New science curriculum with hands-on learning, coding and food literacy gets top marks locally

An updated science curriculum that will start being taught this September and includes more focus on hands-on learning, engineering, coding and food literacy is getting top marks from local experts who say the upgrade is needed.

The updates are welcome and needed, local experts say

Ontario's updated science curriculum will include food literacy. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

An updated science curriculum that will start being taught this September and includes more focus on hands-on learning, engineering, coding and food literacy is getting top marks from local experts who say the upgrade is needed. 

"We're very excited to see food literacy being integrated across the entire curriculum," said Andrew Fleet, the executive director of the London, Ont., based Growing Chefs Ontario, which aims to get kids excited about health foods. 

"Having it in the science curriculum is going to get students learning about food in a way that isn't confined to the kitchen. They'll learn how our food system works, how food affects our environment, the role it plays in climate change, and the major role it has in shaping our culture." 

Fleet and his organization were part of the consultations the province held about updating the science curriculum. 

The new curriculum for Grades 1 to 8 focuses on modernizing lessons and reflecting advancements in science and technology since it was last updated in 2007. 

The province is also introducing a new de-streamed science course for Grade 9 students. Updates are set to take effect in time for the 2022-23 school year. 

Andrew Fleet is the founder and executive director of Growing Chefs Ontario. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"Including food literacy in the curriculum is something we've been advocating for since we launched in 2008," Fleet said. "Food is such an important teaching vehicle. It can be used in literacy, math, history, geography and, of course, when you add ingredients and mix them and heat them up, it's kind of a fun science experiment." 

Officials say 130 expectations were removed from the curriculum to make room for the new material. But they say doing so eliminates redundancies in the previous curriculum and that no important learning is being lost.

Coding 'like a window'

As part of the changes, students are expected to learn how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics —also known as STEM — applies to viable careers in the skilled trades, and how emerging technologies will impact jobs in the future. 

"I've always hoped that the government will add coding to the curriculum, because coding is very interactive. Coding courses are like a window that can help the students understand why science and math is useful," said Napu Sun, the owner of Teens Programming, the first London-based, dedicated computer programming school for kids and teens in the city. 

Coding is a practical skill that allows kids to see the results of what they're doing and opens doors to tech-based careers. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Most kids come to his school with no prior knowledge of coding, Sun said, and get valuable skills that help open doors to careers in science and technology. 

"I think coding is a match for the personality of kids, because they can see the concrete results of what they are doing. They like practical things, not theory," Sun said. 

Kids often ask 'Why am I learning this?' or 'How will I ever use this material when I'm older?' but seeing practical applications can help inspire them to keep learning, said Mike Ropp, the training director for LiUNA Local 1059, a union that represents about 4,000 construction workers and industrial and service sector workers in southwestern Ontario. 

"There's a huge shortage of skilled trades out there. There are a lot of people who learn better when they're learning by doing, they like to be part of a team, and to see the tangible results of their work," Ropp said. 

There's a shortage of tradespeople in Ontario and adding hands-on learning to the curriculum will help entice more kids to consider a skilled trades career. (Submitted by Build a Dream)

But kids, taught by teachers who went to university, sometimes don't get the experience in-class that might funnel them into skilled trades, he said. 

"The earlier we expose them to that, the better," Ropp said. "A lot of our recruiting focuses on high school, but anything the elementary schools can do would obviously be helpful. There are a lot of people who will benefit from this." 

The new curriculum will see Grade 6 kids designing and testing devices such as flying machines, and Grade 8 students designing a system that replicates a conveyor belt, officials say.

Kids will start coding in Grade 1 and consider ways to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has expressed concern about not being consulted enough on the curriculum, and the compressed timeline in which teachers must learn the new material.