It’s an old adage: If you want to inspire children to learn, challenge them and they will exceed your expectations. That sound advice was giving me little comfort. I was two classes into a four class robot workshop for third and fourth grade kids and we were falling behind.
I had 24 kids to walk through a detailed robot kit build. I thought we’d get through the physical build in one or two classes, and have two classes to play with the circuit and make the robot do different things. Boy, did I mis-judge things. By the end of the first class, we had barely managed to finish the first two steps of the build. I went home and collapsed for a bit. I was exhausted and not a little bit panicked.
I called in some helpers for the second class, and things went better. Still, I had some kids falling behind; others were losing focus while waiting. Even with two other adults in the room, we were not making good progress. I could see that my two helpers were wondering if I knew what I was doing. I was starting to wonder myself.
It wasn’t the kids’ fault. They were working hard and trying their very best. I have taught robotics to groups of young makers before. I had worked hard to prepare for this class, but things just weren’t working out. I went home again and re-thought how to proceed. I needed a game-changer.
For the third class, instead of putting more work on the adults, I put more work on the kids. We moved some kids who had fallen behind to one table, and I had one of the other adults work with them to get them caught up. I paired the remaining kids up and encouraged them work with each other as partners. I gave each team a detailed set of pictures with simple instructions to follow so they could go at their own pace instead of depending on me.
You know what happened? It worked! The kids that could work well on their own did so. Others got help from their partners or an available adult when needed. One boy even finished early and I had him walk around and check if anyone else needed help. A group of girls at one table was only too happy to help the slowest of their group. I was able to focus my attention on just the few kids who needed the most help and let the others move forward by themselves.
I had set a goal in my mind for what needed to be completed that day. Every single one of those kids exceeded that goal. Next week is the fourth and final class; we can spend all of it focused on making the circuit and play testing the robots. Instead of being worried, I can’t wait for next week.
Sometimes it is hard to find the right way to approach a learning experience. It is not always easy to know how to get the most out of it, and how to make it fun and rewarding for the kids. It’s a challenge, and I find I work best under a challenge. So do most kids.