Monday, July 02, 2012

Bringing Science to Creative Writing

Earlier this month we were proud to announce our partnership with 826 National and Time Warner Cable's Connect A Million Minds to help bring science content to the stellar 826 National creative writing programs in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York!

Last week, Coalition Director Dr. Carol Tang presented a taste of what science in a creative writing program can look like at the 826 National Staff Development Conference with Dr. Rebecca Smith, Co-Director of the Science & Health Education Partnership at University of California, San Francisco.  What they presented yesterday was a small piece of the pilot curriculum they have written for 826 National that incorporates science concepts into creative writing.

Rebecca started the session by asking participants to imagine that they are space explorers and they have just received samples from a new planet.  Carol passed out samples of a gooey, sticky, interesting substance, and encouraged everyone to explore.  With toothpicks, knives, cookie cutters and of course their hands, everyone started poking, observing and testing the stuff.  The room was full of laughter and conversation as people compared and discussed the mysterious sample from another planet.

If you are familiar with oobleck, then you know exactly what was happening in the room!  People were discovering the strange properties of this non-Newtonian fluid, which sometimes acts like a solid, and sometimes acts like a liquid.  But instead of telling us what this stuff was, Carol and Rebecca just continued to let everyone explore and experiment.  This is one of the most important parts of informal science education - resisting giving away the answers extends and prolongs exploration and deepens the experience for the learner.

Then Carol and Rebecca challenged everyone to work together to think about how they would go about building a spaceship that could land on a planet made of this stuff.  The tables were full of more conversation.  At my table, someone noticed that the goo becomes instantly loose and liquid when water is added.  This gave someone else the idea that the spaceship should have a way to suck up moisture from the planet through the bottom of the spacecraft, retain it, and then recycle that liquid back to the planet to release the ship when it's time to take off again.

Rebecca reminded us that an important part of being a scientist is sharing what you've discovered.  As we shared out our ideas with the other groups we learned what other people had observed and tested.  Then Carol shared some facts about oobleck and states of matter.  When we stepped back to debrief about the activity, the 826 staff thought of some creative writing skills are supported by a science based activity like this, including observation, brainstorming, experimentation and summarizing.

The pilot program that the Coalition for Science After School helped create for 826 National incorporates hands-on explorations that inspires writing, builds inquiry and hypothesis-testing skills, fosters identity with scientific endeavors, creates relevance for scientific principles in youth's lives and makes science fun.  

Rebecca talked about how these messy explorations can inspire writing for kids.  "If you think your writing packets look messy, you should see a real scientist's journal!" she joked.  We are so pleased to have been able to collaborate with her on this project, and to bring science activities specifically designed for out-of-school time to 826 National.  We can't wait to hear how this pilot program goes and we look forward to more opportunities to partner with outstanding after school programs to deliver high quality science experiences!

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