Outreach Event

May 17th, 2011 by Potato

Well, my outreach event went fairly well for the morning half. The first class went almost exactly to plan: I went through my prepared material, the kids seemed interested, had a few good questions but were fairly quiet. The second class had a bunch of questions and we kept going off on tangents, so I only got through about 75% of my prepared material, but that was fine because the point was to get them interested in science and learning and engaged, and I think that objective was achieved.

Then in the afternoon, I was just getting going in my presentation when things fell apart. I got to the point where I was talking about feedback mechanisms between the brain and the body, and how if you hear a loud noise and are startled or scared, your heart rate will increase. And just as I finished that sentence, the fire alarm went off.

The teacher was reminding the kids to just get up and go, to leave their stuff. I grabbed by laptop and my backpack, but left the rest of my gear behind, figuring it was probably just a drill.

It wasn’t. There was unfortunately a real fire there, so I didn’t get to do the other two classes. We all had to wait around outside for a really long time — on a fairly cool May day with most people not having their jackets — with no news of what was happening inside. Finally, they let us into the cafeteria and the portables, after the last period had started. It was clear that there was an actual fire, and that the kids weren’t going back to class, but I guess since this is a school district with a lot of buses, they didn’t just release them.

So there we are, cooped up in the cafeteria with basically no news, nobody has their stuff with them to study or do anything productive, so the kids are basically just chatting, playing with their cell phones, etc. Some kids have some paper and start making paper airplanes to throw, and I go “hey, let’s take advantage of this opportunity.” So I start making a different paper airplane and throwing it around, trying to get them interested in perhaps doing something that keeps them interested in learning (that was the whole reason I’m there). I throw it down the length of a cafeteria table (an impressive distance), and a teacher at the other end picks it up, crumples it, throws it in the trash, and gives us the dirtiest look. Another teacher comes up to me and was like “I can’t believe it was a teacher throwing airplanes!” in this disgusted tone.

And I’m like “what?” It’s not like they’re throwing airplanes in the caf at lunch on a normal day. The fire drill has been going on for over an hour at this point. The police arrived to start an investigation, and no one was going back into the school proper. Some leniency in discipline should be allowed in the circumstances. Many schools have paper airplane competitions because they can be fun educational opportunities. Nobody seemed to want to do anything with the time — not tell stories on the stage, not find their class and try to continue a quasi-lesson in the field, it was just a matter of keeping the kids in-line until the buses got there at the normal end of the day.

I think that’s why, despite the fact that I like to teach, I never really wanted to become a high school teacher. Too much baby-sitting, not enough teaching. I have to temper that remark: not all teachers are more interested in getting through their day without trouble than they are in shaping young minds, kids can of course be damned draining on a person’s energy, and if you give them an inch, they will often take the yard.

Anyway, I had to wait over two hours before I could get back in the school (with an escort) to get the rest of my stuff and leave. What a day.

One Response to “Outreach Event”

  1. dilbert Says:

    I think the idea that learning and fun can go together is worn out of teachers over the years. It’s no longer fun, it’s a chore teaching the same things to the same age kids.

    I applaud your effort. It’s the teachers that brought fun back into the classroom that I remember the most and probably learned the most from because it was more engaging!