"Visiting With Third Graders"

Flavio Mendez - March 7, 1996

    I got up early this morning. I'm not a morning person. I usually get to work around 9:30 a.m. that way I get to avoid traffic and people get to avoid me during the early morning hours; the only one that has that privilege is my wife Ailsa (her picture is on my bio-page). But today was different. Today I went to give a school presentation with my colleagues from Johns Hopkins University: Kati Cunningham and Chris Yancone. We visited Riderwood Elementary in Baltimore County. We gave three presentations to all three third grade classes.

I met Chris and Kati in my office at 8 a.m. to gather all our materials to take to Riderwood. On the way to the school (about 20 minutes away) we reviewed our agenda. This was our first time trying a new set of activities during our HST presentations and because of that we were a bit nervous.

The visit to Riderwood Elementary was as part of the Institute's Elementary School Outreach Program. The objective of this program is to assist in the training of future elementary school teachers -- you see, Kati and Chris are studying to be elementary school teachers. We partnered so that I could learn about teachers and they could learn about scientists.

We were well received at Riderwood by the Coordinator of Cultural Arts Program, Ms. Diane Friedman and escorted to the library. We started quickly assessing the room, looking for plugs on the wall where we could plug-in our slide projector, assembling the room in groups of five or six students per table and setting up the VCR and TV for our planned 3-minute videotape showcase.

At 9 a.m. the first group of students walked through the door and started taking their seats. During our presentation we engaged the students to exercise a few concepts: prediction, explanation and confirmation of facts, the scale of systems -- planet, star, galaxy and the HST as a tool for exploration. The inquiry model was followed letting the students play the role of scientists.

The agenda we followed was this:

  • a video about the HST
  • introduction -- who's the scientist?
  • a sharing of ideas from the students about what they knew already about the HST
  • a set of six slides to learn what the HST is, how it looks, how big it is, how heavy it is and where it is located
  • a demo to show by role playing how does the HST take pictures
  • an interactive slide show: the Universe as seen through the Eyes of Hubble -- at specific points during the slides, students have to predict by drawing how a specific object looks like and then compare their drawings to the way HST sees it.
  • question and answer session
  • a few slides of other scientists and astronauts to show diversity
  • a sharing of ideas from the students about what they learned from our visit

The children enjoyed all the activities, specially confirming that their drawings of Saturn and M-100 matched the HST's images. For me the most interesting part was in the beginning of the presentation when we asked the students to predict (guess) who the scientist was among us three. Very few students picked me as the scientist. When confronted, a student that had picked Chris as the scientist, he said that he voted for Chris "because he was well dressed (wearing a tie) so he looked like a scientist". We took the opportunity to talk about the way scientists are viewed and portrayed on our society and the stereotype of white-gray hair-bearded-old-men.

All three presentations went well. By noon we had to go back to my office. We were very tired; I don't know how teachers do this full-time. On the way backwe evaluated the lessons and talked about ways for improving. Chris and Kati went back to their schools in Howard County where they student-teach and I started (at 1 p.m.) a full day at the office.

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