VIU professor helps raise money for elementary classroom science gear through video series

Ray Penner, VIU physics professor, performs his bed of nails experiment. || VIU photo.
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A long-running Vancouver Island University (VIU) science show went virtual this year and raised enough money to buy science gear for 11 elementary school classrooms, according to VIU.

Extreme Science, hosted by physics professor Ray Penner and his colleagues, has taught students about physics and chemistry through experiments for over a decade. Searching for a way to continue the show during the pandemic, Penner teamed up with VIU’s marketing and advancement departments to put together a series of videos that could be shown in classrooms.

The videos included breaking a concrete block on Penner while he lies on a bed of nails, using sound waves to break glass and what happens when someone decides to snack on a graham cracker dipped in liquid nitrogen. Each one explained the science behind the experiments performed by Penner and his team.

“My main goal is to show students that science is cool — it’s why a lot of us are in it,” said Penner. “I want to get them not only excited about science, but also inspired to think about careers as scientists.”

Sponsors contributed money to buy science gear for classrooms who submitted an answer to a riddle students were encouraged to solve. Each elementary school class that unscrambled the quote correctly was entered into a draw to win $1,000 worth of science supplies, courtesy of VIU’s community partners: Coastal Community Credit Union and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC), along with Herold Engineering, Lewkowich Engineering, SMCN Consulting, McElhanney, Tetra Tech, Rocky Point Engineering, RB Engineering and Kool & Child.

“The uptake was so much bigger than we ever imagined – we had more than 4,700 students from 190 classrooms participating from the four school districts that feed into VIU campuses,” said Penner. “As the teachers were sending in answers, they were providing anecdotes about how much their students were enjoying the videos and how the experiments were inspiring them to continue studying science.”

One of the winners was Sterling Jamont’s Grade 7 classroom at Bayview Elementary School in Nanaimo.

“It means we are going to get to do some really cool, hands-on science experiments – this is a real game changer for us,” she said. “We’re going to buy some supplies we can share amongst the intermediate grades. My class loved the videos — my students looked forward to watching them every day. The challenge was a good reminder to always stay curious.”

Penner said he received an outpouring of positive comments on the videos from participating elementary schools.

“Thank you so much for your efforts to put together these videos to inspire and generate curiosity within our classroom,” wrote Stacy Aitken, vice-principal of Departure Bay Eco School in Nanaimo. “The videos became a highlight of our day over the last two weeks.  It was fun having them try and create the quote. It became quite the competition to solve on the last day.”

Now that the elementary school challenge is finished, VIU has made the videos public on the Community Classroom website. Any members of the public who want to solve the riddle challenge from now until May 31 can email their answers to for the chance to win a VIU hoodie.

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