Two days ago we had the Bountiful 8th graders here. 240 of them. It worked. Sure, there were a couple of hitches, like group number 7 was dropped from the schedule for slot C, but it was one of those things that once this was discovered you feel a sense of relief: “Oh, that’s the problem that I prepared myself with a restless night’s sleep. This is what our problems are going to amount to.” And that was pretty much it. The Dean didn’t make it back for the closing address, but I made a pickle glow instead. It was just as well.
I’m always amazed when things go smoothly, and frankly that was all due to many others making sure people got guided and double checking the schedule and then being where they needed to be. It’s nice to see this all in action.
And it’s nice to see a room of 60 8th graders (in my sessions) clapping for a Newton’s cradle demonstration or cheering that the rocket bottle sparked and lit and exploded in grand fashion. And, when they all came back together, all 240 at once, they all clapped in appreciation for a day of university science. That, to me, was pretty amazing. How often do a bunch of 14-year-olds get to do that? Perhaps they knew the rarity of the situation.
Today I had preschoolers from Miss Pat’s classes (AM and PM). They, much smaller than the 8th graders (or anyone else, for that matter) all sat in the front row and offered suggestions and imagined possibilities for what would happen. They’re amazed that the bowling ball and the soccer ball fall at the same rate, they’re transfixed by the steel balls of Newton’s cradle bouncing off one another, they love the possibility that a bucket of water could dump all over me when I’m orbiting it around my head, and they delight that I can “lose” a balloon by sticking on my head. (Today, the balloon rolled down behind me and stuck to my backside, which was obviously hilarious.)
These kinds of things remind me of a couple of experiences from previous visits with classes last year. They’re the kind of stories that seem to tuck further and further into a corner of my head, and I forget the details as the memories start to hide away. So, maybe I should write those down.
Last year, Anna’s first grade came for physics demos in the lecture hall here, and I think we were all surprised when her teacher asked Anna to introduce me to everyone. Anna, quiet and reserved, had to explain how I was in front of 80 kids in the lecture hall. It went like this:
“This is my dad . . . He does science experiments.”
And that was it. It was the best intro I’ve ever gotten. It was nice that those two identities could be hand-in-hand, admitted by a 7-year-old to all of her peers and that (at least for now) she could be proud of that.
Then I had to make sure I could hold it together, not cry, and go on with a bunch of science demos.
My other memorable visit last year was to Grace’s classroom, a preschool “lab” program here on campus. There they have regular teachers plus a couple of student teachers plus a bunch of other students who come in and help. It’s all in one of those classrooms that’s completely self-contained with all the stuff you need as a preschooler (blocks in one corner, a sensory table in another spot, a reading nook, doors to the play area outside, an adjoining kitchen, etc.). Included is a set of mini sinks and toilets tucked away in little stalls.
So there I was, at the sensory table with lots of bubbles that were foaming as dry ice was put in water underneath them, and me and the kids are watching them grow and popping them and playing, when “Johnny” comes to play, totally mesmerized by what we’re doing. But, he’d just been in the stall a few feet away, and he hadn’t really finished putting himself back together. So there’s Johnny, just “hanging” there, watching me, wanting to get in on the action, and I found myself not quite knowing exactly what to do but saying, “Johnny, we need to wear pants to do science.” [Fortunately, that’s about the time one of the teachers was making her way over to help in a matter that I have no training whatsoever in.]
And it occurred to me that this is exactly the message worth conveying to kids. You don’t really need anything to do science other than yourself. And pants. That attitude in preschool is perhaps the one thread that we need to pull through all of our curricula and society.
And then “Sally”, across the table from me asked innocently, “What about a dress?”
Of course, yes, a dress is okay too.
And this has since become my new standard for science education. Just bring yourself, wearing pants (or a dress), and then you’re ready.