Friday, August 16, 2013

Persistence: A Learning Club Story

We’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2012-13 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close this week. This story was shared by Alexandra Fleagle, a member of the team that conducted after-school Learning Clubs for 12 community organizations in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls and engaged kids ages 6-12 in fun hands-on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities.

At Fox Point Boys & Girls Club, our Learning Club kids had challenging attitudes towards school, science, each other, and their own potential to learn. Over the first few weeks, we learned what they needed and slowly earned their trust. However, I wondered how they would respond to my lesson on acids, bases and the pH scale. It was content-heavy and involved “painting” with a solution of turmeric and alcohol. These kids made a mess with wet glue; what was I thinking giving them something that permanently stains?
It turns out I had nothing to worry about – the kids were engaged from the moment I began. I mixed vinegar and baking soda to demonstrate a neutralization reaction and talked about how chemical reactions create completely different substances. It was going so well that I took a risk and started talking about chemical formulae and ions. “Acids have high concentrations of H+ ions, while bases have OH- ions. When they come together, you have two ‘H’s and ‘O.’ Does anyone know what those atoms make?” Their eyes widened with excitement and recognition, followed by shouts of “H2O!” “Water!” “We just talked about this in school today!”
During the main activity, they experimented and discovered the pH of 10 substances. Juliette, who was often vocal about her dislike of school and science, was the most eager to get started. After a while I saw her sit down and asked if she had finished. “Let me tell you what I found!” she said, and proceeded to explain her results as well as her reasoning and hypotheses. During the post-experiment discussion, kids who usually didn’t talk were eager to share their discoveries, and we began to explore why they were important and how we use this science in everyday life.
Next, I introduced the art activity, explaining that we were trusting them to act responsibly with the turmeric. They rose to the occasion. Jayhoni had been one of the most cynical members of the group. It had been very difficult to engage, let alone impress, her with any of the activities. But as she was painting, I heard her exclaim, “This is awesome!” The rest of the Club agreed. It had been a very good day.

No comments: