Creative Science merges art and science for high school students

Niamh Kelly, UBC associate professor of pathology, started the Creative Science program to change the way high school students approach science and to get post-secondary students involved in the community. 

“The literature on attitudes and beliefs among high-schoolers ... states that they fully understand and appreciate the role of science in the world and society, but they find the way that science is delivered in high school boring and irrelevant," said Kelly.

Kelly works with high school teachers to change the way information is delivered to their students. She stresses the importance for students to explore the facts given to them through creative application. 

In the first year of the project, the Creative Science program paired up with Gladstone Secondary School to represent the cardiovascular system in human anatomy. The students were challenged to showcase their understanding through creative media. The post-secondary student part of the Creative Science program offers support for high school students on online forums — answering any science related questions and challenging students to think critically.

“We were blown out of the water by the very high level of work produced by the students,” said Kelly.

Since then, Creative Science has worked with teachers to tackle more complex scientific systems, such as DNA and protein synthesis. 

“After they engaged in the project, we found that we had an increase in students who agreed that science is relevant.”

The success of the project is reflected in the interest from high schools around the city to work with Creative Science. Creative Science is currently involved with five schools in Vancouver and one in Surrey.

The projects produced by the students were not limited to visual art and included novellas, culinary art and even a Shakespearean play. One of the program’s goals for the upcoming year is to increase the number of mentors from the Arts faculty. 

“If you go on this mentorship site ... you’ll frequently have students who will come on and not ask a science question, [but] they’ll actually ask an artistic based question.”

Beyond eliciting interest in high school students for science, Kelly hopes to open up a dialogue about creativity on the post-secondary level. Future mentors will be asked to explore avenues of creativity within their own faculty and how they intersect with other faculties. 

“Mentorship is at the core of the program,” Karen Forsyth, a program coordinator, said. "We hope to ... strengthen our mentors and get them out of their comfort zone in both the arts and sciences.”

Mentors can expect to spend around two hours a week discussing project ideas online and answering questions that high school students may have. Post-secondary students will meet the high school students once at the beginning of the term and then again at the end of the term during their annual showcase with their finished projects. 

“It's a relatively low commitment role and we don't have any special requirements in terms of knowledge,” said Fabian Tam, Creative Science’s mentor coordinator.

Students are encouraged to apply to become mentors.