Tuesday, May 8, 2018


The email came early this morning. The middle school science teacher is doing a science fair. Several groups need to go outside to perform their experiment. The science teacher really doesn't want to take the whole class outside and he wonders if I have any time open today that I could help. It just so happens that three of my intervention groups are on field trips today. I have about 90 minutes open. I was going to use it for several other projects but…

One of the groups that needs to go outside is four kids from my reading class. Three boys- C, J, E, and one girl- M. C is a really talented soccer player, but not so excited about reading. He will read soccer books (nonfiction only) and occasionally a graphic or illustrated novel. And that's all. Most days, I have to ask him, as he comes in the door, if he has his book. Often, probably three days out of every five,  he has to go back to get it. Then he tromps back in the door, usually a few minutes late, usually bashing into two or three desks along the way, charming a girl or two or three, and finally settling, but always antsy, and rarely focused on his reading.

Today is different. The group is performing an experiment about density. C seems to be in charge. He has taken four soccer balls and filled them with varying amounts of water, which, he informs the group, took him two hours the night before.  The object of the experiment is to see which one will travel the farthest when they kick it. I watch as C withdraws a needle kit from his bag, expertly inserts the needle into the ball, and adds a little air, then the group heads for the field, but not before C sends J back to the room for a measuring tape.

C carries his backpack and two of the balls. E has the other two balls, and M carries the Chromebook for data entry. We arrive at the field and C is all business. He opens his backpack, and withdraws his soccer cleats. He sets the balls up on a starting line, then informs the group that he  is going to be the first kicker. No one objects. The first ball travels 133 feet. I know because J and I have run down the field with the measuring tape. E is responsible for retrieving the ball, so that the other group members can have a kick. No one else kicks it farther than 35 feet. The other three balls, each containing more water, yield similar results. Each time, C's kick travels two or three times as far as everyone else's. M refuses to even try kicking, she says she will be the group photographer and data recorder.

The group's original plan is to take the longest kick from each ball and use that as their data. J points out, however, that C always kicks the farthest and that maybe they should just use him as the kicker. C is more than happy to oblige and kicks balls down the field again and again, until they have enough trials.

Almost an hour later, C takes off his cleats and we head back into the building. He once again takes charge- making sure that we have four balls (all his, I think), and the Chromebook, and the backpack, and the measuring tape. On the way inside, he consults his phone, and tells me that they are late to their next class, and I will need to tell the language arts teacher where they have been.

And as always, kids have taught me today. C can't remember to bring his book to reading class to save his life, but today he remembered four balls, and his cleats, and the measuring tape, and the Chromebook. In class, it takes pretty much every skill I have (and some days ones that I don't) to get him to sit down and focus. His body (and often his mouth) are in constant motion. And yet outside, he's totally focused, able to direct a group, eager to display his prowess, willing to cooperate.

And I wonder, as always, what's wrong with this picture? Why don't these skills transfer to the classroom? Why, oh why, can't we make schools that fit kids better?


Kyle said...

As I read this a flood of thoughts rush through my brain. The one that is floating to the top first says as educators we must push back against a system that doesn't celebrate this style of learning. C showed us that this is the way he thrives. Thank you and his science teacher for giving him this opportunity.

Fran Haley said...

I recall a first grade student who wasn’t inspired to write or really to be motivated by much of anything until the class did an assortment of science & math experiments like sink or float or stack, slide, or roll. He came to life with these and wrote page after page in his notebook, along with illustrations and diagrams. To me this experience, and yours, speak to the various learning styles of children. Kinesthetic learners need to move! Excellent question re: schools needing to fit kids - instead of the other way around.