|Researchers in Residence, penultimate visit
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
I paid my third visit to Teddington School today, and it was by far my most difficult.
My arrival was more fraught than I would have liked, as the teacher who coordinates my visit wasn't actually present that day and it also wasn't clear to me that she'd designated someone to take her place. I sat for some time in the visitor's lounge wondering if I'd wasted my time. A part of me vengefully considered departing without warning. However, someone eventually turned up apologetically to lead me to the appropriate venue and informed me that the requests I'd made (e.g. to remain in the same room so I wouldn't have to move my equipment between demonstrations) had been heard and met. It would have been nice to be informed of that beforehand, as my three attempts to elicit explicit assurances via e-mail were met with garbled, partial, and no response respectively.
All this culminated in my not starting off in the best frame of mind. My talk, which ironically was totally unrehearsed, went quite well. The students enjoyed asking me questions, especially the Year 9 students, who would probably have spent the entire session that way if their teacher hadn't stopped them so they could play with the mini-mags.
Speaking of which, I'd picked up some valuable advice from my mini-INSPIRE sessions with the A-level students. One teacher told me that most younger students were unused to working from scripts. My lovingly constructed, detailed instructions for using the mini-mags were therefore not going to work for a practical session. So I knew beforehand that I was going to have to demonstrate their use. Thank goodness. That little tip inspired me to hand out our Space Magnetometer Laboratory pens beforehand. They have compasses built into their pocket clips. Having the students attempt to find north with them illustrated the imprecision of compasses. It provided a very clear distinction between the compass and the magnetometer magnetometer measurements, and (I think) it helped to introduce them to the concept of a vector. However, trying to get a room full of twenty-odd students to sit down and take measurements in a coherent way with only myself and one teacher minding them proved to be difficult. Not only did they not bother reading my extremely simplified script, they had to be coaxed into writing down the data in columns, let alone plotting it on a graph.
The first group of Year 10 students managed to plot the data, but I'm not entirely sure they understood why or what it was for. The second group didn't even get to plotting the data, though they were more adventurous with the equipment and learned a few things unexpectedly. By the time I got to the Year 9 students, I'd given up on the idea of using the script at all and simply instructed them to try some things verbally after we'd split them into groups and given them the mini-mags. That worked the best.
I must say, though, that I came away without my usual buoyant uplift. Although I know my purpose is not really to teach, but to enthuse and interest these students in science, it would be nice to think that I could at least get them to do a tiny bit of actual work. I cannot imagine what it's like to be a teacher. If I felt as if imparting any genuine, lasting lesson about the scientific process was impossible, what must it be like for them?