So I started work with AmeriCorps and the Boys & Girls Club of Utah a few months back. My job is to help teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in the schools as a teacher’s aide.
My first school assignment was Sharon Elementary in Orem, Utah. To help run the after-school Science Club.
The first few weeks I just sat and smiled in an avuncular way at the kids, while Jeff ran things with experiments like Alka-Seltzer rockets and how to make a paper boat float. He is a real dynamo, and when his university class schedule changed and wouldn’t allow him to continue leading the Club I had to step into his shoes.
I’m not sure I’m doing as well as he did. He had a natural aura of command and an air of superior knowledge that awed me as well as the kids.
When I took over I was supposed to have an assistant, but he didn’t show up. So I’m doing the whole thing myself. It’s only a half hour, Tuesdays through Fridays, and each afternoon is a different set of kids – so I only need one new science project a week. Thank goodness!
I started them off with an easy math project; flipping a coin 20 times to see how many times it came up heads and how many times it came up tails. My goal was to introduce them to the science of probability and chance. Once the kids realized they would be working with real, albeit paltry, money they went to work like fiends.
Only, most of them did not know how to flip a coin – so the nickels went flying all over the classroom. I told them in the sternest voice I could muster that they’d have to pay me back if they lost any. The coins continued to whiz through the air like miniature flying saucers.
And the results were . . . um, skewed?
Before they started flipping I told them, with a broad wink and tongue firmly in cheek, that I fully expected that each pair would come up with Heads 10 times and Tails 10 times. This, of course, was a red herring, a jape, a piece of bunkum that I assumed the children would know could not hold up in a real demonstration.
I was wrong. Either they had been so well indoctrinated by their teachers, or so intimidated by my presence, that they ‘fixed’ the results of their tosses so that it was Heads 50% and Tails 50%.
Yikes! I quickly had them do it over again, and this time I emphasized that it SHOULD come up as a random ratio – NOT fifty-fifty.
It went better the second time, although two of the pairs still came up with a 50/50 ratio – and were then hesitant to tell me about it.
But it all worked out in the end, and now those children realize that if you flip a nickel 20 times you can get any number of different ratios – plus they also learned that if they ‘lost’ their nickel Mr. Torkildson would not really make them pay it back.
Next time, I’m using pennies.