The first session of our Wizards of i Summer Series is over and done, both in Reston and Wakefield. Just as we ask our students to reflect as they grow into socially and emotionally literate innovators, at iSchool we also think reflection on our own practices is important.
Science Magic was certainly full of magical moments and many changes. There were the amazing moments, with entire groups of children exclaiming in joy over an explosion or a floating tea bag. There were moments of chaos and moments of quiet. Some of our lessons flopped, like the Idea Journals – which I really wanted to work. And there were new lessons that worked really well, like our new series on Patience and Perseverance, which we have added to our core list of Social and Emotional 21st Century Skills. However, the moments that really give us hope and joy were perhaps some of the most subtle moments of all.
One such moment happened at our Wakefield camp, when a student exclaimed “I love science now!” When asked, he confirmed the truth of that statement – his parents had made him come to “science camp” and previously he did not like science. It was great to get confirmation that our all hands-on approach to science education really does work.
As much as we love it that our students love science, however, it is not our main goal. We want children to be their best selves – we want to Unlock their Inner Geniuses – and so it was other, quieter moments that made us smile. One example was during a challenge to make a working ramp out of recycling. The challenge started off with teachers offering a candy incentive and with children squabbling over ideas and working counter to each other. The iSchool curriculum includes specific lessons on teamwork and project planning, so we were able to work through the problems. By the end of the activity, students had forgotten about the candy and were absorbed in improving the ramp, and were sharing and building on the ideas of each other in order to achieve the best possible collective outcome. Instead of extrinsic, (unhealthy) motivation, they were motivated by an intrinsic desire for self-improvement and for the betterment of the entire group, and by increased respect for each other.
At iSchool our philosophy is to model good behavior and respect. Thus, no matter how crazy it is or how often there is chaos, teachers don’t yell or use power to gain attention. I’ll be the first to admit that this is a hard one to follow, but in the last camp it seemed to really pay off. One student had just come off a terrible year at traditional school, in a class of 27 where the teachers either disciplined him or neglected him. His father described that year as “traumatic.” The child is high-energy, true, and walked into class with an adversarial stance against teachers. At the beginning of camp he was outright disrespectful. By the end of camp he was a changed person – more respectful, better able to calm himself, definitely excited about the science, and actually learning. It was an amazing, hard-won, but quiet change.
Another of our approaches is to talk about the situation, not the person, and we handle all conflicts immediately by having the entire group discuss what happened. I rarely use names, but instead say, “It is not my goal to make any one person feel bad. It is my goal to make everyone feel better.” After one altercation and the subsequent discussion about it, one student told me about a time when a teacher had told her “he didn’t care” that someone had hurt her. I think that the teacher had not only disheartened her, but had caused her to keep up her defenses at all times, in essence keeping her somewhat aloof and definitely not her best self. By the end of camp she had come to trust her teacher and the students around her, she played with everyone equally, and she was a leader in terms of learning. It was another quiet moment that gave us joy, and showed us that our philosophy and approach can have meaningful impacts on our children’s lives.