BEAMS: Curiosity
January 9, 2013


BEAMS, Becoming Excited About Math and Science, is one of our education programs. In particular, it is the only one in which I participate with more than a ceremonial role. I try my best to pull my full share of BEAMS visits. Today was the first of the year, and it went really well.

There were about a dozen middle school kids in my office, plus the teacher. Of course, the lab’s education team ensures complete immersion by making themselves scarce for the allotted duration of the visit. Of course, each group is different. Some are very active, all primed with a set of questions, each vying with the others to get the opportunity to ask the question. Clearly, the teachers have primed them to think that participation is good; it is. Other groups are quiet, getting a question is like pulling teeth and, no matter how much the teacher has prepared them, they have a hard time. In those cases, it usually falls to the interviewee, yours truly, to take the lead.

In almost all the cases, the behavior of the kids at some point becomes the issue for the teacher.

Today was quite different from most of my previous BEAMS visits.

We had a few questions from the kids to warm up. What do you actually do? How do you work out what to do? It was a medium lively bunch with relatively few out to lunch, but not dominated by heavy hitters. I got the chance to say that, if they didn’t have questions for me, then I had a couple for them.

I explored how many requested and/or received books as presents during the holidays. The response was positive from about a third of the group.

I then asked them whether they had wondered about the way the days were becoming shorter but that now, they were getting longer, the sun had decided to come back. That generated a good exchange; one kid was quite close with an explanation. And somewhere round about this stage, I found the teacher was feeding off what we had just discussed. She took them down the path of exploring what I was really trying to get across with my questions. Was I really trying to ask about the explicit issue of the length of the days, or was I saying something more, perhaps trying to send a message? And she managed to get one kid to say, “Curiosity,” as I finished writing the word on the white board behind her.

It was a real pleasure. I mentioned that I had done my homework that morning thinking in advance about what might be said; the teacher was able to explain that in the classroom each day the stuff that happens is planned in advance by her doing her homework. Perhaps most pleasing, the teacher left saying that the interview was just what she had hoped for, and also the kids left lively and chattering.

But there was one kid who was not so convinced until we explained to him that he would become a better quarterback if he actually worked on understanding the playbook, like RGIII for example, rather than having to wear the whole book in a plastic cover on his wrist.

Curiosity - BEAMS.

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