After the MLK holiday, it was time for my next assignment as a newly hired science teacher for a small company in Massachusetts that programs extracurricular and in-school classes for elementary and middle school students.The topic this time was thermostats. Conceptually easy enough: It’s hot, switch on, it’s cold switch off. Modern units often use a bi-metallic coil, which moves in one direction as the heat rises and the other as it cools so both extremes can be controlled.
The project, however, was a bit trickier. I was to help each 3rd to 8th grade kid in the group make a thermostat that turns on and off when the air inside a balloon-covered cup expanded or contracted in hot or cold water.
A little more complicated but it could be done. When I began to get nervous was a few days before when I was told this group of kids had some learning disabilities but were very high functioning. Just repeat things a couple of times and give them extra time after asking a question said the dean of the school.
The afternoon of the class, after setting up the materials and gathering the group, I knew I was in for it. My getting to know you exercise quickly fizzled, I couldn’t give them time to think about questions because two kids kept on raising their hands right away to give me wrong answers, and no one wanted to volunteer to be molecules for my ingenious explanation of what happens to gas molecules when they are heated.The moment I thought I had captured their attention, someone called out, “When can we do our projects?” That’s when I knew I had the power. “Well, gee” I thought aloud, “I’d really like to get to the projects, but I just want to make sure you understand how it works.”
Having to now be a disciplinarian, I began to use years of tactics teachers used on me to get the kids to behave: “I already explained this but you were talking, you’re going to have to ask you’re neighbor,” or “If you’re listening, raise your hand.”
In the end the projects were completed and parents were impressed. Sure the balloons wouldn’t fit on the cups and some of the pieces were in the wrong directions, but as long as their light bulb went off to show the switch worked, they were happy.
I on the other hand, felt like I had failed. I spent so much time preparing an explanation of the science, I thought they would be at the edge of their seats in fascination. It made me wonder how many times one of my teachers left the classroom unsure if they made a difference. I guess I’ll have to go back next week a little wiser and try again.