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Close Encounters with Science: Meet the winner

We talk to the winner of the Close Encounters with Science writing challenge, Janet Trull of Ontario, about her winning story.

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Tell us about yourself. 
I am a retired teacher from Ancaster, Ontario, but I’m more often at my cottage in Haliburton or travelling about. I grew up in Dunnville Ontario, a little town on the Grand River. You can't miss it if you are travelling along that lovely old pioneer highway #3, because you will see Muddy the Mudcat.

What do you usually write?  
My writing follows the old adage, “Jack of all trades, Master of none.”  I’ve written personal essays, short fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry.  I’ve been published in The Globe and Mail, Canadian Living, and several Canadian literary magazines. And I do some freelance work for my local newspaper, The Haliburton Echo… one of the last great small town newspapers.  

How did you decide to tell your story “The Science of Recess” for your close encounter with science?
I love the Canada Writes challenges, and have made several submissions. They are like little assignments. When a new one is announced, I go for a walk along my favourite valley trail and think about possibilities. Science in the classroom for me was a disaster… but the observations I have made in the natural world have taught me that I am a speck in the universe. Only recently have I come to realize how many opportunities to teach kids science are lost.  Educators are so busy trying to teach the curriculum, that they miss the research that goes on out in the playground. Watching David dissect that squirrel, though… that remains a vivid memory (I left out the part where he cut off the tail and attached it to the back of his ball cap like Davy Crockett). 

What were your challenges in writing the piece?
500 words is always a challenge.  Write, write, write… edit, slash, burn. There is always something that gets left behind (like the squirrel’s tail).    

What is your relationship to science now? (Did your curiosity and wonder remain?)  
YES! I still have that shy little nine-year-old observer in me. The forest, the lake, the night sky… I never get tired of them. Years of listening to “Quirks and Quarks” has helped, too. Bob MacDonald taught me how to ask simple questions and make connections to what I already know… he taught me to put new knowledge in my own words. “Oh, I see…”

Did you read any of the long list, picks of the day, or features in the series that particularly inspired you or that you really liked? 
My favourite pick of the day was “Origin of the Species” by Sherwood Hines. Similar to my own experience, his learning was sabotaged by school curriculum. It’s a brilliant recollection! When his science fair entry goes against “Christian values” he finds out that scientists need more than the facts to be successful. They have to know their audience!  

“Why they’d ask a priest to judge a science fair is beyond me. Come on,” she said. “Let’s go home.”

It would take me a few years after that day, before I finally understood why it was that an eleven-year-old boy couldn't teach evolution to a small-town Catholic Priest.

It was my last science fair.”

What does it mean to you to have won the Close Encounter Challenge?  
I am grateful to be part of such a smart, talented on-line writing community. The picks of the day and the finalist entries prove that science is more than a chemistry quiz. More than labeling a diagram of a plant. These stories connect us to the world and it means the world to me that I won. This time.  

What are your plans for the $1,000 prize?
Easy … it’s going into my grandson’s RESP.  Maybe he’ll be a scientist. 

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