Empowering Students in Science

Nina Dolgovych, Senior School Science Teacher
An excerpt from the Fall 2016 Corridors Magazine.
The answers to some long standing questions in education on how to teach students and what to teach them are rapidly-changing. What is changing the most however, is the role of teachers in leading their students in learning, the students’ ownership of their work and their appreciation of collaborative study.

A few decades ago, a simple passing of knowledge and skills to students was the purpose of education. However, technology has made information readily available and skills easier to acquire. Emerging education trends emphasize the process of thinking; it is about a search of how to approach a challenge if you do not know how to resolve or even address it. It is turning teaching into a form of creative invention, where students are provided with multiple opportunities to get engaged with meaningful, life-like cooperative and individual experiential learning, time for creativity and innovation, and opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. A good science teacher is no longer simply an information giver, but an opportunity provider.

Our students have once again proved that they are at the frontier of science. In May, two Grade 12 students, Daniel Mogilny and Matteo Bomben, presented their research at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix, Arizona, the world’s largest international precollege science competition. Daniel’s work on applying Deep Learning - a new branch of machine learning inspired by advances in neuroscience - to social media texts is leading to unprecedented psychological personality classification and has potential utilizing in multiple areas ranging from marketing to preventing terrorists attacks. Matteo's research is aimed at developing an effective novel cancer and viral infection treatment via Antisense RNA-Guided Selective Protein Expression. Respectively, Daniel received a Data Award and a Systems Software award and Matteo received a Cellular and Molecular Biology award.

These two Grade 12 students not only represented 25% of the entire Canadian team, but received impressive awards. Daniel finished second in Systems Software and Matteo placed third in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Additionally, Grade 11 student, Anmol Tukrel won several prizes, including a gold medal at the York Region Science and Engineering Fair and a silver medal at the Canada Wide Science Fair for his innovative project using Artificial Intelligence to help visually impaired individuals.

At the Science Olympics at the University of Western Ontario, our team of 22 students from Grades 9 to 12 competed against approximately one thousand other participants. Our first place finish in precise problem solving, called Fermi Questions, reached a new level of success, as the judges were shocked to not have found a single mistake in our answers. We were told this has never happened before! In the Robotics competition, the final round involved only three robots, all of which were from HTS. As a result, we received first, second, and third place finishes. We also came third in a difficult and highly competitive chemistry event called Compound Boggle. Our Science Olympics team also competed at the University of Guelph, where we placed third in the Junior Light Bot computer programming event and second in Senior Chemical Challenge performing titration and some organic chemistry labs.

Our Science Olympians’ success would not have been possible without school-wide exposure to, and appreciation of, inquiry-based problem solving addressed through both independent and cooperative learning activities. Whether designing, constructing, and testing a working roller coaster model, solving a “collision crime” in physics, dissecting a pig and creating a thrilling biology CSI video, performing a titration lab in chemistry, or planning and conducting an independent integrated Bio-Chem research-based project, our students are encouraged to drive their own education and benefit not only from learning with and from their teachers, but also their peers.

For a science teacher, nothing can be more rewarding than planting the seed of scientific curiosity in their students and watching it flourish. I have had the opportunity to watch this happen and believe that our students are well equipped to appreciate and take advantage of the many emerging technologies. I hope they will stay interested in science for the rest of their lives and that they will pass this interest on to their children.

"When I started working on my projects, I learned that anyone who was willing to work hard, think differently, and challenge the status quo could be at the forefront of scientific innovation. Countless faculty members at Holy Trinity School have provided my classmates and me with a tremendous amount of support as we sought to expand the boundaries of both scientific research and our own potential. Without the school's support, I likely never would have started working on science fair projects."
- Matteo Bomben '16