Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hands On Chaos

In coming up with activities for our happy little homeschool this fall, I found some great resources at our local science museum. They have a number of very cool, hands on science kits called GEMS. It stands for Great Explorations in Math and Science, and the kits are in use in museums and classrooms all over the place. For a small annual fee, our local museum lets educators, including homeschool families check out the kits. 

They also have a Famous Artist Portfolio program where you can check out themed portfolios of 8 to 12 prints of famous works to study with kids, along with a book of information about the art and accompanying activity ideas to go with them.

Being full of ideas, I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to do these with a group of kids instead of just mine?" My kids agreed, so I tossed the idea out that I was offering Hands On Science and Art History workshops for junior high age kids to our local homeschool email list. I was bombarded with interest.

I expected 10 kids for the first session, but had 20. We only had one small explosion during "Chemical Reactions" and everyone still has their eyesight and limbs, so I feel like it was a success. Ironically, the explosion happened at table full of sweet and quiet girls, at the exact moment that I was lecturing my Boy Child's table not to shake up the mixtures. So much for profiling.

Having no formal training in this, and very little time to review the kits ahead of time, I'm pretty much flying by the seat of my pants with these, but fortunately, I fly pretty well most of the time. The kids are sure having fun, and mostly, I am too. 

It's wonderful for me in that I don't have to test them or try to force them to learn certain things. I pretty much just bring cool materials and ideas and facilitate. They have fun exploring and learning. Since the kids actually want to be there and are interested, they learn all sorts of things, and as long as everyone is being respectful, it works well. 

A few weeks ago though, we had a gathering that was a lot louder and more chaotic of an experience than I was shooting for. I had several new 5th grade boys, and made the mistake of having them all sit in one table. They were energetic and noisy and for once, not one single other parent had stayed. I was completely outnumbered, and being relaxed about their enthusiasm backfired on me. They spiraled into crazy land.

Loudness begets loudness and it morphed into a whole lotta noise. I mean an incredible amount. For the kids who wanted to focus it was frustrating. For me too- I felt like I needed medication. I didn’t exactly wish we were still in the days when teachers were able to rap students knuckles, but I sure did wish I had some strategies to rein them in. With my own kids, I can just use the old stink eye, and mention taking away their birthdays. With these other kids, I had nothing. I could understand how frustrated school teachers must feel.

In hindsight, prevention probably would have been the best idea.

I could see that I could definitely use some crowd control and classroom management skills. I've taught Childbirth and Breastfeeding Classes for years, but those are adults, who for the most part don't bounce up and down and shout out random and related nonsense. Junior high boys are another ball of wax altogether.

That’s probably what they teach you when getting a credential to be an actual school teacher- crowd control. Since I have no desire to get a degree in teaching, I just googled "classroom management," and came up with all sorts of ideas that are more productive than rapping knuckles with a ruler. I love the internet!

Now, I make sure to layout expectations ahead of time, and try to have things set up so we avoid madness in the first place.  I also make sure to have a parent helper, or two or three, too.

Our next meeting was a lot more fun, and successful. As long as the chaos is the fun kind, I'd love to keep offering these classes, and am even thinking of more to do in the future. It's awesome to watch these kids learning and be a part of the process- even if it is a bit loud, crazy and messy sometimes.


  1. But do we still get to take our own kid's birthdays away? ;) Learning to wrangle a crowd is something I am always in training for!

  2. Oh yes- the birthday elimination threat is a permanent parental right ;-)

  3. If it helps, I have two degrees in education and not a single classroom management course is required! (Unless they have changed that in the past few years.) You do get tips here and there throughout but no focusing on it. And it's desperately needed if you ever peek into a traditional classroom.
    These kits sound amazing! Thanks for reminding us to check for them.

  4. @Kori- Wow- I was totally surprised! I assumed somehow they'd teach teachers things like crowd control. I guess it's similar to the way that Doctors don't have to take any classes in nutrition, even though that's often a huge portion of health problems. It's ridiculous.
    In any case, we'll be looking forward to exploring lot's more of these kits. I'd definitely recommend trying them.


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