Learnings from Teaching Middle School Students

A few days back I led a workshop for middle school students as part of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) event. I volunteered for this about a month back. A series of zoom sessions and emails were exchanged to brainstorm ideas, select experiments, and plan the event. Each volunteer should lead a workshop, where an experiment will be conducted, and it will be repeated for 3 groups of students spread over 2 hours.

I picked up an experiment to use the microwave to measure the speed of light, due to my interest in “scientific cooking”. The experiment called “Chocolate at the speed of light” requires you to melt a bar of chocolate in a microwave. If you show sufficient patience and care you will get an unevenly melted chocolate bar, else a runny chocolate syrup. Irrespective of the form, the result is sweet – another reason to try this at home. After measuring the distance between melted chocolate blobs and few calculations later you will have an estimated speed of light.

  •  Importance of Planning

Two high schools assigned for my session as moderators. We connected before the D-day to structure our session. The moderators recommended a slide deck to guide the students and explain the concepts involved. We also decided to create a video to demonstrate the experiment. The high school kids came up with a very creative slide deck.

  •   Having a fallback option

 I took up the task of creating a video. The video creation required on-the-job learning of Apple iMovie. My kids took up the camera to help me. I had to repeat the experiment couple of times to get it right. This video will be our fallback option as a live experiment can fail. It is also challenging to carry out over a Google meet and repeat it for 3 groups.

  • What is simple and obvious for you may not be for many

We were happy with our preparation and were raring to go. Our first session was not very smooth. We ran the 2 mins demo which covered 7 steps and then asked the students to follow. There were many questions and doubts about the steps. I learned that what is obvious for me, may not be so for the audience who is trying it first. The students may not have used a microwave oven before, and it helped us to empathize with their situation.

  • Feedback and incorporating learnings

The high school moderators were quick to catch the learnings from 1st session. We made quick course corrections like, running the demo for a few steps and asking the students to follow along, check if they are stuck in a step. Our second and third sessions were quite smooth. The results were visible, most students completed their experiments successfully and the results were quite accurate as well.

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