Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 7-13


So my computer has apparently decided that 6 weeks on the road is enough for it, thank you very much, and now refuses to turn on. With just one week left and a public computer available in the hotel lobby, I've decided to just leave it to think about what it's done until I get back to Ontario. Unfortunately this means I can't post pictures this week. :(

I did have a request to talk a bit about what kinds of activities we do with the outreach camps. This past week we did a shortened camp week, two hours in the morning with the younger kids (aged 5-9) and two hours in the afternoon with the 10-13 year olds. By now we have our favourite activities so we took this as an opportunity to do just those.

A big hit is a teeth demo. Someone at the Actua office found a bunch of creepily accurate ice cube trays shaped like a set of teeth. We use plaster to make a set of teeth, carve in some cavities and smear them with yellow play dough. The kids get to use real dentist tools (donated to us) to clean them out. It's awesome how into it some of the kids get, and if any of them finish early we just re-gunk their teeth and call it "a year since the last dentist appointment". The first week we had a few kids ask for some extra play dough to make braces so now we introduce that as an option.

The teeth are part of "Health Day" which gives me the opportunity to get all excited pointing out different bones on X-rays and answering questions about why we get sick. There's also a casting activity and a super gross digestion demo which is a huge favourite.

We do a lot with playdough. Another hit acitivity is play dough mining where the kids have to mine for one colour of playdough and sell it back to the store to make camp dollars. I get to be the environmental officer and fine them if they aren't mining sustainably (one week there were signs warning about the 'mining waste' being stored on desks because they got tired of being fined for it). I like to throw in mining trivia if they're really tearing things apart. If you can't afford your fine, you must answer a question, or answer a question to get an extra camp dollar. Some weeks we'll use the camp dollars for every open build activity, which makes it an added incentive for everything else. Are you talking while the instructor's doing a demo? 10$ fine.

The last one I'll mention is electric play dough. Imagine you love science, and your absolute favourite thing about science is electricity. You like to connect it up and make things move or light up. BUT, you're seven years old, so your hand eye co-ordination is similar to an adult with winter gloves on, and twisting wires is so boring. That is the genius of electric playdough. Using conductive playdough made with salt, and separating it using insulating playdough made with sugar the kids can build a circuit connecting 9V batteries to a bunch of LEDs to learn about electricity. This is my favourite one to lead because most people really don't know a lot about electricity, so I get them interested with the explanation, but they still don't quite believe me until I stick the LED into a seemingly ordinary hunk of playdough and have it actually light up. We like to challenge them to light up as many LEDs as they can, and had one group a couple weeks ago smash any record by connecting 104 LEDs to 6 9V batteries. The electric playdough is actually based on a TED Talk about creativity in teaching. I haven't watched it, so let me know what you think.

I'm in Fort St. John now waiting on a new team member. Will and Yasmine headed out this morning, done with Outreach for the summer. Later on tonight I'm going to pick up Kate, another Outreach Team veteran who's been with the Nunavut team for the last 6 weeks. We'll be in Blueberry River this week which I'm excited about. :)


Sunday, August 7, 2011

AB to BC August 2-7

Hello All (this is another picture-heavy one, but you should be used to that by now!)

Only one week in Alberta and now we’re back in BC for week 6. The past week was a bit relaxing, having the benefit of a long weekend.

Tuesday was Yasmine’s birthday. The night before Will and I had sneakily made her a cake so we could surprise her with it after work. I’d also made her a stuffed Earl. The Actua characters (on all camp T-shirts and promo material) are Gertie the gear, Darcy the DNA, and Earl the Erlenmeyer flask (there are stick figure kids too, but they just get the names of whatever kids are asking). Earl has achieved a certain status with the outreach team. Apparently last year there was a cardboard cut-out of him that had his picture taken in every new community. So I decided that as a long time outreach team member Yasmine could use a mascot.

