Friday’s outreach was a success, but we had an excess of volunteers. We had six kids to teach and about eleven volunteers, so there were many cases were two to three volunteers had nothing to do. Luckily we were able to utilise the extra volunteers to list out recurring bugs in the new math slayer program. In the future we will try to limit volunteers based on how many kids Pastor Kim say will be coming.
This Friday was also the first outreach where we tested the Star Wars Hour of Code. Overall the kids responded well to the program. It is very similar to scratch but it is more interactive and visually appealing. Some of the kids were reluctant to try the program at first since it was “Star Wars” themed but eventually it caught their attention. We will try more hour of code activities in the future if possible.
On Friday we had a plan to make electromagnetic motors, but when we got there, it did not work. This taught us the lesson that you should always have a backup plan. We may go back later and do the electromagnetic motors, but with a lot more testing. Luckily, due to some quick thinking by two of our volunteers, they fashioned a last-second math lesson.
They wrote the numbers of Pascal’s Triangle onto cups, and began to build a pyramid of the cups with the numbers on them. The volunteer would then ask them what the next layer’s numbers would be, to see if they understood the pattern of Pascal’s Triangle. Although they were taught the significance of Pascal’s Triangle, mostly because most of them don’t know Algebra, it was a unique, fun way to learn a high-level concept that would help them later down the road when they did learn Pascal’s Triangle.
A recurring issue we have is a low number of volunteers on Saturday, but the children are much more responsible, so we combat this by having the children lead their own learning.
This week we tried something where we set up laptops for all the kids and depending on their preference/age we set them up with different things like Scratch, Spongebob Typing Game, or Code Academy. Some of them went on http://coolmath.com to do some educational games later on as well. It worked quite well, so we’ll see if we’re going to try it again next week.
Friday’s session was one that involved computers. Nothing spectacular happened, which is what we do not want. The kids were playing on the computers which is good, but we want to ignite their thirst for knowledge, to provide them access to learn more. We have a volunteer who is a Scratch Goddess willing to help us write some fun, engaging lessons. An idea we had was to play an inspiring video or something related to Scratch in the beginning to set the tone, and then do a Scratch lesson.
In math, we are making headway. Kids are reluctant to do extra math after school on a Friday, but we have a 90% rate of engagement, only one or two stragglers. However, on Friday, we were able to get two of the kids that never do math, to do math. It was a herculean task that we were able to solve and gives us motivation to continue to help the kids develop the necessary math skills in compliance with their grade level, and beyond.
We started the session off with math, as is the new usual. Since there is usually two waves of children that come, some kids finish before the others. This presents a problem in which we need to decide if we should force them to do more math, let them relax a little bit before the Engineering/Programming Activity, or make them start on the STEM Activity.
Our STEM Activity this week was Spaghetti and Marshmallow Towers. We initially though it was going to be super messy and the kids were going to eat all of the materials and not even try to make a tower. The children astounded us with their creativity and really went deep into building. There was, however, some eating and some mess involved, but nothing a few wet paper towels couldn’t clean up.
Last week at IOSC, one of the kids tried Sonic Pi, but no one really knew how to teach him it. Since then, TeCanal has written a Sonic Pi curriculum (Find it here: http://curriculum.tecanal.org/doku.php?id=sonic_pi). We also did another trial of the Raspberry Pi and Kano. The Raspberry Pi 2 is running quite slowly, so we might have to buy the Raspberry Pi 3, which is significantly faster.
Waning the kids of Scratch was the initial plan, but we tried it again with a kid, and showed him some of the more advanced functions. This was enough to hook him on Scratch again, and he wants to learn the deeper, more hidden parts of Scratch.
This week we did some more math tutoring, per Ms. Kim’s request. We tried to ask the children what they were learning in math, but they insisted on the fact that they were learning nothing. To skirt this next time, the executive officers started to assemble a list of the math objectives set by the Baltimore County curriculum writers so we can assess where the kids are, and to see where they need the most help.
After math tutoring, we did Scratch, which went well. A couple of the children have been doing Scratch with us for a while, but it proves hard to find something that is slightly harder, but still doesn’t require that much focus.
The children at the Immigrant Outreach Service Center (IOSC) are children that are part of families that have just immigrated to the United States. All this kids speak English very well, and are also extremely well-behaved. The director of tutoring at IOSC wants us to do mostly computer/technology related teaching there, so the curriculum differs vastly from that of Mattie B.
The ages of the kids vary, so some children are still working on Scratch or prefer to work on the Spongebob Typing Tutoring game, while others are working on HTML or Python. One major obstacle that we face is engagement. These kids are all very intelligent, but when it is a weekend, and they have already been in tutoring for an hour, it is hard for them to stay on task.
We have begun to combat this by doing more personalized teaching/curriculum and by doing more fun Computer Science activities. Our CTO, Rees Draminski, had a leftover Raspberry Pi (https://www.raspberrypi.org/), so he loaded Kano OS (https://kano.me/) on it and had the kids try it. They especially liked the Minecraft activity, but it was tempting for them to just play Minecraft, rather than doing the activities within Minecraft.
One kid was on a music creation site instead of doing his work, but instead of chastising him, we knew of an awesome program called Sonic Pi (http://sonic-pi.net/), so we installed it on the computer, and get him started on that. Our curriculum is designed to be very flexible, and is always changing depending on the needs of the children.
This week we talked to Ms. Kim, one of the organizers of the outreach that brings the kids for us to tutor. She conveyed to us that she wanted us to do 15 minutes of math each outreach, in addition to our normal engineering or computer lesson. This was our saving grace during this outreach because our lesson did not last the whole time as we expected. They did pretty well on math at the end of outreach, but next time we’re going to try it out with math at the beginning.
We did paper airplanes, which actually worked and the kids were engaged, but it was hard to teach them while they were making the planes. A way to remedy this would be to have a mini lesson before we actually do the project portion in order to establish a purpose of the lesson.
Each outreach is a learning expercience and we hope to write some of the things we’ve learned on this blog, but also on a handbook so all the volunteers can be on the same page when teaching. Stay tuned for the release of that handbook and our next blog post!
There was no craziness during this outreach, but it still could be chalked up to ultimately be a failure. When prompted, the children said they learned nothing. It was partly because of poor choice of lesson, but also because we must do a better job of telegraphing our intentions to the children. A possible remedy for this would be to have objectives before we go into outreach, and post those objectives on a whiteboard so the kids know what they should be getting out of outreach. Also exit surveys of the children to see what they have learned would be a invaluable tool to see what needs to be changed.
The lesson took less time than initially expected, which contributed to the fact that the kids had time to fool around a little bit. There was little to no structure to the lesson, kids were shown how to make a catapult, but only a few made them, the rest worked on a target, or socialized with the volunteers. Although socializing with volunteers is not a bad thing, it is a sign that we should have more actively engaging content for the kids to work on. More structured curriculum would be beneficial to both the volunteers and the kids.