What has ensured the success and sustainability of this work has been the collaboration with the science teacher and school administration. This has enabled me to tailor the activities and projects to align with the curricular goals and to embed them with essential competencies. Another important factor is the special knowledge the teacher has of her students and my listening and getting to know them over time. She understands what will be relevant to the students and how to leverage student interest and anticipation for it to have a positive effect on the students other academic work overall. Additionally the students are not only motivated because of the program, but because they love their teacher.
Because she knows her students, the classroom teacher has noticed the program is making a positive impact on them. She has told me she knows the kids love the program because of overhearing them telling their friends and peers in other classes what they are doing and how great it is. According to Jennifer Gonzalez in her blog post, Cult of Pedagogy: Teachers, Nerds, Unite, “8 Things I Know for Sure About Middle School Kids”, posted on October 1, 2014, one of the unique qualities of middle school students is that the opinions of their peers matter more to them than anyone else’s.
Another aspect of middle school learners is their need for concrete experiences in order for the learning to have a lasting impact. Even though the curriculum is about very abstract topics such as atoms, the activities have given them real things they can observe first hand and do, while at the same time made it, as the kids describe it, “fun”. To learn about minerals and mining, most of what the students were exposed to in previous years, were text books and videos. This program enabled them to work with real minerals in creative ways with their peers and enabled them to move their bodies, aspects that are important to middle school students.
Carrying out hands on activities in classes of 30 students is hard work. However, seeing the look of amazement and wonder on the student’s faces, when they discover something new, or when they have success solving a challenge makes it all worthwhile. The value of having these positive and educationally meaningful experiences is best understood from student’s quotes: “It was a cool way of learning”; “These science activities are great and fun”; “Science makes me understand more in life. It gives me a chance to learn to do things and have fun while doing It.”; “You actually gets to see how it works.”; “The activities show us an educational purpose”; “I have learned that science is not boring.” “We can do it and really see everything up close”. This actually makes us want to learn more.” It teaches us what scientists have to do to get the answers”.
When I asked the students to write comments, I was not expecting such mature insights. But that is the nature of eighth grade- one minute they were engaged in serious thought and in the next minute after handing these to me, I looked up to see that they had morphed into a mass of children, jumping, wiggling and laughing boisterously. That’s what makes middle school science so fun.