Yesterday we loaded up and hit the road, driving 6 hours north on the Alaska Highway to Fort Nelson, BC. Fort Nelson is on the historic 300 mile mark and modern 283 mile or 454km mark (the Alaska highway has gotten shorter and the curves around mountains less dangerous in 70 years of maintenance and construction) and is the proud home of BC’s northernmost traffic light. Seriously. My adventures today started out at the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum and included the propeller of a WWII era transport plane that crashed at the Fort Nelson airport. I didn’t want to drive too far up the highway (there are warning signs about how far to the next gas station) but I think I went far enough to finally see real mountains. Last but not least was a hike along what may or may not have been an actual trail. There were a couple of horseback riders getting ready when I got back to the car so I’m assuming it was.:)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

BC to AB July 24-31


Week 2 staying in West Moberly, the cabins starting to feel a bit like home. Especially in the sun waking up every morning to the beautiful Moberly Lake was definitely awesome. Last week we ran camps in West Moberly, this week was in Saulteau which was only 5 minutes away so we didn't have to move on the weekend.

Sunday the 24th was my birthday. We went out to Tumbler Ridge for the day to check out the scenery (which included a black bear wandering on the side of the road). Unfortunately the road to the waterfalls was flooded out, but we did hike around and found a beaver dam which is always fun.

West Moberly is also only a half hour drive to Chetwynd, which is the closest town with a large grocery store, so we went into town a few times throughout the week for supplies. Being in town also meant the opportunity to clamber up Mount Baldy and Ghost Mountain again. Just to give some perspective, I grabbed a shot of the trail which I hope shows how steep the last push to the top is.

Friday we said goodbye to the cabins and headed up to Fort St. John where we picked up our new third, Will, on loan from SFU in Vancouver for the next two weeks. Saturday we said goodbye to "mountains" (fine, they're foothills) and Pacific time, and crossed over into Alberta. After weeks of hills and forests, it does feel pretty flat, but it's not as dramatic as I thought. Maybe I have to go to Saskatchewan for that. In true Alberta fashion though, once we were firmly in a new province, the price of gas dropped 10-20 cents and the speed limit jumped 10-20km/hour.

We're now staying in Beaverlodge which is about half an hour west of Grand Prairie and right next door to Horse Lake where we'll be running a shortened camp week. Beaverlodge decided in 2004 that their town was missing something, and so constructed 3000 pound polymer and steel frame beaver to welcome anyone driving from Edmonton to Alaska. He was never given a name, so I'm calling him Gerald.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Aaaaaaaand we're back! July 3-23


Sorry for the delay, we've been passing around a pretty bad cold which has been distracting me from the internet. It's currently my third week out here so on with the show!
I'm in Northern BC
for 6 weeks of camp. We're in the Peace River region if that helps to narrow it down at all. This time, the additional people in "we" are Yasmine (3 year Outreach Team veteran from Halifax) and Allyson (on loan from the science camp at SFU in Vancouver). Allyson was only on our team for 2 weeks. We were planning on hiding her in a suitcase so we could keep her, but she didn't seem too thrilled with that plan.

Our first stop was a tiny town called McLeod Lake, although we actually stayed about 20 minutes up the road in Mackenzie. We have a rental car for the duration which gives us the freedom to check out more of the area. However, driving around here is a bit more treacherous than in southern Ontario. On one morning in particular we stopped for 5 moose on the road (including 2 calves), and saw 2 hanging out on the side. No matter how many times I'd heard
about the dangers of hitting a moose, I wasn't prepared for how big the things are. Next time I'm hoping I'll have my camera handy.

We had a chance to go for a bit of a hike before I got hit in the head with a cold that has kept me indoors most evenings. The area around here is so gorgeous but I've had to be reminded a couple of times that we're not actually in the mountains, these are just foothills. I've been using the "I'm from Ontario" excuse to be disproportionately excited about everything, but especially large scale geography.

Our second stop was Chetwynd. I'm not sure how much the Peace River flooding situation made the news wherever you are, but the major (read: only) road from Mackenzie to Chetwynd had been washed out just before we arrived. Further adding to our worry, the rain hadn't really stopped. No torrential downpours, just constant drizzle that threatened more would come to keep the water levels rising. If the road didn't open the only other option would be to drive around through Prince George, Grand Prairie AB, and Fort St. John; essentially turning a 2 hour drive into a 14 hour expedition. Luckily by Saturday the road open for single direction traffic with a pilot car. We got through just fine.

