Monday, May 03, 2010

Science Sunday :: Get Wired

A spark. An idea. A plan. A vision. Success.

Last week my cousin and her daughter were over for a casual afternoon of play and lunching. Priscilla is a grade school teacher in San Diego, so naturally we talked about schools and lessons, testing, learning... all of it. When we got to the subject of science, Priscilla and I agreed: Some people get it, and some people struggle to get it. She was not looking forward to an impending lesson about electricity, and circuits. I totally understood her frustration about wanting to give the students a good experience, but feeling kind of detached from the subject because of not getting it.

Electricity? Circuits? Magnetism, polarity? I don't get it either. You've heard me joke about enjoying the "mystery," but that's just a humorous way of admitting that no matter how hard I try, there are some topics that never quite sink in. But I still like trying, especially if the difficult topic is covered in a relaxed way, with patience, pasta and hands-on demonstrations. And most especially if someone else will read the manual for me. Oh Lord. Why are manuals written in a foreign (read: boring and confusing) language?

This discussion about making new lessons easier and accessible to all, sparked an idea in my head, and because I sometimes can be impulsive I said: Come back next week. We will play with wires, and Alex can show us what's what.

I said "what's what" because I talk technical.

Like how I recruited Alex?

The idea was simple enough. We would enjoy another potluck lunch. Emma and Maria could play together. And the science-able people could help us science-challenged people by talking-doing-playing-teaching science. We made it a plan. Meet. Eat. Teach and learn.

Then my plan started evolving in to a vision.

Poor Geoff. He has only one vision: Unpack the garage. The things he has to put up with, like me, and my "visions."

My vision goes something like this: Bring together people that want to share science, both teaching and learning, so that we can casually, relaxedly hang out, and exchange ideas, play with tools, build, make, deconstruct, instruct, eat brownies, observe, discuss, and leave inspired, smart(er), and happy(er).

Then my vision collided with another vision, and a new vision was born!

Meanwhile, poor Geoff is trying to get me to focus on his vision. He is so disciplined. Like a scientist. I am so flighty, like a chiceken chicken.

In FIRST there are many incentives for, and a lot of emphasis on: Community Outreach. And in Atlanta, I was really motivated by Dean Kamen's vision about inspiring everyone to get involved... to "transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes."

The new vision, born of my other visions, is about how the robotics club can begin to more carefully document their involvement in community outreach, and also create new means of benefitting their community as young artists, scientists, and thinkers. So instead of just having our science potluck, enjoying the lessons, and moving on, I thought we would emphasize that Alex is from 2102 Team Paradox, that he has a knowledge of electronics and circuitry, of building and using his metal shop skills, and that he is formally offering to teach his skills to a teacher, so that she can improve her skills and be inspired when she goes back to her fifth graders and teaches science. And for him to document the process and outcome.

As I seek to find my place as a mentor, and spirited parent, for the club, I am learning too. I know that the students themselves decide their course and make the decisions, but this experience gave me an opportunity to field test my idea, so that when I present it to the students I can offer details and specific pictures of my vision. So, I think of myself as a facilitator in this experiment, and as much as possible I let Alex take leadership and show initiative. Now we have a teacher getting new perspectives and guidance on a specific set of science lesson skills, and we have a student learning about leadership, public speaking, organizational and instructional skills. Everybody wins. And the pasta and brownies were delicious.

Before Priscilla arrived, Alex, Max and William were doing a little science on their own. Maybe a future Science Sunday theme? "Dangerous things?" I side with Gever Tulley.

We keep it safe.

Our First Science Sunday

We chose our theme: Electronics.
Priscilla brought the kit she would use in the classroom.
Inspired moment: Let Alex read the manual.
He read it, then broke it down, explained bits, and then introduced the components and key elements.

My contribution to the process was keeping Maria and Emma engaged in their own science. So we introduced water, turkey basters, funnels, and colored tablets.
Blue + Pink = Purple = Fun

Bright futures... as chemists, or cooks, or chemists that cook. The possibilities are limitless.

