So what were your interests growing up?
Sports-wise, it was always sailing, water-skiing and dirt-biking. And building explosives in the backyard!
That will definitely lead to further discussion here! What is it about sailing that speaks to you — what do like about it?
It’s one of those pure sports, right? You’re not in control — the wind’s in control. It’s physics, it’s tactics, and you’ll never, ever master it. You can’t. The boat will teach you something every time you go out.
Now when you talk about the physics of sailing and explosives in the backyard, that of course leads me to the science fair. I know that you said, growing up, you weren’t really that interested, or you didn’t feel you were that good at, the things that are my passion — words, grammar, English, that kind of thing. Were you into sciences from the get-go?
Well, I was, but again, the school system doesn’t work great for people like me. A lot of the males are visual learners and the school system is not set up for visual learners. So you get people who are perhaps labelled as learning-disabled or all these things, and then they later find out that, wait a minute, he has an above-average IQ! But that’s later in life, which means you’re just an underachiever, right? So science fair works well for stuff like that because now I can take kids who are good with their hands, good with visual learning, and they can do something and present it, as opposed to the classic sit-down, read-a-book, write-a-test, show-me-you-know-what-I-told-you situation.
I do believe that’s changing or has changed — people in education at every level are trying to accommodate all sorts of learning styles now. But I guess that move came too late for you.
Not too late for me — I’ve got lots of explosives! (laughs)
Seriously, though, Mr. (Henry) Friesen at Vincent Massey had to get me out of trouble more than once — I’m pretty sure of it. I figured I was on my way to expulsion and he had to step in and intervene. He had to save my bacon!
You’re lucky he was there! Now I know you’re a huge volunteer. But was it because of your own experience that you got into the Westman Regional Science Fair to the degree you have?
To some extent, yeah. I got involved with science fair because a friend asked me to help with fundraising because they were strapped for cash and in trouble. So I did. And that was, I think, ’96, and slowly, one thing led to another after the next four years to where I ended up being the chair in 2000.
So kids do projects in their own schools, and win, and go on from there to the regional fair?
Yeah — we’re the feeder. The schools do their competitions, the gold and silver projects from there come to our fair, and then we have a series of awards — we pick the winners from that group, and then the key three projects go on to the Canada-wide science fair.
Are you involved with the Canada-wide fair, too?
Yes. I’m a national volunteer — Signage and Logistics I think is my official title. In other words, I have a tool bag! And I make things move!
Back to the Westman Fair again. Is it all run by volunteers?
Yes. And that needs a lot of expanding. We’re getting to that point, with retirees and whatnot, that we’re starting to feel some strain. There are a lot of things that could be done to our fair to make it a lot better — I’ve seen other fairs in other regions that are run much more dynamically, have a lot more outreach to the schools that we just can’t do because we don’t have the manpower.
And again, your interest in this is because you like things like physics and science and exploring.
Oh yeah. And it’s one of those things where it’s a non-conventional competition. It’s a competition of the mind. And it affords opportunities for kids who are smart but who don’t do well necessarily inside the standard book-learning system. And from there, the kids that we’ve taken to Canada-wide — and I’ve been taking kids to Canada-wide since 2000, or enabling that to happen through fundraising — those kids — and I stay in touch with a lot of the alumni over the years — every one of them will tell you, whether it’s the next year or five years later, that it changed their life. You take kids from a rural environment who are unsure, from where the peer pressure is not necessarily to go to university, and you take them to Canada-wide. They get there, they get exposed to 550 or 600 other kids from all around Canada, we go onto a university campus, we spend a week on campus hanging out with really smart kids from all across Canada, and the next things you know, the kids from here WANT to go to university. They discover they’re no more or no less than the kids they were with at Canada-wide, and their potential is whatever they want.
That’s pretty inspiring!
So we have sort of loose committee members who are alumni who will come in and help and participate. And if you talk to them, you find out how it changed their lives and made a difference in their lives. So it has an impact on kids. They go and they get exposed and they see what’s possible, and it just fires these kids up.
So do you have any suggestions for the kids or their teachers or the parents? Essentially, I’m sure it would be wise to say ‘do something you’re interested in’ because there’s no point in doing something you’re NOT interested in.
