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The dual benefit of hands-on science

Rebecca Akrasi-Sarpong

Local elementary-school students show off their solutions during a visit to the Lakehead Orillia campus for its Hands-On Science program. (Submitted photo)

Local elementary-school students show off their solutions during a visit to the Lakehead Orillia campus for its Hands-On Science program. (Submitted photo)

Everyone who knows me knows I love my school. It may be slightly biased of me to state I think Lakehead is quickly becoming one of the cornerstones of the Orillia community. Activities such as new-student orientation and public lectures have quickly become integrated into the greater Orillia community.

University life is becoming part of the city’s culture. Lakehead has taken the initiative to educate not only its students, but also community members and elementary-school students.

This fall, for the third year, Lakehead ran its highly successful Hands-On Science program. Hands-On Science began as a collaboration between Chris Murray, professor of interdisciplinary studies at Lakehead, and Anders Hagman, a special-education resource teacher at Marchmont Public School. The objective was to enhance the math and science learning opportunities for elementary students in a unique university setting.

The first program involved a group of Grade 8 gifted students from Marchmont.

“To say that this pilot project was a success would be an understatement,” said Hagman. “My objectives were surpassed — the students were so motivated that some began looking into future career opportunities in the fields of math and science.”

Soon, other schools became interested in the program. Recognizing the potential, Murray approached the faculty of education with an idea to host interns enrolled in the education program. This began an innovative partnership between the faculties of science and education and it is now the teacher candidates who design and deliver the hands-on science activities. This enables the university to reach many more elementary students, while providing valuable experience to Lakehead’s education students.

“Teacher-candidate involvement has been a huge success,” said Murray. “The program has grown to involve students from other elementary and middle schools in Barrie and Orillia, with many more schools from across Simcoe County expressing interest in the program. This year, close to 200 elementary-school students from Grade 4 to 8 participated.”

The project received funding from the Community Foundation of Orillia and Area and would not be the growing success it is without that support, according to Murray. The Community Foundation is an organization dedicated to supporting initiatives that “make an ongoing difference and enhance the quality of life in our community.”

As an education student going into my final and professional year next fall, watching students become immersed in the process of learning in a way that is not always possible in an elementary-school setting is inspiring. I am proud to be part of an institution that creates such innovative inroads in education. My peer and fellow classmate, Brooke Marion, is one of the Education students benefiting from the Hands-On Science opportunity.

“Being involved in Hands-On Science before my placement gives me an edge over the competition,” said Marion. “Having the opportunity to work with students ahead of time will help make the transition from a theoretical education to a practical one much more successful.”

I could not agree more. I have heard past and current students in their pre-professional year talk about the nerves that surround the expectations of a practicum at teachers college. I worry slightly, but I am confident of the success I will achieve. I know I am prepared because of the opportunities I have had to work with children and youth.

I believe professors at Lakehead, like Murray, understand the importance of these opportunities and do their best to support and provide these opportunities. What is great about Hands-On Science and other initiatives like it is the benefits do not stay isolated within the walls of the our LEED building in the west end of Orillia. They reach my generation of young adults and stretch to the next generation of children and youth.

As for the future, Murray explained that demand for the program is now greater than the university is able to manage.

“We are currently working on a proposal to seek federal assistance, which would allow us to offer the program to the entire county.”

Hands-On Science is a great source of excitement and learning for all the participants and I can’t wait to see how great it will be next year. The benefits of my Lakehead education continue to multiply, and I am continually grateful.

Rebecca Akrasi-Sarpong is a fourth-year Lakehead University student (HBASc/BEd) currently working under the university’s work-study program as a marketing communications assistant with Kathy Hunt, communications officer at Lakehead’s Orillia campus. Hunt can be contacted at

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