Queen’s education professor wins prestigious NSERC Science Promotion Prize
July 23, 2020
A distinguished mentor, researcher, and educator at Queen’s University has just been awarded the 2020 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Science Promotion Award for individual achievement. The award honours people and groups that are inspirational in the way they promote science to the general public. They are an opportunity for Canada's science community to recognize, support and encourage outstanding science promoters.
The common denominator in Lynda Colgan’s research and passion has been to dispel the myth that math and science are hard, dead subjects that only certain people can do successfully. Dr. Colgan uses intuitive approaches and strategies to help educators see mathematics through the eyes of children.
“The math and science experience have changed drastically over the years. Today, so many things are paid for with a debit or credit card, and cashiers are told by registers what change to give back to customers, resulting in them not counting the change for customers. Part of it is that there are many things happening around them that makes children actually believe that they don’t ever have to use math.” says Dr. Colgan, professor of elementary mathematics and coordinator of the Education Community Outreach Centre, Faculty of Education.
To respond to this need, her approach has evolved and expanded to include outreach, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, resulting in projects and products that search for creative avenues to engage both students, parents, and educators.
“What I try to do is encourage everyone – family members included – to become math mentors and role models who ‘do’ math naturally and for real purposes every day, everywhere. I do this by creating and disseminating simple ‘unplugged’ STEM crafts, games and experiments to encourage, facilitate, reinforce and/or review important skills and STEM concepts on the go’ – in the car, the backyard, the park, the grocery store,” says Dr. Colgan.
One of these initiatives is the highly successful Science Rendezvous Kingston, which is a celebration of STEM subjects and discoveries, scientists, and researchers featuring demonstrations, experiments and exhibits to bring people of all ages – toddlers to retirees – from across south-eastern Ontario into the world of science. Participation in Science Rendezvous Kingston has grown each year, as its reputation swells, from 650 to over 5,000 attendees in 2019, making it the most-attended Science Rendezvous event in Canada.
“What we’re hoping is that we inspire a little curiosity,” says Dr. Colgan. “That we inspire that little niggle, that helps the kids to say, ‘I want to know more about that, I want to read about that, I want to do that,’ and, basically, that will grow.” Dr. Colgan, along with the other Science Rendezvous coordinator, Kim Garrett, won the STEAM BIG Award from NSERC in 2019, for outstanding contribution to a Science Rendezvous event.
Prior to her appointment at Queen’s in 1998, Dr. Colgan was an award-winning educator with the Scarborough Board of Education for 25 years. During that time, she taught or held leadership and administrative positions at every educational level – elementary (K-6), intermediate (7-8), secondary (9-13), and post-secondary in roles centred around the integration of computer technology and mathematics. Throughout her tenure, Dr. Colgan has developed pivotal resources for the mathematics curriculum across Canada, including textbooks, research monographs and teacher and parent resource guides.
Dr. Colgan was also awarded funding for a three-year NSERC PromoScience grant for a project called Learning with Dinosaurs: A gateway to multidisciplinary STEM learning. That project, in collaboration with Peter May and Research Casting International, seeks to revitalize educational resources about dinosaurs by disseminating museum-quality artifacts and interactive guided curriculum to provide hands-on STEM activities to improve Canadian teachers’ knowledge and student interest in the multidisciplinary field of paleontology, which includes biology, zoology, geology, chemistry and physics.
She is also the recipient of an NSERC Promo Science Supplement Grant for Science Literacy Week. It will go to support a virtual author in residence program and is set to take place this September.