Reach Out! 12/98 Progress Report: II. Traditional Report A. 2

II. A. Expand established programs

2. Wizards for Hands-On Science Activities

Progress and Adjustments to Goals, Aims, Procedures. We made progress in this area but not in the way we had expected. We still have the same few adults willing to be posted on our Web site as available to bring hands-on experiments to groups. However, we pursued the same goals more effectively, we think, by expanding the number of continuing hands-on science clubs we coordinate. These clubs apply a lesson we learned from tutor/mentoring: that relationships are as important as content in interactions between kids and volunteers. A continuing relationship in which people get to know and become comfortable with one other sets the stage not only for more learning but also for the more diffuse kind guiding and reinforcement we have found so necessary.

To summarize, from summer 1997 through summer 1998, eight separate clubs served 1290 children with 336 volunteers in 62 sessions. This includes, of course, counting the same participants each time we met; many kids and volunteers were repeaters. In fall 1998, we launched five new clubs at George Elementary and started up again at Peace Neighborhood Center, North Maple Estates, and at Community Church of God Opportunity Center, with its secondary and five elementary clubs, for a total of 13 regular clubs, where an average of 4 volunteers served an average of 16 children at an average of 5 sessions per club.

We have all done a lot of genuine soul-searching about our mission of spreading math and science literacy to children most in need of it. Our zeal to impart knowledge withered in the face of the intimidating skill and knowledge deficits of many of the children with whom we work. Instead, we came to focus on teaching the process  of science: how you observe carefully, construct theories about what might be happening and why, and design experiments to test or demonstrate those theories. Our ambitions for the kids with whom we do hands-on science have become more modest: we hope they will achieve some understanding of this process, some familiarity with terms and jargon that will come up in science texts later, and some intuitive understanding of concepts such as gravity or leverage, to supplement the book-learning to come. We are more certain that they will develop some confidence in their ability to do  science, which is no small thing. We repeatedly find teens defeated before they begin by a conviction that they are not capable. The youngsters who are playing with science in our clubs today should have much less trouble with this lack of confidence.

The real story during the past year or so has been the inclusion, in stakeholder roles, of new groups, individuals, and sites. Ten Premed Club and 3 Black PreMed Association members were among the 22 regular volunteers for the CCoG elementary clubs. Members of Alpha Xi Delta,AFROTC, and the Arnold Air Society were among the Peace Neighborhood Center club volunteers. A young woman on stipend as UM liaison, Aarti Raheja, oversaw the creation of 5 in-classroom science clubs at Ypsilanti's George Elementary. Aarti is responsible for initiating our collaboration with the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI), in which they paid for 2 individual club coordinators, for experiment materials, for a recognition event, for evaluation time, and for transportation. These pilot clubs, one at each grade level, were meant to supplement science curriculum with hands-on experiences. Of the 27 volunteers, 4 came from the Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity, 3 from Project Serve, 3 from the Black Biology Association, and the rest from the university in general, mostly LS&A.

Back to the original "wizard" concept, we are on the verge of providing our first Junior Wizards, children from the Peace Neighborhood Center science club who want to bring experiments they have done to their elementary classrooms. Coordinator Debbie McCartney has contacted and been received enthusiastically by their teachers and is helping them select and prepare for their experiments. When they are ready, they will be added to our Web site.

Barriers and Challenges. These have been our classic kinds of difficulties for start-up programs and for new partnerships, so they are all tied to the new clubs at George Elementary School in Ypsilanti, in collaboration with OAMI. Transportation was a nagging problem, even though OAMI provided a car, because volunteers were not originally allowed to pick it up early enough to get there on time. You simply cannot be late in such a setting, where lunch and special classes and groups are so rigidly scheduled. Allowing more travel time and accepting responsibility for meeting a schedule have solved this problem.