Chetwynd is apparently the chainsaw carving capital of Canada (which probably by default makes it the chainsaw carving capital of the WORLD). They seem pretty proud of this fact. Also, the town sits right in the shadow of Mount Baldy and Ghost Mountain. Somehow saying I climbed Ghost Mountain seems like a much bigger accomplishment than climbing Baldy, but I did both.

Right now we're in West Moberly which is on Moberly Lake. We're here for two weeks which means we get to relax this weekend. In our case relax means check out the sights because it finally stopped raining!!! We went by the Bennet Dam which is one of the largest hydroelectric dams in Canada, and got stuck in the mud outside of Fort St. John. More adventures to come, and I promise to be more on the ball at letting you know where I am.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 24-27


Tuesday we started workshops in Hay River. With just under 4000 people and sitting at an intersection of the major road and water transportation lines of NWT, Hay River is practically a city by Northern standards. This means there is a K-3 school, a 4-7 school and a high school (it's bright purple. Really) plus a French elementary school (we didn't present there). It also means that when I asked a grade five class what was cool in town that we should check out while here, every hand shot up. After naming pretty much every restaurant in town, (plus the beach, rec centre, and nature trails) one kid mentioned that his favourite part of town was the 'Welcome to Hay River' sign, because it said 'Please come again' on the back and he thought that was a nice thing to say. (Unrelated but cool: below is a crane I saw while checking out the nature trails the kids told me about)

On Thursday we drove the 200km to Fort Resolution for a full day at the school. We'd been warned by a couple of Hay River kids to watch out for ourselves in 'Res' but found it to be very welcoming (the cooking class gave us lunch and we had time to play with the kids at recess). It's one of the worst parts about camp that by the time you get really used to a workshop and can get into the swing of things to play around with it, camp is over. Fort Res was my last day of workshops until we start up for the summer, and was one of our best deliveries.

Fort Res was also interesting because we'd moved into a new language area. So far the traditional language had been Slavey (South Slavey specifically), the High School in Hay River offered it as an alternative to French class, and many buildings were labelled in both English and Slavey. In Fort Res the students were learning Chipweyan and a couple of elders who were working in the school the day we were there would speak it to the local teachers. The difference is subtle and in writing is mostly that Chipweyan uses fewer accents.

Friday was travel day. We flew to Yellowknife on Buffalo Air which anyone who watches 'Ice Pilots NWT' on the History Channel will recognize (seriously, why is it on the History Channel?). There was a sign in the airport that "Those flying on Buffalo Air may be filmed" but there was no one there. One woman commented that she flys to Yellowknife at least once a month and has never seen the film crew. Maybe it's just not an interesting run.

With four hours to kill in Yellowknife we wandered around and ended up at a park between a couple of federal buildings and the heritage centre. On either side of the walkway were flags, one for each of the 33 communities in NWT. This is significant because assuming that number is accurate, and assuming tiny places such as Kakisa count, we have delivered science workshops to 24% of communities in NWT! Considering that this is the first year in a long time that Actua has been in the territory and given the positive reaction we were greated with, I'd call that super significant!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Victoria Day Weekend (May 20-23)

Hello All. Apologies to those of you with slow Internet connections, this one is fairly picture-heavy.

For the long weekend and upcoming week in Hay River, Danielle and I have something new and exciting: a vehicle! Nicknamed “Jetboat car” (for obvious reasons), our rental has led us on a couple of adventures already.

Saturday morning we shipped out early to Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. A trail runs along the Hay River from Alexandra Falls to Louise Falls. At the falls themselves we could get right up to the water, close enough to dip a foot in. Most of the rest of the way, the river had cut a fairly sizeable gorge. The trail alternated look-out points with sections labeled “Danger stay back from edge” (which I did. I occasionally follow instructions). Alexandra Falls is the tallest, while Louise is a more odd shape. The park was mostly empty, which made for a nice hike, although we did meet a couple of people at the edge of Louise Falls. It seems somehow appropriate that, just like half of the teachers we’ve met, they were also from Nova Scotia.

Saturday night I stayed up to try and see the Aurora Borealis. When the sky didn’t get any darker between 12 and 2:30, and the sun was rising by 3am, I figured it wasn’t going to happen. Gives me hope for August, but kind of put a damper on Sunday.

