Over the past five weeks Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I have forged ahead with our lessons on matter, which included a number of relatively easy labs which, in the past, have been hugely popular with our students. We've explored solids, liquids and gases with our popular "popcorn lab" where we use popcorn and Crisco to mimic the three states of matter. We've done our Layered Liquids lab on density involving colored water, syrup and oil. We've even done our Oobleck lab which has often resulted in parents requesting the recipe and students recreating it at home in their family kitchen just for fun.
It has been a disaster each and every time with this particular group of kids.
They cannot, will not, behave for a lab. They will not listen. They will not stay in their seats. They will not complete and turn in their lab reports, leaving them strewn across tables and the floor. And the noise level is unbelievable. This group still does not get the concept of using "lab voices".
And no amount of card punching, phone calls, time outs, and whatnot works. They just don't get it and they don't care.
The final straw for us this week was the Oobleck lab. For some reason they thought it would be fun to throw Oobleck at each other. Fortunately, Oobleck is simply cornstarch and water and can easily be washed out of clothes...however, my room (and Mrs. Robin's room and Mrs. Eagles room) and even the hallways outside our rooms looked like a powder bomb had gone off.
"This is insane," said Mrs. Eagle later that afternoon. "I have never, in eight years, had kids behave this badly during a lab. Never."
We both nodded and agreed and Mrs. Robin commented that she was starting to count the thirteen years she had before retirement.
So we've bagged the labs. We just can't trust that this group of kids can behave in a safe manner in a lab. They're so noisy that if we had an accident or an emergency, they wouldn't hear any instructions. And the thought of allowing these kids near a $200 microscope is just plain scary. They don't take care of equipment, and think nothing if something breaks.
This was not an easy decision. We have, over the past five years, tried to incoporate as many labs into our instruction as we can, and we've seen the pay off in rising scores and kids who are turned on by science. It's been tough, as our class time has been cut from 55 minutes to 45 minutes, and getting some of our labs done in this amount of time requires a lot of focus. And let's not even talk about budget issues.
But until this group, as a group, develops the maturity and the ability to behave appropriately in a lab setting, they're going to be getting demonstrations.
And yet...we weren't happy with that. Because we still have a few kids who actually care, who are actually put out with their peers who act like fools, and who are dying to do some real science.
So, with the blessing of The Principal (who's been cruising through our classrooms a lot this week and has seen for herself what behavior nightmares we're dealing with), we're starting an after school science lab club for the kids who actually care.
Basically the idea is that we'll put aside an afternoon of our time every other week or so, and allow kids to sign up to stay after school to do labs that apply to our current content. In order to do so, they have to get a permission slip signed by a parent, which will be due several days prior to the lab. We'll also have a cut off as to the number of kids that can attend as we want to keep the number managable. (We're starting to think a lot of our problems stem from the fact that our class sizes have jumped about 8 kids per class this year.) This will allow us to buy only the amount of materials we need for the labs, thus saving money.
And the best part is we'll have more time (however much we need), and we'll use the big lab, not our classrooms, to do the labs in.
Honestly, I'm hoping we won't have to do this for too long. The hope is that the kids who will be coming will talk up to the other kids about how much fun they're having and hopefully they'll figure out that once they grow up and behave, we'll do labs again in our rooms.