In November 2018, Science North hosted a Northern Nature Trading (NNT) experience conference based on the popular Nature Exchanges at their Science North and Dynamic Earth science centres in Sudbury. At these exchanges, visitors of any age can bring items like shells, fossils or rocks and minerals from their own community and receive points used to trade for other natural items in the science centres’ collections. Nature exchanges are valuable opportunities for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) organizations to engage visitors in discussions about the items they are trading, with incentives to build their collections, learn more about their natural items and encourage return visits to the science centres.
Science North’s conference brought together six organizations from across Northern Ontario that host Science North’s NNT experience in their community. Participants engaged in workshops and networking sessions led by specialists from the Ontario Ministry of Education, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), Laurentian University’s Science Communication Program and Science North. Attendees also shared best practices and resources on topics including effective science communication, collection practices, curriculum-based program development and outreach. Best practices that have since been adopted by NNT hosting attractions include building a collection of table top exhibits such as a fossil dig and butterfly mimicry display to encourage hands-on exploration of the science behind NNT specimens. Another hosting attraction enhanced their cataloguing practices with detailed descriptions of local specimens and bolstered staff training to build accurate knowledge and skills in specimen identification.
At the end of the three-day conference, participants praised the skill-building and networking opportunities they had experienced. The conference connected a network of likeminded organizations that are committed to expanding STEM experiences in Northern Ontario communities, and put them in a better position to provide year-round NNT experiences to schools and the general public.
Science North’s NNT conference was hosted with funding provided by a NSERC PromoScience Supplement for Collaboration, which supports new partnerships that connect STEM organizations and provide opportunities for them to share best practices and resources. You can learn more about the PromoScience Supplement for Collaboration or NSERC’s additional support for STEM outreach initiatives by sending your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.