Friday, February 18, 2011

Field trip!

So, yesterday I helped run a field trip that was one of the coolest super-relevant citizen science things I had ever seen. The teacher found out that one of the student's father runs a u-fish down the road. Since she had connections with the Nisqually Institute, an environmental science research group that encourages student participation in real science, she was able to get a bunch of water purity testing kits.

I really didn't know much going into the trip, as we had been focusing on other things, but there was another teacher there to help, which was very useful, as she left halfway through to go to a textbook adoption meeting, leaving me to handle her batch of kids. We wandered around the u-fish, collected water samples, and got out hands dirty. Jim, the proprietor of the u-fish, was kind enough to give me a pair of work boots, as I had stupidly come in dress shoes, so the entire experience was pleasant.

After the other teacher had done the hazardous duty of collecting water from ice cold streams, we all went back to a cabin where we did the tests. For the most part, these were student led- I would read off the instructions, but they had already done water testing before, so this was all familiar to them. They took down data, and I took photos.

After the data was collected, we cleaned up, ate some donuts, and headed back. The entire experience was exhilarating and exhausting, (There was a moment of panic when I realized that the DO kit had sulpheric acid, something that, on principle, 13 year olds shouldn't be touching) but ultimately very positive. It was local, relevant, real science, and used a cool bit of basic inquiry by asking students to identify if they thought the water was pure before testing it, then going back to that to lead conversations on water purity. Very cool stuff.

What was depressing was hearing how hard it was to make this type of thing happen. There is a lot of political resistance due to funding issues, safety issues, and standards relevance (this took place during a life science unit), but the experience is so meaningful for the kids that I think it is entirely worth it.

So, that was cool.

I also have been really working on building relationships with the kids. The more I talk to them and figure out where they are coming from, the more it seems like I will be able to motivate them to learn, either by finding ways to make it relevant to them, or simply by having a good rapport with them. I need to make sure I'm staying in the professional range and not being too nice, but at the same time, I think they're getting the idea that I really do care about them and want to help them learn. That's important.

One student said, "Mr J, you're a nerd." "Your point?" "It's not a bad thing, you just are..." I then proceeded to continue enthusiastically explaining a concept she had been asking about, and I think she really got it. She had been curious about it, and it felt good to help a student understand.

I really enjoy this teaching thing.


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