Building Bridges with Virtual Researcher on Call

When I taught Grade 7 Science, I used Virtual Researcher on Call in my classroom to help with my Structures unit. Professor Francesco Tangorra from Algonquin College was the resident expert on call, and if you ever have the chance to work with him, you won’t be disappointed!

The following is an excerpt from an article by Cheryl Ricco (a principal at NCDSB) from Leaders and Learners magazine reporting teacher Melissa Lavoie’s Virtual Researcher On Call aka VROC classroom experience…

I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can

“One way elementary educators in the NCDSB stay on track with preparing students for the 21st century is through the integration of the creative process with trad- itional STEM subjects. In fact, it is through the creative process that teachers of science, technology and math encourage their students to be critical thinkers.
Melissa Lavoie, teacher at St. Paul Elementary School and O’Gorman Intermediate Catholic School in Timmins, Ont, for example, uses the creative process in sci- ence and math. To assist in the instruction of a structures and stability unit in her Grade 7 science class, Lavoie uses a program called Virtual Researchers on Call (VROC) to expose students to potential careers in STEM fields.

According to their website, VROC is “a set of educational programs that connect knowledge partners (college and university professors and professionals) in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math with Canadian students in elementary and secondary schools for real-time, interactive learning opportunities.”

After teaching specific concepts about structures and stability, Lavoie introduced Prof. Francesco Tangorra from Algonquin College in Ottawa to her students via software provided by VROC. By “beaming” into Lavoie’s classroom, Tangorra introduced himself, the work he does at Algonquin College and how the concepts they were learning about would help them in the field of civil engineering.

He also outlined the unit activity which would have students competing against each other in a Popsicle stick and white glue bridge building challenge. The three criteria for the design project were economy, efficiency and elegance. Students not only had to use math and science knowledge to construct their bridge, they had to be creative in its design to produce a beautiful, yet functional, design.

“The connection that students are coming to realize is that… art is integrated within construction. It is an integral part of the very function of a bridge. The colours and materials used also enhance the aesthetics of the bridge, as bridges often make a statement in the space they are in,” says Lavoie.

Lavoie and Tangorra then gave the students a few days in small groups to construct their bridges with the understanding that Tangorra would assist in judging the projects and also provide feedback to the students with regards to why and how the bridges strained or collapsed. The students absolutely loved the interaction. They were engaged and attentive.

In essence, Lavoie’s use of the VROC program helped students who generally see art as a separate subject come to see it as an integral component to projects in STEM fields. As a result, all students could value the learning taking place.”

Here is a SlideShare presentation of Leaders and Learners magazine, Winter 2014-2015 edition (scroll to pages 24-26):

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