Science Odyssey: The contest, the interview, the future!

It's time again for the NSERC Science Odyssey contest, plus we speak about taking science fairs online with Reni Barlow of Youth Science Canada
Reni Barlow Science Odyssey The Canada-Wide Science Fair has been cancelled this year. But the spirit lives on in the Science Odyssey Contest and Online STEM Fair. (Courtesy of Youth Science Canada)

This is one action-packed post, so hold on tight!

First, let's talk CONTESTS!

The Science Odyssey Contest is back!

We have again partnered with NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) for an amazing contest called Science Odyssey.

This year, it runs from May 2 to May 17. The prizes include 6 Runner-Up packs full of books and magazines, and 2 Grand Prizes of a brand new Devinci bicycle. Awesome!

To enter, you just need to do three science-related activities. They can be experimenting, observing nature, reading about science, and more. Document your activities by taking a photo or writing a paragraph about them, then visit our website and submit an entry form! All of the details and the entry form can be found HERE.

And to get you deeper into the zone, we'll be running stories on science, tech, and engineering during the contest.

Taking science online

In the past, winners of CWSF have gone on to amazing things. (Youth Science Canada)

Speaking of which, our first Science Odyssey post is an interview with Reni Barlow, the executive director of Youth Science Canada. Reni is a driving force behind the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF), the national event where the best young scientists from regional fairs across the country present their projects in a competitive celebration.

This year's fair has been cancelled due to COVID-19, but instead of not having any event at all, Reni and YSC unveiled the Online STEM Fair. This brand-new website will be open on May 5, before going live to the public for viewing on May 19.

What is it all about? And will it change science fairs in Canada in the future?

Let the odyssey begin!

INTERVIEW: Reni Barlow, Youth Science Canada

Reni has been YSC's executive director since 2004. (Youth Science Canada)

OWLconnected: Let's start here. When did you know that May's Canada-Wide Science Fair in Edmonton was a no-go?

Reni Barlow: Basically when the province of Alberta declared there could be no gatherings over 50 people. Especially since our event draws well over 1,000!

OC: That was about mid-March, which didn't give you a lot of time to change your plans. Was there ever a thought of just having no event at all this year?

RB: Initially, we weren't sure about what we were going to do. We usually have about 103 regional fairs across the country. By mid-March, only eight of them had been held, and those are the events that feed finalists to the Canada-Wide Science Fair. So not only could we not hold a large event in Edmonton, we also had no projects coming from regional fairs.

But interesting, a year or two down the road, we were planning to do something online for youth across the country where they could post projects.

OC: Other than being online, how else is the Online STEM Fair different than the Canada-Wide Science Fair?

RB: The Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF) is a competitive event. It involves a full day of interviews with about 250 judges and 400 students participating. We thought that it was  unrealistic to pull that off online.

Instead, we saw that there are potentially half a million kids—and certainly around 20,000—who would've participated in the regional fairs (that got cancelled). We thought it would be better to find a platform that would enable those students to share their projects.

OC: So this fair is designed to be more of an open showcase than a competition?

RB: A bit of both. It's definitely more of an outlet for students, because we know that they have put in months—in some cases a full year's worth—of work into the project. We want them to showcase it.

When students enter their project, they'll have the opportunity to indicate what region they're from, and then regional organizations will judge the projects and award virtual ribbons to projects they think are outstanding. Then Youth Science Canada will also do a level of judging and award virtual ribbons, too.

OC: When things return to normal, will the Online STEM Fair still continue?

RB: Absolutely. The plan is that it will relaunch in late September/early October for 2021, when we'll invite students to post new projects.

Ultimately, the long term benefit (of going online) is that we connect with more students closely, and we can effectively feed the regional science fairs with more great projects!

Contest alert

Remember, don't miss our Science Odyssey Contest. Click HERE TO ENTER.

science odyssey

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