Saturday, March 10, 2007

Turn your classroom into a science museum...

for one day. After years of trying to set up groovy demos in my classroom every year for Open House, I decided I was working too hard. Why should I set up demos to impress visitors when I have 150+ students capable of doing the job for me?

So since 1994, that's exactly what I've done. We call it ExploratoRio ("eks-plor-uh-TOE-ree-oh)"), because it's modeled on San Francisco's Exploratorium but it takes place at Rio Americano High School.

The good news is that my students do a great job of researching, constructing, and exhibiting demonstrations. They explain their exhibits to elementary students who visit during Open House Day. Elementary students think high school students are gods. High school students know they're gods. So everyone's on the same page. Seriously though, our physics students enjoy teaching a mini science lesson to younger students. And the young scientists are amazed by the exhibits.

In the evening, parents of all the students attending the school are invited to the school's Open House. Our ExploratoRio is a huge hit--we aim to make it the grooviest destination at the school that night. It is a rare and determined parent who can wade into such a cacophonous carnival of kinetic energy to find the teacher and ask about Johnny's current grade. Physics professors from California State University, Sacramento often stop by to quiz our students about the physics behind the exhibits. Our students do very well under such scrutiny! And the professors have more hands-on physics fun than they're allowed to have at the university.

Many of those elementary students eventually end up in your physics class years later. The whole affair is a big promotion of your class to the school community.

The bad news? It's a nontrivial task to organize the event. Much more work than I did before 1994. Oh well.

I've posted a few pages and PDFs of resources you might want to check out if you want to have such an event at your school. It's a lot of work, but it engages your students in ways your class cannot. It promotes your class in the short and long term. Your administrators will have the opportunity to see the extent to which you walk on water. And it makes little kids happy.

You can find our ExploratoRio Resources here. And I'll keep a link off to the right for convenience. Click the photo above to see photo albums from some past ExploratoRios.

1 comment:

Marc "Zeke" Kossover said...

Each year, my school has a science night called the Science Symposium. The older kids do some original research but the 9th Grade Conceptual Science students make mini-Exploratorium style displays. Using small activities taken from Exploratorium Snack books, Janice Van Cleave, and other sources, they sequence four or five small hands-on activities to teach a physics topic of their choosing. They learn a lot and the other students who play with the activities seem to learn a lot as well.

Marc "Zeke" Kossover