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k2i academy’s in-school program brings experiential learning to high schools across the GTA

Lassonde’s k2i academy is bringing experiential learning to high school students across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) with the Bringing STEM to Life: In Schools program. Funded by an NSERC PromoScience grant, this program aims to address systemic barriers to opportunities for underrepresented youth in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

The program focuses on providing educators with embedded professional learning opportunities around curriculum-connected experiences in engineering design, design thinking, coding and computational thinking and electronics, while simultaneously providing students with innovative learning experiences grounded in hands-on exploration and critical thinking.

STEM outreach programs outside the school day are available across Canada. However, while STEM outreach programming outside the school day is important, it is also optional, and access may not be available for all students. In-school learning can be a more effective and accessible way to inspire youth who may not see themselves represented in STEM by engaging them through classroom experiences. With teachers as partners, the k2i team aims to work together to create inclusive STEM learning spaces. 

The Bringing STEM to Life: In Schools program provides students with unique, interdisciplinary, curriculum-connected learning opportunities linked to real-world problems. This gives students the opportunity to see that what they learn in school can be used to solve real-world problems. At the same time, teachers can connect with k2i academy for ongoing collaboration, mentorship and support to design and implement programming that meets the learning needs and interests of students. Teachers also receive on-the-job technical training in electronics, coding and engineering design.

“Over the course of a few months, the impact of the program has been amazing,” said Vanessa Ironside, k2i academy program officer. “Educators are witnessing students approach real-world challenges in ways they never imagined possible. One of the most exciting outcomes is the confidence educators now have to support the students in open-ended learning and the willingness of educators to learn alongside their students.”

To date, the program has worked with 18 educators and had over 3,500 youth engagements. Students have worked on a variety of projects, including engineering satellites using breadboards and Micro:bits, programming robots to explore Mars and engineering applications that improve human health. In the first year, the program has operated in three high schools in the Toronto District School Board and one high school in the York Region District School Board, focusing predominantly on grade 9 and 10 science. Learning focused on social and environmental justice through the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and experiences that highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of engineering and computer science concepts within the Ontario Science curriculum.

“This project has been a great success in my classroom this semester. Students are so engaged, and the quality of work has blown me away,” said Claire Zuliani, a teacher at Middlefield Collegiate Institute. “They are developing problem-solving skills, a sense of autonomy, confidence and independence through their engineering design projects that I rarely see in a grade 9 class. As an educator, I also feel much more prepared to take on a de-streamed program next year thanks to my participation in this project.”

With the new de-streamed grade 9 science curriculum in Ontario, the k2i academy is helping provide teachers with resources to empower them to teach an inclusive STEM curriculum, inspired by this program. The academy also hopes to expand the program by providing additional resources to teachers and partnering with more school boards over the next two years. By working within classrooms alongside teachers, more equitable opportunities will be available for diverse learners and more underrepresented students will consider STEM electives in grades 11 and 12 leading to a more inclusive STEM community that embraces diverse perspectives. The k2i academy’s programming plays a big role in supporting Lassonde School of Engineering’s mission to create a more diverse community in STEM by reducing barriers, creating a welcoming environment and providing a variety of supports that help individual community members reach their full potential.