Yeah. You’ve got to find your passion, and then the problem with most kids’ projects is they don’t do science. They do a social studies project or something like that. But you’ve got to pay attention to quantitative science, which is if you’re going to do an experiment, you quantify all your results, eliminate your variables, show where you have unknowns that you can’t predict or you can’t tell, and show what you CAN tell. And then narrow your focus, because in so many of these projects, the scopes are too big. And kids are always thinking they need to come up with something revolutionary.
I was going to ask about that! Are you looking for ground-breaking stuff?
Oh, that would be interesting. But let’s face it — we’re in high school, we’re in elementary school — that’s not going to happen. So you’re going to be working on something that somebody else already knows. Even the projects that show up to Canada-wide, that some people think is new, earth-shattering, revolutionary research, inevitably somebody’s already done it. It’s very rare you would ever see anything that’s truly remarkably different.
So go with what you know. Research what you want to know. And focus it on something quantifiable that you can put on a board and show. That’s the key thing — a lot of the science fair is about being able to demonstrate and display what you’ve learned, and produce a proper presentation. So it’s not just a science fair — science actually is a minimal player in the whole game. Sure, the project is science, but they’re having to do the research, they’re having to do the presentation. So by the time they’re done, you find the kids who are good salesmen always do better. They put a little sizzle on it, add some zip to it, and that makes a big difference. And it’s a good opportunity for kids to HAVE this experience. If you go through your school fair, and you go through our fair, and then you go to Canada-wide, by the time you’re done, you will have had that project judged many times, and we’ve shown that at Canada-wide that from the beginning of the fair to the end of the fair, the average project will gain a full grade-point, because they learn from the judges.
Well sure! And that’s really what it’s all about, is learning and opening doors and broadening horizons.
Right. And then of course the repeat kids who come BACK to our fair and to Canada-wide, you can tell they’re getting better. They’re learning, they’re adapting, they’re developing their projects. So the main advice would be go to our website — wmsf.com — read the judging form so you understand the criteria students are being judged on. Because it’s a competition, so it has rules, and you have to compete within those rules.
I’m encouraged to see that it’s competitively based, because I think this whole idea about no first, second and third place is really wrong-headed. Life is a competition, and the sooner we get kids used to that, the better.
We always take criticism over the fact that it is a competitive environment and that that’s not fair. There was an article in the Winnipeg Free Press a couple of years ago where the guy was making the case that it’s only the kids of the doctors and the professors who are doing well at these fairs in Winnipeg. And I had a huge issue with that, because the kid who does well at hockey, his parents took him out and coached him on the street and were at the rink with him — or her — at 6:30 in the morning. But somehow it wasn’t fair that the doctor or the professor spent time with his kid teaching him how to learn. Mentorship — and there’s a big article on our website about mentorship — is encouraged, it’s important, it’s how they learn. The idea that you must do a science fair project or any other academic thing totally in a vacuum on your own is ridiculous. Of course you’re going to learn from others! And that’s part of the process. Is this student somebody who went out found that research and found the people who could give them access to that research and point them in the right directions? Not enough kids go harass the professors at the university. They should be calling them. And the profs should be calling ME saying, ‘Hey — get these kids off our backs!’
You really light up when you talk about this. Like, you’re really jazzed about this whole science fair thing. Why?
It affords an opportunity to kids to progress and do stuff in the sciences, which I like. I mean, all of the new job creation happens in the sciences — that’s where the big push is. And yet, it’s not the big push in the academic system. I think there needs to be an opportunity for those science-minded kids. And it’s no small feat for a kid to do a science fair project. They invest a lot of time — weeks and weeks of time, usually outside the classroom, on their own. And if they’re going to invest that kind of time and effort, then we can at least have the venue for them to display it, show it, and be properly judged and get proper feedback on what they’ve done and where to expand and learn. That’s the other big thing about the fair is — you see it when you’re doing the awards ceremony — the kids out there with the tears in their eyes because they didn’t win. And that’s where that push to make it non-competitive comes from. But if you talk to anybody in life who’s done well, they’ll tell you it’s not their successes that made them better. It’s their failures. You learn from failures. Your ego just grows from success. So it’s important for them to have that opportunity to get out there, learn, grow, maybe fail, pick themselves up, figure it out, learn, and do it again.
Anyone with questions about the Westman Regional Science Fair is welcome to contact Maguire. Information appears on the wmsf.com website.