STEM Activities and Success in the Program for Gifted Learners – submitted by Chuck Cohen


at St. Brother Andre in the Ottawa Catholic School Board

  • As part of the OCSB’s deep learning initiative, learning opportunities in the Program for Gifted Learners (PGL) are planned with an eye to developing 6 Global Competency skills: collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, character and citizenship. These align with the skillset needed in the workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as outlined recently at the World Economic Forum.
  • The PGL classroom – comprising blended grades 4 to 6 – embraces a culture of innovation to engage the students in critical thinking, with opportunities for failure so that they are equipped to persevere in creatively solving complex real world problems of the future. There are 2 PGL classroom’s in the Ottawa Catholic School Board, each led by educators Deborah Quail-Blier and Jackie Mason.
  • Students arrive at their designated PGL site one day per week from their community schools. They look forward to collaborating with like minded peers to pursue meaningful and challenging studies.


To date, students in PGL have persisted in contests worldwide that have challenged them to seek answers to meaningful problems that they’ve identified in the world. Here is what they’ve been up to at Deborah’s PGL site at St. Brother Andre:

  • They have successfully earned a spot on a NASA sounding rocket and a NASA High Altitude Research Balloon for 3 years running for experiments that they designed to solve problems for travellers in space. With future space flight in mind, students entered the global Cubes in Space contest, open to students aged 11-18. PGL’s 9-11 year old pupils were the first Canadians to enter the contest 3 years ago and successfully compete against thousands of students worldwide for one of 80, 4x4x4cm cubes on each space platform. This year, their experiment is an engineered design solution to the problem that they discovered through last year’s Cubes in Space experiment, that of weakened teeth in active astronauts.
  • Many of the students and their families will once again travel to NASA Wallops Flight Facility this June to present their experiment and to witness the launch of that experiment on NASA’s Terrior Improved-Orion sounding rocket.
  • Deborah’s PGL students have twice entered the North American ExploraVision contest. This competition engages the next generation in real world problem solving with a strong emphasis on STEM. ExploraVision challenges students to envision and communicate a new technology 20 years in the future to solve a problem that they see in the world today, through collaborative brainstorming and research of current science and technology.  Three years ago and again this year, a team of 4 of Mrs. Q-B’s students submitted the top project in all of Canada and 9 midwest states. The first year’s team designed a new airline seat for better safety, more space and less weight. This year’s team of grade 5 and 6 boys tackled climate change in the form of lower CO2 emissions from vehicles. They designed the Energy Recovery Motor, a new design for electric motor vehicles, which went on to win 2nd place in the North American finals.


  • Weekly PGL classes also feature a STEM team challenge, where students explore, experiment and collaborate in small groups to solve a hands-on STEM challenge, using limited supplies. Central to these, is the PGL teachers’ belief that exposing their students to taking risks in a safe environment will help them to gain confidence in pursuing STEM careers and to be effective creators, innovators, and problem solvers of tomorrow.