations to a Community Science Celebration (CSC) event. The CSC event allows students and their families to explore STEM and STEAM fields and career options.
Students are Key Messengers
“They share with their family what they saw and what they experienced because they are so excited. The children are the ones to encourage the family to come out to the event on the weekend,” says Jo-Ann Coggan, Director of Community Outreach and Symbiosis at Science World in British Columbia, Canada.
Students are the main driver of attendance, although social media is also used. “The invitations kids share with their families are pretty much our primary form of promoting this event,” Coggan says. “The students direct the family’s activity for that weekend, rather than it being the other way around and that’s super cool.”
A Focus on Community Assets
Community Science Celebrations are one-day free events, usually held on a Saturday, throughout the province of British Columbia and coordinated by Science World, the backbone organization for Symbiosis. Coggan says the goal of these events, which take about three months to plan, is to get children and families excited about STEAM opportunities that exist in their own communities.
“What we always hear back from the families who attend these events is ‘Wow, I had no idea that this organization was in my community’ or ‘I had no idea this organization was doing so much STEAM.’” Coggan says that she believes attending CSC events leads to ongoing engagement with families and greater awareness about different STEAM-focused businesses and institutions in their own communities.
An Inclusive Planning Process
Symbiosis involves as many community partners as possible in the planning and execution of events. Coggan says the events are held in college or high school gyms or community centres, even elementary school gyms, depending on which partner venue is available.
STEAM professionals from the community are invited to speak, perform or exhibit by staffing a booth and offering fun hands-on science engagement activities. Community partners include local industries, government agencies, schools and community organizations involved in STEAM.
Science World and Symbiosis host about eight free CSCs per school year throughout British Columbia. In 2018, more than 8,000 people attended these events.
“They’re pretty planning intensive,” Coggan says, explaining that she tries to get communities to handle as much of the work as possible. “We put the ownership of the event on the community so they take pride in it, they can make the event whatever they want it to be. This allows them to be able to plan another event in the future, take on more of the planning and hopefully continue the tradition without Science World being involved at all.” Very Symbiotic!
- Children are the best way to engage families. They can be given information at school to get their families excited about learning.
- Families are enthusiastic about STEAM resources in their own community, especially if they never knew they existed.
- It is critical for STEAM professionals in the community to take on as much of the planning and vision ownership of the Community Science Celebration event as possible.
Symbiosis, a British Columbia-based STEAM learning ecosystem (the “A” added for art and design), will foster cross-sector collaborations spanning formal and informal learning while focusing on three deliverables: 1) dramatically increasing the number of qualified STEAM mentors; 2) connecting mentors and organizations within local communities; and 3) generating a digital hub that will interconnect communities, host a library of learning resources, and facilitate the pursuit of diverse pathways for youth. Our vision is that within five years, every child in British Columbia—regardless of geographic location, ethnic background or family income—will have access to this interlinked web of STEAM learning opportunities.