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Experiential learning: equipping Canada’s youth for success.

students using VR headsets

Everyone can remember a favourite class or activity in school. For me, it was lessons with hands-on biology experimentation, activities incorporating drama and performance, and time spent in the computer lab.

Then I look at my scientific career now, where I use computers to answer questions about infectious diseases and then communicate the results to people who need to act on them. It’s clear to me how my three interests ultimately came together to give me a uniquely fulfilling career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

As was revealed in 3M’s State of Science Index, 96 per cent of Canadians want our children to learn more about science and 86 per cent of us would like our kids to pursue a career in STEM.

These days, that means equipping our youth with the skills they need to succeed in a complex, interdisciplinary, and dynamic world – one that offers them an array of diverse and rewarding career options.

A roadmap to transform the future of education in Canada.

3M is a founding partner of Canada 2067 – a national initiative to shape the future of STEM learning, focusing on Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Part of this ground-breaking initiative was the development of the Canada 2067 Learning Roadmap. Built upon extensive research and conversations with Canada’s STEM education community, the roadmap identifies six pillars around which we have the opportunity to transform the future of education in Canada.

One of these pillars is “How we Learn.” If we want our students to graduate with the doors open to a range of careers, what do we teach them, how do we teach it, and how do we evaluate and reward success?

I believe that experiential learning lies at the heart of this. Looking back at my own educational journey, I see that what I remember the most was doing – being an active participant in learning.

That’s why it’s so exciting to see some of the recommendations in the Canada 2067 Learning Roadmap. For example:

  • Ensuring all students engage in a co-operative project spanning multiple subjects and disciplines each year.
  • Recommending students taking a STEM class do at least one project a year that they design based on their own curiosity and desire to dig deep into a particular subject.

As a practicing scientist, it’s clear to me that STEM today is based on teamwork, on collaboration across disciplines, and on pursuing a line of inquiry with passion. We as a community of parents and educators need to ensure our kids are developing skills in these areas.

3M, for example, supports these opportunities by offering internship opportunities in their Canadian labs. Their Food Safety Division has even helped to place interns with customer partners. They also make investments in programs like the Enactus Canada National Exposition, which challenges university students of all disciplines to tackle sustainable development issues in Canadian communities.

This reflects the reality that students entering the STEM workforce will face. 


Technology provides a window to a new way of learning.

The roadmap also highlights the importance of using new technologies – particularly in the digital realm – to make learning more creative, interactive, and student-centred.

As much as many of us are quick to dismiss our kids’ fascination with their screens, I see phones, tablets, and computers as the doorway into a world rich with information and different perspectives. It’s a place where our youth can connect with peers, learn from others, and develop the skills for critically evaluating and synthesizing information.

If we want to transform how our students learn, it’s not enough to simply change the curriculum – we need to think of our teachers too. They need to be empowered with training and resources to be able to deliver interdisciplinary, experiential, competency- and inquiry-based STEM learning experiences, and hands-on experience with the digital technologies that are available for them to use in the classroom.

Looking ahead: the future of education.

The State of Science Index showed that students’ initial enthusiasm for STEM often wanes over time. However, I believe that if we work towards a new model of STEM education – one in which students see that the STEM fields both underlie and are intimately intertwined with so many other areas, and one in which their curiosity is encouraged and rewarded – we can change this.

Looking ahead to 2067, I see a generation of engaged, curious, and passionate young people working together – across disciplines – to innovate, discover, and create a better world for us all.

Learn more about 3M and Canada 2067.

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About the Author

[enBio=Jennifer is a well-known Canadian scientist and science communicator. Since completing a PhD in computational biology in 2006, she’s used DNA analysis and computer science to study how infectious diseases spread in a population. At the same time, she’s hosted many episodes of CBC Television’s The Nature of Things and Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet, and has written a kids’ book about the fascinating world of germs and microbes. Jennifer was one of the 20 inaugural Women of Impact in STEM, as honoured by the government of Canada.],[enJob=UBC Professor and Science Television Host],[frBio=Jennifer est une scientifique canadienne et une communicatrice scientifique reconnue. Depuis qu’elle a terminé un doctorat en bio-informatique en 2006, elle a utilisé l’analyse de l’ADN et l’informatique pour étudier comment les maladies infectieuses se répandent dans la population. Parallèlement, elle a animé de nombreux épisodes de l’émission « The Nature of Things » diffusée sur Radio-Canada et de l’émission « Daily Planet » diffusée sur la chaîne Discovery, en plus d’écrire un livre pour enfants sur le monde fascinant des microbes et des germes. Jennifer fait partie des 20 premières femmes d’influence dans le domaine des STIM qui ont été honorées par le gouvernement du Canada.],[frJob=Professeure à l’Université de la Colombie-Britannique et animatrice d’une émission scientifique]

Profile Photo of Jennifer Gardy