Another minor problem has been differing institutional expectations between Reach Out! and OAMI for the science club program itself. As noted earlier, our expectations are rather modest. OAMI desired to track individual children and their grades and assessment test scores, which we refused to do. Even if such measures showed improvement, we think it would be arrogant—and insulting to the kids, parents, and teachers—to ascribe it to our efforts. We are also wary of invading the privacy of students and their families by collecting much data on them, especially since we see no compelling reason for it. This problem arises repeatedly. In the name of accountability, many institutions wish to track some kind of numerical, easy-to-compare, pre- and post-intervention data. We resist this vigorously as a trap: busywork that consumes time and energy and threatens good will, without being truly meaningful. Naturally, we hope and expect that our efforts will improve children's math and science achievement, but the reasons behind their performance are much too complex and interrelated for us ever to feel comfortable taking credit for their progress.

Finally, the messiest and most complicated problems related to our science clubs' lack of integration into the life of George School. Besides the scheduling difficulties referred to above, we had teachers complaining about the activities being messy, declining to help with classroom management during activities, and using the clubs—inappropriately, we thought—as disciplinary rewards. In addition, we were unable to correlate the science activities with classroom curriculum as originally envisioned.

We thought that we had prepared properly before beginning. Teachers had all expressed a desire for assistance in incorporating more hands-on experiences into their science instruction at an inservice conducted by the Reach Out! sponsor. It seems impossible, however, to anticipate all the ways things can go wrong and expectations can be mismatched.

The complaints about messiness were dealt with by reminding teachers that experimentation almost has to be messy, by making special efforts to clean up afterwards, and by conducting especially messy activities in the tiled multipurpose room rather than the carpeted classrooms. We are also investigating the possibility of acquiring plenty of old long-sleeved shirts to cover children's school clothes. Also, one club was shifted to a different, more receptive teacher's room after the first meeting.

The discipline problems were especially awkward. Some teachers would sit in the back and not take part at all, even when the young volunteers could have used some help in containing the children's exuberance. Another refused to allow part of her class to participate because they had not been "good." She did not notice that all of those thus excluded were minority children; the volunteers most certainly did  notice and object to this. There was a continuing friction between some teachers who expected neatness, order, and quiet at all times and the inherent excitement of children making volcanoes, for example.

While we cannot call any of these problems solved as yet, our experience tells us that they are normal and probably a good sign. Change is created by making people uncomfortable; some of what we do is akin to missionary work. Just as our pushy mentors have begun to change science and math instruction at Pioneer, we hope that teachers at George will be converted to the joys and effectiveness of letting kids play with science. The knotty problems, such as black children being deprived of the experience for disciplinary reasons, provide an occasion for teachers to see what they do from another perspective. Communication—more, better, more honest—is the only cure. We have met with George staff and principal Sharine Buddin to discuss these and other issues and have planned for regular, bimonthly meetings next semester to forestall or nip in the bud future problems. We have also been promised a good-faith effort from teachers to project curriculum far enough in advance for us to coordinate our experiments with it.

I. Anecdotal Report
  A. Grace Kim
  B. Alicia Pinderhughes
  C. Debbie McCartney
  D. Marie Tripp, Jim Birnby & Amy Raudenbush, Aarti Raheja
  E. Yamina Acebo, Karyl Shand
  F. Roselle Herrera, John Nees, Fritz Weihe, Andy Rundquist, Reulonda Norman
  G. Cherita Hunter, Faye Booker-Logan
  H. Veronica Cottingham, Doris Calvert
  I. Erika Arias, Rachel Keefer, Srinivas Sridhara
II. Traditional Report
  A. Expand established programs
    1. Tutoring
    2. Wizards for Hands-On Science Activities
    3. Career Exploration
  B. Support for Michigan Mandate and Agenda for Women Goals
  C. Lessons Learned
  D. Next Steps
Appendix A: Volunteer Mentors from Fall 1997 through Fall 1998
Appendix B: Science Club Volunteers from Fall 1997 through Fall 1998
Appendix C: Outreach Sites from Fall 1997 through Fall 1998

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