Friday, March 25, 2005

Report from the Science Expo

It was a success, though not without stressful moments.

One thing I love is that I have to drag (many of) my judges kicking & screaming to the Bronx, but they almost always end up having a blast. P. was a bit lukewarm about judging - he really doesn't like schools - and joined at the last minute, but he had fun. Same thing has happened with several other people. And all the judges found the kids polite & professional, which is what I want to hear.

Especially since, on the way home from the Bronx last night, I noticed that the moon was full (or certainly looked it). I scheduled a major school event for the full moon?! Ask even the most rational teacher - and I'm a candidate for that title - and they will tell you that the full moon brings out the kids' inner werewolves.

The eighth graders pulled together their projects really well, albeit at the last minute. As a person who works best under a certain amount of pressure, and often does major projects at the last minute, I realize that some of their delaying may have been inevitable. But I would like to re-train them when they are young to start working on projects early. Their projects were good but imagine what a little more feedback early in the process could have done....

Anyway, when they were younger I complained that - possibly due to a lack of art experiences early in their education - they had no aesthetic skills (and believe me, I'm talking about basic stuff here like cutting neatly, not simply design choices different from my own). It's really nice to see that they have come a long way in that department. Presentation DOES matter.

Even more importantly, they've come really far in their scientific thinking. There was only one project that made absolutely no sense, and several that were excellent. Many kids have figured out how to analyze data and look for patterns and discrepancies. They are still plagued by small sample sizes. Some had difficulty finding background information but they did much better than in previous years and most groups tried to relate their conclusions to their research.

The winning eighth grade projects were about whether people with acne have more bacteria on their faces, and whether different kinds of music affect your ability to concentrate on math problems.

One of the two girls who won burst into tears as she accepted her award, and gave me a big hug. She wants to be doctor. Her family, while tight-knit, isn't always the best influence on her education - her cousins skip school on Fridays, and she often does as well. I think she's been sexually active for a while. She works incredibly hard in school, though, and usually gets good grades in science. I really, really hope she fulfills her dreams, but I think for that to happen, everything will have to fall into place perfectly for her over the next few years. I see the number of challenges she faces. One nice thing was that her mom was in the audience last night. Another teacher told me that this girl's mother might be dying of cancer... it's always a little hard to know exactly what's going on but it seems that she's sick.

The seventh grade projects turned out really well. The winning project had to do with carbonation in cold soda and warm soda. It was awesome in every respect. We had two visitors from the Region - sadly, they arrived a little late when the children were already on their way home - but they asked if they could have that project for PD if we didn't want to keep it ourselves (we do). They seemed pleased with the Science Expo, and I think they would have been even more pleased if they'd been able to talk to the children.

The sixth grade projects were pretty weak, which I attribute to a combination of factors - part of it is the kids' inexperience with science, part of it is that they have a brand new teacher, part of it is just that they are still fairly concrete thinkers and the task is pretty hard for them, part of it is that even in their six months in our school they haven't done quite as many experiments as I would have liked. The winning group found that diet soda floats in water while regular soda sinks - this is because regular soda has a huge amount of sugar in it, while diet soda has nutrasweet or something similar which achieve the same level of sweetness with only a few grains of the sweetener, so those cans contain way less "stuff" in the same volume. They're less dense. Anyway, they systematically added salt to the water and found the point at which the regular soda would also float. It was a good project although they did not completely understand why it worked.

The afternoon session was a great success. The evening session, which we held for the first time this year, was fairly stressful. The teachers supervising the sixth graders made some poor decisions regarding behavior, a couple of judges couldn't make it at the last minute so I had to scramble to get the judging finished, and in general the teachers were exhausted but the kids were bouncing off the walls. I was very stressed out for a good half an hour, but in the end it all worked out.

So, I'd say the day was a success. Next week I am going to hand out reflection sheets to ALL the teachers to get their feedback and ideas, and our Science dept. meeting will be dedicated to debriefing. I'm also going to give my students an opportunity to reflect.

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