“On the road again,” teaching Nuu-chah-nulth youth about STEM

The excitement of in-person learning was evident in Nuu-chah-nulth communities this summer with the return of Uu-athluk summer science camps.

After pivoting to an online camp format for a few years due to the pandemic, Uu-a-thluk staff and the University of Victoria’s Science Venture team hit the road for some community-based fun. The kids were more than ready for it.

A total of 132 children, ranging in age from four to 16, participated in the week-long camps that aim to inspire interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math). Nuu-chah-nulth and other First Nations are underrepresented in careers like resource management and aquatic biology, which is why it is important to pique community members’ interest when they are young.

“I think it is crucial to introduce children to STEM at an early age because it gives them the space to question their surroundings and the skills to discover the answers themselves, fostering curiosity, critical thinking and independence,” said Megan Foster, camp instructor with Science Venture.

This year marks the 17th year Uu-a-thluk delivered science camps in partnership with Science Venture and individual Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. Camps were hosted in Tla-oqui-aht, Ahousaht, Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ, Tseshaht, Hupacasath and Mowachaht/Muchalaht Ha-ha-houlthee (chiefly territories).

“I’m happy that science camp was offered to our youth,” said Francine Savey, whose two children Sophia and Leo attended the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation camp.

“It was such a great opportunity for my children to get out and bond over learning fun things together. My babies told fun, exciting stories every single day which made me so proud,” she added.

Camps are designed to engage children and youth in a hands-on way that makes learning fun, and the kids are encouraged to get messy while they learn.

This summer, many (glorious) messes were made. Campers learned about DNA by extracting it from strawberries. They created and played with Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid that acts like a liquid when it is poured but like a solid when it is subjected to force.

They learned about the insulating properties of blubber by wrapping their hands in a ‘blubber bag’ filled with lard and placing it in a bowl of chilly water to see how much warmer it felt.

Block-coding and robots were also on the agenda. Children learned how to use colour blocks to create codes for Ozobots. One child from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation was so excited by the concept, he created a series of codes on his own time and brought them in the next day for experimentation.

“It’s important that Nuu-chah-nulth kids learn that these types of skills are accessible to them,” said Alison Wale, Capacity Building Coordinator for Uu-a-thluk.

Sofie Ohrling, a first-time instructor with Science Venture, shared a similar sentiment when describing the popular ‘build your own boat’ activity.

“It was exciting to see the kids understand that through the process of designing, building and adjusting, they had become engineers for a couple of hours,” she said.

Since no science camp is complete without movement, 2023 campers also learned about the salmon life cycle through an obstacle course designed to teach them the importance of perseverance in the natural world.

Nuu-chah-nulth teaching and values were woven throughout the science camps, to offer campers a balance between traditional knowledge and Western science. Their influence extended beyond the campers.

“One teaching that stuck with me was iisaak, or respect … it is a value that carries across to STEM as well,” said camp instructor Caitlin Woods.

“You must practice iisaak when you are in STEM and have a respect for what you are studying, a respect for the land, and a respect for other people you are working with.”

So much of the success of science camps relies on Uu-a-thluk’s partnerships with Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. Camps thrive when nations provide input on the type of content they would like to see programmed and when elders share their knowledge with the children.

Uu-a-thluk would like to acknowledge and thank Nuu-chah-nulth Nations for their participation in our 2023 science camps. We would also like to express deep gratitude to Science Venture for continuing to make a positive impact in Nuu-chah-nulth communities.

To learn more about our science camps, or to donate towards our 2024 camps, visit www.uuathluk.ca

**A very special ƛ̓eekoo ƛ̓eekoo goes out to our donors whose generosity led to our most successful fundraising campaign to date. Your unwavering support means the world to us.**

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