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Planting seeds: math/science salon begins

March 10, 2011

A few days ago, a very insightful comment was left on my blog that has gotten me thinking quite a bit.

I wonder…is planting seeds “pseudo-gardening?” To plant a seed results in no real immediate satisfaction if the desired outcome is immediate plant growth. No evidence of growth after a day of planting the seeds…must not have gardened. However, we know we will see signs of growth later. Could this have occurred with the students described in this post? Were you expecting visible signs of growth too soon in the cycle? Perhaps the learning evidence came later? Maybe the lenses to see the growth were just imperfect. I think that is what you meant by a misaligned assessment strategy. I would contend that the students learned about the process of hypothesizing and positing plausible, testable explanations for those questions.

Last Tuesday I got to watch something truly spectacular, that could definitely be called growth, and at the end of this post, I’ll try to describe the seeds I think I might have planted to lead to this outcome.

S, one of the most amazing students I’ve ever taught, has feverishly been working to develop plans for a math/science salon for 3rd and 4th graders at an Atlanta charter school. S has done an incredible amount of work on this project. She’s recruited 6 other ninth graders (5 girls and 1 boy) to help her out, she’s written up a detailed grant proposal for our service learning board and secured $1000 in funding. She’s filled the back corner of my classroom with boxes of carefully labeled supplies, and held a number of meetings with the leaders to practice and plan activities. And one of the group members has also started a blog (a must see).

So on Tuesday, S, 6 of her friends, S’s mom and I went to to a public charter school across town that our school does a lot of collaboration with, and I simply watched in amazement as S and her friends lead the kids in a wonderful exploration of untangling human knots, and building electromagnets, followed by exploring how they work.

I was impressed by a few things. First, the 3rd and 4th graders were incredible. I think almost every one of them said they wanted to be a scientist/doctor/chemist when they grew up. These are the sorts of things I never hear when I talk to high school students, and it again makes me wonder what happens in those intervening years to make students loose their love of science.

Second, I was amazed by the completely different personalities some of my students took on at the salon. Quiet students became true extroverts, introducing themselves to students, helping them to make electromagnets and more. I watched my 9th graders transform into leaders and master teachers intent to sharing their joy for science with these younger students.

Finally, everyone was super psyched. I think a number of our students wanted to even try to do it every week, and the charter school got 5 more kids to sign up for the club.

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And if you’re up for it, here’s a video of the entire event.

So how was this planting a seed? Way back at the beginning of the year, I talked about trying to create an innovation incubator at my school. I never really was able to launch that idea off the ground, so instead, I sort of settled for featuring awesome things things students might try on our class website, and one day, I showed my classes this video:

That was about 4 moths ago, but with some occasional prodding, and a few open ended questions the idea eventually took hold, and S really made the idea her own and set out to develop a math/science club for this charter school (also taking some inspiration from Vi Hart), that will hopefully grow with time. Could this be the first ever (as far as we know) Atlanta Math/Science Salon—stay tuned.

I think this counts as planting a seed. That’s truly about all I did—I didn’t have to say a single thing at the actual meeting, and all of my work has been about asking questions and helping S and her friends with ideas for getting a blog off the ground, or other logistical support.

Finally, this gets me thinking about a quote I recently heard from Merlin Mann, which I’ll paraphrase as something like this. He was asking if you are the type of person who runs full out at 110% completely overloaded all the time, or if you always keep a little in reserve, so that you’ll be able to say yes to that awesome opportunity when it comes along. This has been a great lesson to me about maintaining one’s reserves (especially in February, a typically difficult month in independent schools), and hopefully a lesson for my students as well. Had any one of us: myself, the charter school teachers who did a lot of organizing on their end, S or her mom (who graciously serves as transportation) been too busy for one more thing, this might never have happened.

And the real question to me, is what seeds are S and her friends planting in these elementary school students? Will they ever get to see the results that grow out of these efforts? I hope so.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2011 10:25 am

    I really love your ongoing conversations about pseudo and nascent. You have a great ability in taking a big idea and seeing it in your classroom, your students and your teaching, as well as going the other direction, seeing something before you and connecting it to a big idea.

    Glad I found your blog!

    Jamie Feild Baker

    • March 11, 2011 11:42 am

      Thanks so much! I’ve been meaning to write a post about how all these seemingly disconnected tangents do tie together in my mind (this blog really is a wonderful active thinking space which has helped me to see these connections), and I’m glad to hear that the connections between some of these ideas are at least partially visible.

  2. March 11, 2011 4:27 pm

    Hi John,

    I left a link to your post over at Sue VanHattum’s blog:

    Hope you don’t mind,

  3. March 12, 2011 7:10 am

    Fabulous idea gardening, which must begin with seed planting!


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