VIU Grandkids' University

Creating their own compasses.
Author: Roxanne Croxall and Alex Harte


Who doesn’t love spending good ol’ quality time with their grandparents! Grandkids University – Earth Explorers 2.0 – was a huge success! On the first day, Thursday July 5th, we (Kayla, Alex, Larissa, the grandkids, the grandparents, and myself) had so much fun learning so much cool geography stuff! First thing in the morning, Kayla taught the kids all about maps – what they are, how we use them, etc. – and map projections using oranges. Needless to say, it was quite an a-peel-ing activity! Then the kids, with the professional assistance of Dr. Pam Shaw, learned a little bit about community planning and were given the chance to design their very own super cool dream parks. We saw park plans that included: ponds, zip-lines, multi-purpose rooms, baby playgrounds, benches for grandparents, and so much more. Following park design, we introduced the kids to compasses, including what they do, how to remember the bearings with the always-comical ‘Never Eat Soggy Wieners’ mnemonic, and finally how to make one if you’re ever stuck in the forest and don’t know which direction to head in. Following the compass activity, the kids and grandparents took part in the ‘Map Reading Mascot Rescue’! Sets of grandkids and grandparents were each put into five different groups and we put their map reading skills to the test! Each group was given one initial map which they had to use to guide them to the next map, and the next, and so on and so forth, until they found the very last map which led them to the rescue of their very lost and scared dinosaur mascots! Lastly, the Thursday class wrapped-up with the ever-popular, family-favourite geocaching activity! Each set of grandkids and grandparents were given a handheld GPS which they used to navigate around the VIU campus in search of 20 geocaches. They had only two hours to complete this task – it was quite the challenge, but man, those kids were determined! I saw them dragging their grandparents up and down stairs, indoors and outdoors, upside down and around in circles – it was quite the riot but also an experience they’ll surely never forget! All in all, everyone, myself and the other leaders included, had such a great time! I wish everyday could experience Grandkids U day!



After an adventurous afternoon of trekking VIU’s mountain of steps for geocache treasure, the kids and their grandparents turned in for an afternoon of games, dinner and much needed rest (turns out the instructors needed it just as much, if not more). The next morning, July 6th, started off with a more relaxed pace of shadow capturing and giving our own lectures to the students. As soon as we got settled in, we promptly stepped outside into the clouds to try and trace our shadows. It was here that we made a rather significant study – gray skies and gray pavement don’t make a great recipe for shadows. However, as all good geographers do, our students and grandparents persevered and got [most] of their shadows traced! Afterwards, we introduced the young geographers to our weather measuring instruments to record the temperature and wind speed and direction. After a few moments and some ‘self-directed’ studies, the class discovered that it was much more fun to measure how hard they could blow into the measuring devices instead. Seeing as it could measure your breathe in lieu of the wind, we decided to accept it as ‘science.’

Once the wind (and our breaths) were recorded, we ventured back inside to continue our lectures and showed the class how to make clouds with 2-litre bottles, rubbing alcohol, and matches (sorry mom and dad). In our defense, however, their teachers probably taught them first (sorry teachers!). In all seriousness though, this experiment was a big success as it was a great way to educate them on how high and low pressure systems work and how clouds form within the atmosphere. We continued on with a temperature race and had the class hypothesize which sand would heat faster – wet sand, or dry sand? What we found instead however, is that it takes much longer than 15 minutes under a heat lamp to see any significant changes and that instead of the term, “it’s like watching paint dry” we can now instead say, “it’s like watching sand heat.” However, all science requires experiments like this and the students gave some incredibly insightful reasons as to what type of sand would heat faster. It was uplifting to hear the class discuss whether water or air was a better heat conductor and to make the observations that they did.

We ended the morning with using stereograms to view aerial photos. Growing up in the age of technology and Google Earth, it was mind-blowing to see two photos side-by-side transformed into 3D landscapes using a pair of lenses. (Between you and me, this is way cooler than Google Earth). More stereogram, less Instagram, am I right? We then navigated our way to lunch time, fueled up, and got ready for the last few hours of their Degree!

After lunch, our instructor and resident Geoscience guru, Roxanne, took over to talk about rocks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids so excited about rocks before. Roxanne absolutely ROCKED it! So much so that I can only refer to her as Rocks-anne from now on. Finally however, was the part the kids were anticipating all day; the escape room! It was here that we told our geographers our secret; they were actually being trained to help us retrieve sunken treasure and we needed their new skills to find the location of the sunken ship. Using their compass, map, GPS and navigating skills, they had just one hour to solve the puzzles, the riddles and the mystery of where the treasure was located. With just 15 minutes left, our geographers rallied together, put their skills to the test and retrieved the treasure! The 5 locks protecting it were no match, and the vault was opened, revealing its golden coins. Much to their excitement (and my disappointment) the gold was actually chocolate (if it was only real gold, I could have retired in my 20’s…) and they shared their spoils with their grandparents. After their victory, they made their way triumphantly down to the theatre where they received their GKU degrees alongside the rest of the classes.

Overall, being a part of the Grandkid’s University was an amazing experience and one that none of us will soon forget. For us as the instructors, it was amazing seeing young minds get excited over the same things that we get up every day and work for. Through all of the excitement however, I was left with just one question; how can I graduate from university in just two days?! Seriously, if anyone knows, please email me.

Thank you greatly to all of the grandparents and favourite adults who brought their grandchildren in to participate. It couldn’t be done without you.