Little Scientists Can Teach You A Lot

11 Sep

Two students were in the science lab this morning doing “experiments” with vinegar, baking soda, corn starch,Scientists dish soap, food coloring, and who knows what else. They looked quite serious with their safety goggles, beakers, and test tubes. Soon a handful of inspired younger students rushed up to me and asked if they could be certified to use the lab equipment. They stared at me patiently as I read the rules. And then they nodded their heads vigorously when I repeatedly emphasized that it was everyone’s responsibility to clean up.

Since a few of the students are fairly new to the school, I thought it would be nice to do some activity with them so that they could get comfortable with the materials in the lab. I asked them if they would like to make cornstarch goo and they all agreed.  Soon there were oohs and aahs coming from the new little scientists along with lots of giggles. A few more students joined in and I almost became overwhelmed trying to contain the mess. There was goo all over the table and on the floor, cornstarch tracks on some of the rugs, and a pile of dirty bowls, dishes, and utensils. Thankfully, after about twenty minutes or so, the students were ready to move on. I sent them to the hose outside to wash their hands, which were dripping with goo, while I stayed behind to clean up.

Now, my story could end here and it would all be about how wonderful I was to engage these young minds and teach them some science (the properties of non-Newtonian fluids) while having lots of fun. Well, this is not the best part of the story…

The cleaning took me longer than expected, but I was enjoying the quiet break. Suddenly all the young scientists returned to the lab and began their experiments anew. “Oh, no. This is going to be a disaster,” I thought to myself, but I kept my head down and tried not to pay too much attention. I was determined to finish up and leave before the lab was trashed again. Well, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The two original students quickly took charge and guided the younger students. They suggested combinations of ingredients and showed them things like how to use a straw to make bubbles. When one of the younger students spilled their solution on the floor, an older one dashed off and reappeared with a towel to put under her feet. There were also many gentle reminders about being careful, keeping things in order, and cleaning up after oneself.

The thing that surprised me the most, besides the fact that no one ever asked for my help, was how serious and calm the entire scene felt. I would occasionally hear proud exclamations of, “Look what I did!” or “I make the best experiments!” but overall everyone was very focused. After almost an hour, one of the younger students, who had just been certified, came to ask if I would check the lab. She wanted to know if they had cleaned up properly. I was startled to find that the lab was spotless! All the equipment had been washed and put away and all of the surfaces had been wiped down. Even the floor was dry. I couldn’t contain my delight. “Wow! It looks beautiful!” The student stood beaming at me, not so much at gaining my approval but more with a look of “I told you we could do it.”

Kids are amazing when you get out of their way. They are often capable of so much more than we expect. I guess I was the student today.

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