Fieldwork enhances science students’ classroom learning

A pair of learning opportunities outside of the classroom encouraged students to think creatively and put theory into practice.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jianbo Gao recently organized a trip to the Open Centre for the Characterization of Advanced Materials in Toronto so his students could learn about and interact with advanced scientific equipment in a practical environment.

Participating Chemistry students Jarrett King, Zack Deegan and Eric Burgos were exposed to career paths in chemistry, engineering and laboratory research, and shown new techniques using state-of-the-art photon and electron spectroscopy and microscopy.

“It’s one thing to see a picture of something or read a textbook,” said King. “Once you see the actual machine you’ve been learning about in action, it really expands your understanding.”

Three students and their professor pose for a photo while wearing medical masks. They stand in a line with computers and laboratory equipment in the background.

Assistant Professor Jianbo Gao with Chemistry students Jarrett King, Zack Deegan and Eric Burgos at the Open Centre for the Characterization of Advanced Materials in Toronto.

Gao said learning outside of the classroom provides students with in-field examples that help them better understand learning material and master concepts more effectively.

“Field trips inspire students, transform the classroom with cutting-edge research and bridge the gap between the textbook and real-life technologies,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Faculty, Experiential Education Co-ordinator Jason Causarano brought a Biological Sciences class studying Entomology into nature to learn first-hand about insect trapping techniques in sample collection.

Students lured mosquitos by hanging a light trap on a tree near Pond Inlet that is baited with a light and releases carbon dioxide (via dry ice) to mimic human breathing. Both features attract mosquitoes from a greater distance into the suction of an attached fan that stores them in a collection cup for future identification.

The trap used by the students is the same model used by several public health units across Ontario during their yearly West Nile surveillance program, including Niagara Region Public Health, which provided the class with their in-house trap instructions.

Causarano aims to continue to work with faculty members to help materialize new experiential learning opportunities, engage industry partners and help facilitate minor changes to existing offerings.

“I think the key over the coming year stems from Brock’s continued support and encouragement for experiential learning within the strategic plan,” he said. “Mathematics and Science has been a pioneer in experiential learning as numerous types of learning opportunities are embedded throughout the entire Faculty.”

Faculty of Mathematics and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed fully supports the efforts to add variety and experience to student learning.

“Some of the most rewarding advancements in understanding course material come from hands-on fieldwork,” he said. “I applaud our team for designing these adventures.”

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