Friday, September 12, 2008

The Birth of the After School Seventh Grade Science Club

We tried.

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.



The Vegas Art Guy said...

Maybe if the principal started suspending kids for a day or three, they would calm down. At least your good kids get the club in the afternoon. Sounds like that class needs some drill and kill with worksheets until they start to complain how boring it is...

Margaret English said...

That is very unfortunate. Such a situation is very frustrating for you and of course for those students who choose to behave well and who will now miss out on lab work due to the actions of others. I recently had similar, although less extreme problems, when taking some classes up to the ICT room.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Great solution to a thorny problem! Those after-school-lab kids will remember you with gratitude for the rest of their lives. The other critters may one day realize what they missed. May, I said.

Mister Teacher said...

That really stinks. I hope your after-school labs go fantastically and that it really DOES change the thinking of the other dopes.

BTW, I saw your review for Learn Me Good on Amazon. Thanks so much for reading and posting!

Mrs. T said...

I'm sure it is definitely a result of having class sizes go up. How incredibly frustrating. I know I've had to bag "fun" lessons/learning activities when I have a class that simply can't handle any amount of unstructured time. Hats off to you for giving up your own time to accommodate kids after school. said...

Welcome to my world...the world of inner city schools where the kids do not come to school ready to be students. Although I teach in a high school setting, I have heard the same lament from our science teachers. They don't do labs with the kids for these exact reasons. It has been this way for about 10 years now. Hope your afternoon program works, seems like more work for you.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Oh sure, it will be more work for us (but we're team teaching) and we don't get paid, but if it helps the kids that care, then that's really all that matters.

nbosch said...

Boy that must be frustrating---too bad we can't just put all the kids who want to learn in the same class and let the others "fight it out". We could pay the teachers combat pay!! You came up with a very generous solution. I'm so thankful there are people like you and your team that will teach middleschoolers! N.

Darren said...

The current crop of freshmen at our school are unbelievable. We were warned about them last year by our primary junior high feeder school, and they were right. Freakin' amazing.

Melissa B. said...

I remember my kids getting into the Oobleck when they were that age, too! There's something about 12-13-year-olds, I guess, that puts them up to more mischief than either they--or we--can handle! Good for you to set aside time after school for those who are really interested. And brave of you, too! BTW, on a completely different subject, it's that time of week again--Silly Sunday Sweepstakes time. Come on over and play along!

N. said...

Isn't there a way you could still work it out with the classes? Maybe break up the class into smaller, more manageable groups where 1 group does labwork under careful and close supervision and the rest have demos and the groups rotate as you cover different topics so each group gets at least some lab time throughout the year.

I understand that these groups are tough and granted, I'm not a teacher, but it seems that doing away with labs other than as afterschool enrichment is like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Again, I'm not a teacher so you just might want to take my advice with a grain of salt. :D

Mrs. Bluebird said...

CrusaderMom, thanks for your input, although I have some questions. You mention breaking the class into smaller, more manageable groups. What do you mean by that? Each class is already broken down into lab groups of 4 (or 5). I ideally like only 4 kids in a lab group, but my room only has space for 7 tables and since this year my class sizes have jumped from 22 to 32 in some cases, that means some labs have 5. Each class period is 45 minutes, which in itself limits the labs we can do.

Another question, if I'm working doing a lab with one group, what's happening with the others? Who's watching them? Because with 7th graders...someone's gotta watch them or chaos will happen. I only have an aide one period a day, sometimes, as she often gets pulled to translate. So it's just me and 32 hormonal 12 year olds. Any ideas on what can be done with the other 28 kids so they don't get into mischief are more than welcome!

I think it's a combination of factors, but we've been hearing about this particular class of kids for a few years now..their reputation preceeds them. What makes it worse is that last year's group was wonderful.

N. said...

I didn't know the set-up of your class - thought there were 2 teachers in there! So, yeah, in your situation, it definitely wouldn't work. Anyway, you could lock the other 28 in the lab room closet or something. But don't tell anyone I said that.

W.R. Chandler said...

"Boy that must be frustrating---too bad we can't just put all the kids who want to learn in the same class and let the others 'fight it out'."

Sigh - They used to that... it was called tracking. In today's egalitarian education system, tracking is often a big no-no. See how well egalitarianism is working in these science labs?

ScienceFix said...

There seems every so often one of those "classes from hell". We had ours 2 years ago and now they are reeking havoc as sophomores in high school. Many sympathies for your situation, and great job with the creative solution. I'm just finishing up our density/buoyancy unit and will be going into solids, liquids, and gasses next. I curious what your "popcorn" activity is.