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Lecturer creates chemical bond with school children

November 20, 2006

Source: Simon Fraser University

Wearing a white lab coat, latex gloves and protective goggles, fringed by a mass of curly hair, Simon Fraser University chemist Sophie Lavieri is bonding with children across Canada.

The South American-born lecturer takes a portable lab into public schools where she puts on workshops, called Experimental Chemistry for Us, at no cost to the schools. They are the first workshops in Canada to engage elementary school children in real chemistry experiments. Children donít usually study chemistry until Grade 10.

"Thatís too late for students to be exposed to chemistry concepts. By then they might have preconceived notions about the subject," says Lavieri.

Lavieriís kindergarten to Grade 7 workshops are also the first in Canada to feature an academic teaching chemistry to elementary school children.

Lavieri uses a quick clap of her hands to rivet the attention of her disciples. On this occasion, she is turning a Grade 4 class of 45 children at Roy Stibbs elementary school in Coquitlam into budding chemists.

The classís teacher Janette Walker is in awe of Lavieriís incorporation of various lab utensils into imaginative, interactive experiments, and of her ability to talk in child-friendly terms. "Being a chemist myself, I know that the language adaptation would be a challenge," says Walker.

A coffee filter, coloured felt pens and rock salt are essential props in an experiment that shows children how chromatography, a process for separating chemical components, works.

"Not only do these workshops introduce chemistry concepts, the scientific method, critical thinking and safety rules," says Lavieri, "they make students realize how much fun science can be."

Thanks to financial support from SFU, the Chemical Institute of Canada and NSERCís PromoScience program, Lavieri has helped more than 2000 children in B.C., Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island bond with chemistry.

The SFU chemist says she needs more support from private donors though so that she can take her portable lab into more inner city and remote schools across Canada.



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