Sunday, May 02, 2004

Exploratorium

Friday: Field Trip to the American Museum of Natural History, to see the visiting exhibit from San Francisco's Exploratorium. I was in charge of the trip, and we took the entire school, so you can imagine that I was a bit nervous Friday morning. We had 12 chaperones, a mix of parents and teachers, and 100 students. It was, in the end, the best field trip I've ever attended, including field trips I went on as a kid!

First of all, the parents who came with us were great. Two had experience working with groups of kids, and all were responsible and really willing to help out with jobs like watching a group of kids outside the gift shop so that we could supervise those still inside. I have been on my share of field trips where the parents are there to fill out the number of chaperones (you must have a 1:10 adult:student ratio), but they need supervision almost as much as the kids! These parents were nothing like that, which was very helpful.

The exhibit itself awed the kids. The Exploratorium is a large science museum in San Francisco which is full of small hands-on discovery stations. I love the place and am still waiting to hear whether I got into their summer teacher program. (Cross fingers!). When we entered, the first thing they saw was a round bowl with white smoke coming out of it. They flocked around it. An explainer encouraged them to smell it, touch it, wave their hands in it, even taste it on their tongues. And from there, the kids were off, checking out all the stations, showing each other neat things, running their hands through sand, combining their faces through trick mirrors, spinning on the momentum machine..... they were engaged, extremely well-behaved, and they even asked questions of the explainers! I had given them an assignment - to do two "mini-experiments" at two different stations in the exhibit - and when I looked around the exhibit, children were sitting everywhere, filling in their worksheets. The teachers had fun, too. Our math teacher spun on the momentum machine and had to sit down, he got so dizzy! Our Communication Arts teacher walked around and asked questions of the kids to get them thinking more deeply about the activities they were trying. I took pictures with the school's digital camera, although most did not come out due to the very low light in the exhibit.

We took the kids to the museum store, where they bought lots of rock candy and brightly-colored, very sour liquids in test tubes, and some also bought books of science experiments, interesting pens, and other neat stuff.

And then we ate lunch on the steps of the museum in the sunshine, boarded the buses, and headed back to school. The kids were very, VERY well-behaved the whole time; I am SO proud of them.

Afterwards, when I was walking to the school parking lot with two other teachers, one of our seventh graders - a girl who has really struggled socially & academically this year, and whose family is quite poor - told me, "I wish I could live at that museum!" I asked her and her two friends if they'd read the book about the children who run away and live for a while in the Metropolitan Museum of Art - From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - and suggested they write a short story about kids living in the Exploratorium exhibit at the Natural History Museum.

When we got in the car, we talked about that comment about living in the museum. Friday's trip was one of the rare occasions for truly free, creative play for our kids. The lack of creative play is partly due to the specific circumstances of their lives and neighborhood - no backyards, parks sometimes unsafe, not necessarily enough money for art supplies, legos, and the like - and partly due to the times having changed since I was a kid - video games and tv are pervasive. Their generation is the first whose parents grew up watching lots of tv and playing video games, and many of their parents still do play video games, and that changes everything. Mind you, this is not every family or every parent.

By the way, my principal spoke to the teacher who talks about us to the kids' parents - he denied everything. But at least he knows we know, and the teacher whom this affects most feels like it has been addressed, if not necessarily resolved.

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