We got back to 3rd grade Small Science after a long hiatus, started on Chapter 4.
Today, I tried some techniques to help me improve class management. Small Science classes are typically held outside in the playground – under trees, sitting on the ground. Despite the lovely ambience, the noise levels are high – vehicles going by, kids playing, crows cawing. Moreover, the children seem to get easily distracted.
We went outside. They were taking a long time to settle down and groups kept chatting. I started talking softly keeping my voice low. The girls, who were sitting really close by started paying attention. I continued by reminding them of our class groundrules – listen to others, raise hands to speak etc. Slowly the boys realised that the class had actually started, and started listening. I read out the first part – Apu & Mini’s story. Now all were listening – possibly because my own voice was deliberately low and they had to pay attention to hear.
Then I divided them up into groups – using the old A,B,C, D technique. 2 boys and 2 girls per group. Random choice. They got up and sat in their new groups. “These are going to be your groups for the rest of the chapter. Each group has to work as a team. You will conduct experiments, do observations and even work together on the workbook.” Now came the experimental part, the one about which I still have mixed feelings – “I will give points to groups, or take away points depending on your behaviour, following groundrules and completion of work.” They sat up – the mantle on responsibility, the sense of group feeling suddenly dawning. They paid more attention. “The group with the highest points is going to have an ice cream party!” Now this was a great incentive. There was pin drop silence.
I asked each group to read Section 1 of the textbook chapter 4. Then a volunteer from each group had to stand and explain what they understood – and what each group had to do.
My colleague and I reused small paint bottles to store honey, sugar, cake and biscuit pieces. Each group got a set of these 4 items, along with some chips.
Group A went to the back of the school. They emptied their bottles on the boundary wall, next to an old neem tree. Lucky guys – the tree was home to several large ants.
Group B put out their stuff next to the fish tank. Then they squatted down and started watching.
Group C were in front of the gate. Like patient scientists, each child sat next to a particular item to observe it carefully.
Group D went near Montessori. They dumped their bottles all in one pile.
I gave each group a magnifying glass with the commitment they would ensure it was returned to me correctly placed in its box. Each group was told they had to observe very carefully and quietly by sitting still. To my complete amazement, they actually managed to sit still and focus. Then the excitement started. “Aunty a big black ant came. It just sniffed and went away.” “A fly came”. “The big ant frightened all other ants away”. The ants carried the chip to a hole, but the chip got stuck – it was too big for the hole.” “Then what did they do?” “Many ants came and bit it into small pieces.” “How are they carrying the food?” “In their hands, they’re rolling it.” We were lucky to see a large ant carrying a small black ball like object – rolling it along. “Aunty – look crows came!! They’re gulping our chips!”. “Aunty- Fazal & Afeef ate the biscuit themselves!”
They did get bored after a bit – it’s a lot to expect 7-8 year olds to silently observe for more than 5 minutes. But that’s the very skill we want to inculcate. Reminders to observe helped. Calling them “scientists” helped – they were thrilled with the accolade.
We came back into our groups to discuss our observations. Each team had 2 members come up and talk about what their team saw – I tried to ensure that all kids got a chance to speak today in class.
Then came time to answer the questions in the workbook – an exercise that takes hours usually and fraught with frustration. This time, each team could work together, but the leader had to ensure that all the team members finished the work. Contrary to adult expectations, the kids did not simply copy from one another or dictate answers. There was actual discussion. Midway, children went off to observe the status of their food – and this led to more excitement. “Look Aunty, many ants have come. They’ve made a line” “They’re bumping into each other” “They’re going over the wall.”
We discussed why the first ant simply came, walked around the food and went away “Maybe it didn’t realise it was food.” “Maybe it didn’t know its home” were some of their guesses. We also discussed the different types of ants they saw – small red, big black and all variations in between.
To my great surprise, the children completed the workbook questions they were assigned, the team leaders checked and made sure everything was complete, collected the books and submitted them to me.
In conclusion – what worked well was that kids were given clear directions, given responsibility for their teams and that they managed to work together.