2017 Operation SMART Program

The 2017 Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta Operation SMART Program ran from September 16th to November 4th with a total of seven sessions introducing girls aged 10-14 to different STEM fields. The program had over 20 different STEM professionals from the Oil Sands industry and the surrounding Wood Buffalo region come out to speak to the girls and to facilitate activities related to different science and engineering professions.

Week 1 – Introduction

In the first week the girls were excited to be introduced to the concepts of engineering design and project management! They started off with an activity to build a structure from only newspaper within 10 minutes! The structure had to be at least 3 inches tall and hold a sponge on top. This activity taught them to balance time, resources and scope.

For the second activity the girls took what they learned about engineering design and project management and created contraptions to protect an egg. In this egg drop challenge they used simple items like balloons, bubble wrap, cardboard and sponges. Some were successes, others went SPLAT, but everyone had a blast!

Lastly, the girls were introduced to different engineering disciplines. They watched a video on the different engineers who work together to build a vending machine, and were tasked to choose one item, discuss which engineering disciplines were involved, and how they could improve the item.

One group chose a water fountain; civil engineers work on the public water system, chemical engineers help treat the water, mechanical engineers design the pumps that move the water, electrical engineers ensure there is power to cool the water before you drink it and industrial engineers design the height and placement of buttons and water spout for ergonomics! And how could we improve? A water fountain with multiple options for juice or soda!


Week 2 – Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering

In the second week, the girls learned about mechanical engineering concepts. They started off working with K’Nex to learn the principles of simple machines. Everyone built their own device and calculated the gear ratio!

The girls then learned about the concept of buoyancy, making clay boats by measuring mass, volume and density and determining displacement. It got a little messy with the sticky wet clay but with a little help from the volunteer engineers we had a couple successful boats that held up weights!

Lastly the girls learned about aerodynamic shapes and built their own paper rockets and helicopters. Needless to say there was a lot of paper flying around the classroom!


Week 3 – Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy

In week 3, the girls were introduced to electrical engineering concepts. Split into teams, the groups were given batteries, motors, buzzers and lights and were tasked with making a circuit and drawing the circuit diagram.

The girls applied those concepts to renewable energy, creating a wind turbine using motors and cardboard paper. The girls got a little competitive to see who could generate the most electricity with their turbines!

Finally the girls then applied concepts of circuits and brought back their learning of gears to build a solar power machines. The girls worked in teams to build the kits, but unfortunately we ran out of time to test them out! We’ll have to try again next time!


Week 4 – Chemical and Environmental Engineering

In week 4, the girls learned about chemical and environmental processes. They split into 2 groups to do two different activities.

The first activity was a environmental experiment. The girls discussed the contaminants that could end up in a storm drain, like soil, leaves, garbage and other contaminants. They then had to design a filtration system to remove the contaminants from the water. Their filters used rocks, sand, filter paper and cotton balls.

The second activity was a chemistry activity to make a bio-plastic. The girls moved over to the kitchen to cook up some plastic made from cornstarch, vinegar, food coloring and glycerin. The girls learned material science concepts testing the material properties of the reactions as well as their final plastic product.

Finally, the girls learned process engineering concepts and made process flow diagrams for their water treatment system, their bio-plastic process and for other processes they’ve done before. They learned about the equipment needed to scale up the chemical processes and made their own PFD designs!


Week 5: Oil Sands Discovery Centre

In week 5, the girls went to the Oil Sands Discovery Centre to learn about Mining, Petroleum and Geotechnical Engineering.

In the first activity the girls donned their lab coats to test the porosity of different rocks. They learned why oil gets trapped in the sand and which geological structures can trap oil sand deposits.

The girls then went on a scavenger hunt throughout the museum, learning about all of the stages of the oil sands process, from mining with the heavy haul trucks, to in-situ SAGD operations, to pipeline transportation and reclamation of ecological systems.

Then the girls completed a core sampling activity. Play-doh was used to make ‘deposits’ with different colors of clay representing bedrock, oil sand and water. The girls took core samples and had to determine which would be better for a mine and which might be better for a well. They each had to sketch their samples to show the best match.

The girls then actually got to extract bitumen from oil sand using a hot water extraction technique. Safety mitts were used to prevent any burns from the hot water.

Finally, the girls applied geotechnical concepts to build a tailings dam. The task was to keep their toy farm animals safe from flooding. They started by building a dam out of sand. They learned the concept of liquifaction, when earth movements can cause instability in deposits containing water. They also learned about seepage and how liquid can move through sand and rock. Their animals did not survive very well with the sand dams. They then tried dams made out of clay. We had some much happier farm animals, safe and dry!


Week 6 – Civil and Industrial Engineering

In week 6, the girls learned civil and industrial engineering concepts. Their first task was to make candy bag assembly lines. The criteria was to make candy bags filled with at least 4 types of candy and tie them with a ribbon. They did 2 iterations, first individually, and then in an assembly lines. Then we discussed how we could optimize their assembly lines to make them even faster!

Then the girls learned about the concept of road planning and logistics when they had to determine the best route for trick or treating! A ‘road’ layout was created with houses containing candy. The girls had a set time to go to as many houses as they can, get as much candy and get back to their home base before time is up! Multiple iterations were done so that girls could discuss, plan, and improve their route plan.

Lastly, the girls applied engineering design principles to build a bridge to hold the most candy! They used materials like cardboard, string, styrofoam, wooden skewers and tape.


Week 7: Computer Science

In the final week, the girls learned the concepts of programming starting with a PB&J program! The girls had to write a ‘code’ to complete the steps of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Our volunteers acted as the ‘computers’ following the code. For many it did not go exactly as planned. Any instructions not specific enough or missing implied steps ended up with some wonky PB&Js!

Finally using the MIT Scratch software. This drag and drop block programming language teaches the girls the concepts of random variables, if statements, and for loops. The girls applied these concepts to make their own online board game in Scratch!

The girls learned many different engineering and problem solving concepts throughout the program. Looking forward to some more fun-filled activities next year!



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