2014 Excellence in Science and Technology Public Awareness, Winner
The Internet is a profoundly powerful educational asset but most educational sites don’t come close to using their full potential. Wonderville is seeking to unlock this potential for kids to explore the world of science through interactive activities, exciting games and award-winning videos.
On the Shoulders of Jim Gray
In 2001, MindFuel (formerly the Science Alberta Foundation) created Wonderville as an educational tool that furthers the vision of founder, Jim Gray. He was a co-founder of Canadian Hunter Exploration, which became one of Canada’s most successful natural gas companies. After leaving the energy sector, Gray continued his community involvement, becoming concerned that Alberta’s students were lagging behind in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings.
Cassy Weber, MindFuel CEO, says, “Jim Gray is one of Alberta’s superheroes. He was very involved in various initiatives to make Alberta a better place. Whether it is health and wellness, education or community service, Jim Gray was probably behind it.”
Through repeated trips to the provincial legislature with petitions containing thousands of signatures, Gray realized his unique vision of creating a science centre without walls and the Science Alberta Foundation was born.
From Gray’s tireless work alongside MindFuel’s earlier leaders Anne Tingle, then Arlene Ponting, Ph.D., to promote science in Alberta, the Science Alberta Foundation grew into MindFuel, which continues to inspire students with engaging content and unique programs.
Engaging Future Generations
Wonderville is one such program with its goal of teaching kids about science in a way they understand and can enjoy. Targeted at students in grades K to nine, every element of the site teaches kids about science concepts, careers and questions in engaging and age-appropriate ways.
“There are drop-off points in a student’s K to 12 educational experience where suddenly, as if a switch goes, they start thinking science and math are hard,” Weber explains. “Those drop-off points can frequently occur in grade four and grade nine and they are pretty much set in their perspective by the time they hit high school.”
Weber says she credits her continued enthusiasm for science to a fantastic teacher she had in high school. In a similar way, Wonderville is trying to achieve the same inspirational result.
“If we can engage students in the world of science around them and relate to them in such a way that they understand that science is really about applying their own critical thinking, in the long term, they might not drop-off.”
Developing Comprehensive Content
Although students enjoy the activities, it does not come at a cost to targeted and comprehensive content. Significant planning, development and materials resourcing are dedicated to each project. In order to identify required assets for each section in the science unit, six months of research, writing, and resource development go into each learning resource.
Extensive collaboration between students, teachers, subject matter experts, web developers, videographers, photographers and scientists, all with a passion for science learning, ensures the resources meet the always evolving curriculum needs.
Weber says, “What’s represented in the final three and a half minute asset are the science, technology, engineering and math concepts and how it relates in the real world.”
Inspiring the Team
Like all not-for-profits, the Wonderville team is passionately tied to the cause they support. “Education matters, it is fundamental to everything else that layers onto a child’s life,” Weber says.
It is evident Wonderville is having a positive impact on science education. Since the site launched, they have developed over 200 resources for teachers, parents and students. Furthermore, the reach of Wonderville has extended beyond Alberta. In 2013, Wonderville was accessed in 203 countries with approximately one million user sessions.
“To reach a million users in a year with a mobile app is incredible; to reach a million users a year for an educational-based domain is remarkable,” Weber says.