Thursday, August 16, 2012

Understanding: Boys & Girls Club Stories

This week we’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2011-12 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. These stories were shared by Leah Paladino and John Rossi, members of the team that served 133 kids in a Museum Learning Club at the Boys & Girls Club in the South Side of Providence, where they explored math concepts through engaging hands-on activities.

Hungry for Math
In an after-school setting, it is rare to hear a child profess his or her love for mathematics.  Math is often a subject that students feel overwhelmed by and afraid of.  Leading activities that mix in math at the South Side Boys & Girls Club is thus not an easy task. Hearing children recall that there are three feet in a yard or say that a hundreds chart is a useful counting tool feels great, but seeing them really understand math concept and use it without prompting is the best.

One Friday, several girls were playing with pattern blocks together, making designs and stacking them, when one girl made a “hamburger” out of her blocks.  After pretending to gobble it down and claiming it to be delicious, a make-believe restaurant was founded.  The adults in the room acted as customers while the kids created menus, the food, a waitressing and dishwashing system, and money, all from materials found in the room. 

Without any adult aid, math was incorporated into a child-created activity – adding, subtracting, monetary values and estimation.  Children enthusiastically worked at the “cash register,” adding up the prices from the menu and giving back the correct amount of change.  Of course the prices were outrageous for the amount of food we received, but isn’t that how fine dining works?
– Leah
Leah, Meagan and Learning Club kids at a Museum family night.
A True Scientist
At the South Side Boys & Girls Club, it can, at times, be a struggle with our kids; so eager to learn but stumbling over obstacles in their lives. Some of our kids become disheartened, frustrated and may break down. At these points, we as educators also become frustrated. We have lessons set out for them and we want them to reach goals. But as role models and friends, we also know the importance of calling a time out. Letting kids vent, be silly, or even take a day off from Museum Club are important parts of the learning process. We need to be aware of the ever-changing dynamics for each child, and to acknowledge the difficulties that come with being a kid before they come to a head.

One of our “all-stars,” a fifth grader named D’Zire, had “one of those weeks.” Nothing seemed to be going right; homework and school, interactions with friends, not even our activities. D’Zire was working on string telephones, and we just couldn’t get her voice through the cup and across the string to my ears. Seeing her frustration building, I called a time out. “D’Zire, let’s take a walk and think about this.”

Surprised, she looked up and was at first hesitant. I nodded toward the door, and she calmly got up and headed out. We talked about how she was disappointed with a test score that day, and how she didn’t get to dinner in time at the Club. She just wanted the cups to go right, and not even our designed activity would work for her! I just listened, and when we had done a lap of the club we headed back in. Suddenly, she said, “What if we made the string longer?” “How much longer?,” I asked. “I think three or four inches will do it. Right now, it’s only about five inches long. I think all we’re hearing is each others' real voices, not the vibrations of the string.”

I was blown away. She had been solving this problem in her head the whole time. She is a true scientist, always thinking. She was able to connect the math involved with increasing the length of the string with the phenomenon of the sound’s vibration across it. It was able to travel the greater distance, as long as the string was taut. When she cleared her mind to me on our little walk, it became clear as day to her. She knew how to tackle the problem.

That is our job, rolled into one 10-minute block. These kids are brilliant, sometimes we just need to be there to flick the switch.
– John
John and one of his club scientists.

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