Monday we headed out to Wood Buffalo National Park, which apparently is bigger than Switzerland. The main park entrance, including most of the info and walking trails, are actually near Fort Smith, which would have added an extra hour’s drive to the commute. We did see a couple of neat sights in the park though, including the Karstland sinkhole. The hiking trail we found took us through an area that had been burned out probably not more than five-ten years ago, and made for an interesting contrast as the young growth was vibrantly green, but all the larger trees were dead.

AND, we saw some buffalo. Lots of buffalo. The babies were out, skipping around. We obeyed the sign at the park entrance and stayed in our car, but they didn’t seem particularly interested in us anyway

Last but not least, Hay River is right near the shores of the Great Slave Lake, so of course there had to be time for a walk on the beach. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Week 2 (May 16-20)

Yes I realize that's not a full week. :)

Week 2 started up with more travel. Moday we flew to Trout Lake for a full day of science with a school of 11 students in grades K-9. Rather than splitting them up and trying to run an activity with three primary students, we put them all together. It was great to see how the older students helped out the younger ones. The students were thrilled to see us and kept asking when we would come back. Unlike every other town we visited, Trout Lake isn't on a major river or roadway. The only road access is during the winter so it's a lot more isolated than other towns. Trapping and fishing season is starting up, so the teacher reminded students at the end of the day that unless they were sitting in a boat, they should be at school the next day. Attitudes on attendance (from parents, teachers, and sutdents) area a lot more relaxed. We ask the teacher before class how many students to expect and always get two numbers. The number enrolled, and a number 1/2 to 3/4 the size which is how many will usually show up.

Tuesday was our last morning in Fort Simpson. We had a charter plane for the day: just Danielle, myself, our lugage, and Taylor the pilot, which meant one of us got to sit in the front with a headset. We flew to Wrigley, split up to deliver two presentations to 15 kids, flew to Nahanni Butte, repeat presentations, and were dropped off in Fort Providence by 4:30pm. Taylor was pretty cool, he pointed out landmarks, explained what controls did what on the plane, and just for fun sat in one the first half of my workshop in Nahanni Butte (then he had to go refuel the plane). The flight from Wrigley to Nahanni Butte took us through an area between the Nahanni Mountains and the rest of the Rockies. It was absolutely gorgeous but my camera battery was dead :(. I'm gong to be bugging Danielle for photos. Taylor was thrilled as both towns are pretty tiny so it's not a run he gets to do very often.

Wednesday we started up in Fort Providence. A town of about 800 people, Providence is much closer to Yellowknife and the major roade of NWT, so is more prosperous and well serviced than anywhere else we'd been so far. The school is elementary, high school, and a satellite campus of Aurora college all in one buillding. We moved through from youngest to older starting in Kindergarten. This school was particularly fun becuase it's immersion up to grade 3 so classes are taught in Slavey. We got the kids to teach us a couple of workds, and apparently were REALLY bad at it. Having grade ones laugh at how you pronounce things is a clear sign that you need more practice. It was awesome to see how the local culture influenced the school. A lot of teachers up here are from southern Canada (I don't think there's anyone left in Nova Scotia, I've met so many of them up here), and they were all calling our instructions (get to class, etc) to the students in Slavey. The only phrase I have memorized is 'Mahsi Cho" which means "Thank you".

One thing we always try to do is ask the kids to tell us something cool about their town, or tell us where we should go/what we should do while we're there. In Providence the grade 5s told us that the coolest thing about their town was the Big Rock. It's a big rock.

Friday morning we left Providence for Hay River with a brief stop at Kakisa for a make-up presentation. The Kakisa students were supposed to join the Jean Marie River students at the presentations we missed due to snow. All of the students had piled into vans and drove three hours to Jean Marie, then had to drive back. By all the students, I mean all 8 of them. On the drive we took a ferry by the largest bridge in NWT, currently under construction. The bridge needs to be built super tough to withstand the freezing of the Mackenzie, but it'll help connect Fort Providence and the towns beyond to Yellowknife and Hay River. Looking forward to long weekend in the Hub!