Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Days Until the Science Expo: 20

It got dark too early yesterday for me to walk over to the river, so this morning around 6:30 am I got off my bus long before my usual stop, crossed the FDR on a pedestrian bridge, and attempted to obtain river water for my students. I was carrying my backpack, my pocketbook, and a large red duffle containing 33 agar-filled petri dishes, a box of gelatin, Q-tips, and various other objects needed by my little scientists. Unfortunately, I discovered that a construction site had blocked off the section of the park where I thought I might just be able to reach the water with my Tupperware pitcher. Walked back through the park, across the FDR to the bus stop, and continued my journey to school, where I knew I would face my students' disappointment. They took it pretty well, actually, and decided to just use salt water rather than river water so that I wouldn't spend tonight running up and down the East River... Maybe they picked up on how tired I am. I've been getting up earlier than usual, and going to bed much later than usual, and not sleeping that well.

Still, the kids are doing well, even if each Science period feels like running a marathon! A typical period goes like this: The kids come in, sit down, and wait (quietly?) for announcements. I review what they should be working on (usually a few options) and ask questions to try to ascertain what projects will be going on during that period. The kids grow more and more restless, so pretty soon I unleash them. Some come up to the front of the room to get laptops from the cart; others get all their materials out to start doing an experiment. Five or six hands shoot up, and at least one voice plaintively calls out, "Ms. Frizzle?" I mentally note who seems to need the most help just to get started, and tell them whom I will be helping first, second, third. The first group usually needs materials. I dash about, getting gelatin out of my bag, papers from my desk, beakers from the cabinet. No matter where I go, I hear my name and see hands popping up. I try to acknowledge each request for help by telling the kids who I am working with and how soon I'll get to them. There're usually one or two arguments along the lines of, "But, but, I just have one little question!" I try to be firm in requiring them to wait their turn so that I can give my full attention to the group I am with at each moment. After each group is started working, the next round of needs is usually computer related; I help kids learn to search effectively and explain how to remove the frames from AskJeeves results. I remind groups to take out their notebooks when they are doing research, because it is not just free web-surfing time. I ask to see the subtopics they came up with for their Background Research report. I remind them of the instructions for doing research. By now, the groups who are working on experiments usually need some help - they often encounter unexpected problems as they begin carrying out their Procedures. One group today nearly melted a beaker (long story)! Inevitably, I promise something to someone early on in the period, then forget to get it for them, and twenty minutes later holler at them for not doing anything, only to have them tell me that they're waiting for me to give them a [insert important object or document here]. At least one group brings me a conflict to settle - in a minute or less, figure out roughly what the problem is, calm down all sides, suggest some solutions, re-focus them on the work at hand. The period is sprinkled with moments of frustration - several groups have started experiments only to do something so wrong that they have to start over from scratch - and moments of joy - as when a group excitedly describes their results to me - and moments when I have to delicately balance my ideal world with practical considerations - as when one group wants to show other kids some cool science thing they've found on the web and although I know, deep in my heart, that sharing excitement about science is a good thing, I have to tell them to go back to work and to focus on their own projects. At some point I check my watch and gasp! It's time to start packing up. Documents must be saved and emailed to themselves. Laptops must be shut down and returned to the cart. Experiments must be cleaned up. Each child must complete a small journal entry explaining what they did that day and their goals for the next day. The kids have to pack up their books and get calm and quiet and ready to go to the next class - and I have to return the room (and my mind) to some level of order so that the next class can start fresh.

I sent out a little email to my friends asking them to volunteer as judges... And the final scoring rubric arrived today, which I will hand out and discuss with the students in the hopes that they will get a better idea of what they are shooting for with this project. I am excited, I am exhausted, and I am excited again!


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