‘Opening their eyes’

Natuashish youth get fun lesson in science and technology

Ossie Michelin osmich@gmail.com
Published on August 13, 2015

Campers learn about surface tension in this colourful chemistry activity.

©Photo courtesy of Actua

For Andrew Henderson, it’s all about the “wow moment” — that moment when a child’s eyes light up as they make a discovery that changes the way they see the world.

“We teach about different science careers and different things in science that they might not have learned in school,” said Henderson.

“We just try to open their eyes to the world around them, try to show [the children] that we’re not just bringing the science to them, the science is already there — we are just helping them to see and experience it.”

Henderson is an outreach worker with Actua, an organization that helps youth across the country develop an interest in science and engineering. Henderson and his team have been providing workshops to children in Labrador communities for the last five years.

This month, the program was held in the Innu community of Natuashish.

“On our first day we had about nine children but then it quickly rose to 20-25 children per day,” says Henderson, who was pleased with the turn out.

The activities are hands-on and use some of the latest technology. One workshop that Henderson says, for obvious reasons, is particularly captivating for the kids is the robotics workshop.

Using a series of magnetically interlocking robotic cubes, containing computers, speakers and moving parts, the youth are able to build their own creations. Each cube can “talk” to its neighbour to pass on information in order to work in coordination to perform a variety of tasks, like wiggling like a snake, or spinning wheels to move along.

“The kids really loved that one, because they had never seen anything like it before,” said Henderson. “They got to experiment and try different things, and understand some of the logic behind robotics.”

The workshops were more than just cutting edge technology, however. Part of the goal is to help the kids understand that science and technology is already present in their daily lives. Henderson lead community walks in which the youth can identify and discuss what they see as science and technology in their own communities.

“On one walk we came across a series of holes in a sand bank,” says Henderson, “and I asked if anyone knew what they were. One girl raised her hand and said that’s where all the birds go when it rains. We then all had a conversation about how robins build their nests and how there may be baby robins in the holes right now.”

Vale has been sponsoring Actua for the last five years with workshops in both Nunatsiavut and Innu communities in Labrador. Actua estimates they’ve provided workshops for 200-300 aboriginal children in Labrador, and programming for over 30,000 aboriginal children across the country.


Not only does the mining company see it as a good way to give back to the communities they are involved with, but also as a way to inspire young people to become interested in the sciences as a potential career.

“The underlying core for our business is based in science, engineering and technology,” says Vale manager of corporate affairs, Bob Carter. “It’s important to us that children are exposed to concepts that may lead them as they mature in their learning to down a road that would see them interested in the fields of science or engineering when they begin to consider post secondary.”

Vale also offers a number of scholarships to aboriginal students at the post-secondary level who enter into the field.

“It all fits to gather with a fundamental commitment to do what we can to help nurture learning particularly in disciplines that natural align with our industry,” explains Carter.

Leslie Cuthbertson, Senior Director of Strategy and Organization Development at Actua, said

what these children are learning reaches far beyond the mining industry.

“We’re trying to do is build foundational skills in science, which is critical to all youth no matter what path they choose,” she said.

“So by building that core of science literacy, we can inspire youth through this opportunity to do hands on work building, designing, experimenting and exploring.”

She says these workshops enrich children’s understanding of their world, “to draw a connection with their current understanding of science and engineering through traditional knowledge in their community and to make that connection to traditional knowledge and modern science.”

Cuthbertson says the children are so busy having fun and developing skills and confidence that they sometimes don't even realize that they are learning and expanding their horizons,  one “wow moment” at a time.