Maria revealed that she has dish washing skills, and I have to say I am proud.
Actually, both Emma and Maria were very in to washing dishes.
I had to resist bringing out more from my kitchen.

With the girls pouring and scrubbing, with William and Max observing, and Geoff unpacking, the lesson continued. Alex assembled the kit, demonstrating both a series circuit and a... a... oh gee, what was the other kind? End to end, with wires... keeps the battery voltage the same? I was involved in the water lesson, so I guess I did not retain as much info about the two kinds of circuits as I meant to.

I did learn that in this configuration the batteries' voltages increase, because they are in a series and the energy is added up. Something like that. Okay, don't quote me. But I swear I understand it better than I ever did before.

One thing about kits... they can be a bit flimsy (read: cheaply made) and this can give an inexperienced scientist a lot of frustration. If things are falling apart or not fitting together easily, you may think it's your own lack of skills. Don't blame yourself. Blame the supplies. Once Alex assembled the lesson, he did Priscilla the favor of soldering the components together. Now she has a working example to show her students, one that will stay together. And now she understands what might be frustrating for her students, so she can anticipate this and help them get passed it.

From here Alex and William shared their vast knowledge and respect of Nikola Tesla. We love Tesla. Now Priscilla loves Tesla, which made the boys really happy. They are always more than happy to introduce anyone to the unsung hero of electricity.

In Max's school a poster of Edison hangs on a door. Under his image it says: "It took him 1,000 attempts to invent the light bulb."
Max wants to make his own poster, with Tesla's picture and this statement: "Tesla invented and made 250,000 light bulbs in two days, and it was 98% more efficient." He used those light bulbs to light the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, when Edison refused to let them use his bulbs.

We love Tesla. Just saying.

Alex made illustrations of other motors, pumps, and components, and he brought out some repurposed toys and parts that he likes to play with.

Priscilla thought it was neat that old and broken toys, can still be fun, still be useful.
It is neat.
If you didn't know already, and I had to learn this from Geoff: It's a real good idea to take things apart. Disassemble, dissect, deconstruct... discovery is an amazing opportunity for learning.

Here is a small motor taken from a friend's motorized super-soaker. The big squirt gun wasn't working any more, but when Alex took it apart, he found that the motor was still good. He wired it to a series of batteries, to demonstrate another circuit. Priscilla asked about why the water moved through...

... and Alex described what was happening, and why.

Priscilla is a good teacher too, so it made her a helpful student. She asked good questions, shared her interest and enthusiasm. I think this added to Alex's experience, by leading him to offering more information.

A spark. An idea. A plan. A vision. Success.

Priscilla is going to get back to Alex and let him know how the lesson with her students goes. I think just getting a fresh perspective, and encouragement will make a nice difference for her. And I really appreciate what Alex gained... he learned he can share his knowledge, and his confidence and perspective were encouraged too.

Above all, we all had a really good time together. I think we may even be smart(er), and happy(er), which is so cool.


mtnchild said...

Hmmm ... Alex is a science teacher in training ? ? ?

I'm glad this worked out for everyone involved and I am now waiting to hear how it went with Priscilla's class.


judy in ky said...

One of my proudest moments in college: my hairdryer stopped working so I took it apart and figured out how to fix it. Somehow I determined that I needed a funny-shaped thing to turn something inside. I went to the hardware store and described what I needed. It turned out to be an allen wrench... and I didn't even know it existed before I figured out that was what I needed. And it worked!

Jennifer said...

So beyond thrilled with how incredible your vision is, and how cool its (first) execution was. This is the best stuff----

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Wow! What a great day of sunshine and learning, not to mention brownies!
Very, very cool!

warren said...

This is a great idea! Science Sunday seems like a ton of fun! Now back to the dangerous stuff!

Anonymous said...

I am excited about the results. Updates to come from my science class!