NGS Students on the Ball Teaching
BTW Kindergarteners About Polymers

A BTW kindergartener pours the polymer mixture she has just made into her ping-pong ball mold.

April 28, 2016

Garbed in rubber gloves and protective goggles, Next Generation School (NGS) eighth graders on a February 23rd field trip to Booker T Washington STEM Academy (BTW), shared with BTW kindergarteners the art of making bouncy balls. According to NGS Science Teacher Bryant Fritz, it was a win-win for both groups of students. His eighth graders experienced working with young children and how to take the principles they have learned down to a level younger students can understand. BTW youngsters were exposed to some lab principles, learned how to use scientific equipment, and, of course, ended up with a ball that they had made all by themselves (with a bit of help from their older mentors.) And they all had fun.

Organizing and leading the event was Mechanical Science and Engineering's Educational Coordinator, Joe Muskin, who has previously drafted NGS students to serve as teaching assistants at BTW. NGS has been partnering with Muskin and BTW for several years now. “I brought them back again this year,” explains Fritz, “because I see what an incredible and positive experience it is for our students at Next Generation.”

A BTW kindergartener prepares to add food coloring to the polymer mixture she is making for her bouncy ball.

For one, they experienced what it’s like to work with young children. And they started to learn, at a young age, how to something adult scientists and engineers have to learn how to do themselves: communicate principles at a level someone younger or less well informed can understand.

They also learned to do something else adults must to learn to do: overcome nerves when thrown into a new situation.

 “When I was describing what we were going to do,” admits Fritz, “they were all really nervous about working with kindergarten students, because they’ve never done this before. But once they got here and they realized how eager and excited the young students were, I think everybody got pretty comfortable, and it was overall just a great day.”

An NGS student (right) helps a BTW student prepare his polymer.

Fritz' eighth graders would agree that it was a positive experience. For example, several commented on how polite the youngsters were. According to Jonathan Dullerud, "It was actually really fun, because we got to help the kids, and they were just really happy. Actually, most of the kids that my partner Albert and I got were really polite. So it was really cool."

The eighth graders had all done the activity themselves when they were younger, so they didn't learn anything new on that score. However, they did learn some new things about teaching. For instance, Camille Moulin learned, "it’s difficult when people don’t really listen sometimes. Once they do its really easy."

Above: An NGS student helps a kindergartener with her polymer mixture.
Below: Two kindergarteners work on the polymer mixture.

Sean Ries take on teaching was very similar to Camille's: "Time sometimes flies, but only when they’re actually paying attention."

Eighth grader Sylvia Byron admitted that working with young children was a challenge, "They’re a handful. A lot to handle!" However, she still enjoyed it.

"It was really fun. The kids were—most of them were very polite, and I liked watching them learn. They were really interested, and it was really fun seeing their faces light up."

Did the kindergarteners actually learn some science?

Jonathan Dullerud thought so. "I think they did because I explained to them how the air reader works over there, and how the pressure makes it so that the lid doesn’t come off, and it was just really cool. They were really happy."

Fritz thought his students did a good job teaching.

“I think they taught as much as they possibly could. We talked about trying to communicate those ideas to younger students and tried to tell him about some of the basic ideas that are involved in the lab. We wanted them to have fun with the little kids but we also wanted them to learn something with it too.”

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative
More: K-6 Outreach, 6-8 Outreach, Booker T. Washington, Next Generation School, 2016

For further information regarding the University of Illinois' partnership with Next Generation School and Booker T. Washington STEM Academy, see I-STEM's articles:

A kindergartener pours polymer into his mold. A BTW kindergartener mixes the polymer for her ball..