Monday, June 07, 2010

On Group Dynamics

I'm exhausted. This post will be short, as after testing the launcher pad, going out to dinner, and going grocery shopping after my 6 hours of kid chasing, knowledge-imparting, I'm rather tired. But I got paid today (not enough) and it does feel good.

Today, I had the older kids work on their bottle rockets. I split them up into groups of around 5-6 students, of single and mixed genders, and have noticed a few things. The first group was rather gender divided, with two groups of girls and one group of guys. One of the girl groups was very focused, diving right into the planning of their bottle rocket and producing a rather nice and relatively detailed schematic. They worked cohesively on the actual construction, finishing most of the their rocket, which included a nose cone, tail fins, a parachute and a propeller.*

The group of boys behaved as most groups of boys would. They were loud, and threw paper everywhere, but were able to crank out a rocket design in short order, complete with most of the same elements as the above group (sans the paper airplanes). When confronted with an issue, the group hammered it out like most boys would, with some shouting and pushing. But it did the trick, and the group was able to finish most of their rocket.

And then there was the 2nd group of girls. Now this group is made up of the girls who take occasion to smell me (they're still doing it), or poking me. I would describe their group as generally hormonal, with attitudes and egos getting in the way of any real collaboration. After 20 minutes of hitting each other with the plastic soda bottle, they finally sat down to plan out their bottle rocket. After much prodding and leading by me, the produced a design which contained a parachute and a nose cone. And of course the most important element, a smiley face. Now the group was downright dysfunctional. They got absolutely no work done, and I'm thinking of separating them next time. I will say there was one girl, Sasha, who was trying to work hard and get things done, and I feel sorry for her. She honestly tried hard, but her group mates would have none of that. I would feel worse for her, but we are responsible for the people we associate with, and it's a lesson we must learn, perhaps the hard way. If we associate with slackers and layabouts, we can only expect to achieve a moderate level of success. I hate to take this attitude (as guilt by association was something I absolutely hated as a child), but I've come to realize it's a lesson worth learning.

The other rocket groups followed similar patterns, with your stellar cohesive groups, and your not so cohesive ones. There was this one boy who told me he had made bottle rockets before, which gave me high hopes. But when he went to his group, he spent 20 minutes deciding what Pokemon to draw on the side of the rocket. When I told him he had to draw what elements to add to the rocket (like fins and a nose cone), he told me confidently that all he needed was a parachute. Perhaps he's right (that's the point of science, no preconceived notions), but I'm betting his rocket won't go very far.

And now I am very tired, and will be trying to sleep, as after falling asleep for a few hours after I came home from work, I did not do much of the prep work needed for tomorrow. So I will be waking up early in the morning to finish. Goodnight, you Wonderful World of Science. Tomorrow we will blow some little minds. 3, 2, 1, Blast Off!

*One thing I've noticed about these kids is that they mean well and are very eager to learn and participate, but sometimes miss the point. On the first day we covered aerodynamics and learned "long and pointy things fly farther" through paper airplanes. I wanted them to apply this concept to their rockets, most logically by adding a nose cone to their design. Some of them missed the point. When building the balloon jets on Thursday and the bottle rockets today, I reminded them "what did we learn the first day?", stirring up Mr. Sakimoto's Mantra #1. Instead of making a nose cone, they folded a long and pointy paper airplane, and taped it to their balloon/bottle rocket. These kids are adorable, and I can tell they are trying their best, but sometimes they miss the boat completely. Oh well, we all can't be engineers. Some of us have to become lesser professionals, like doctors and lawyers.

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