Thursday, February 12, 2015

Families Learning Together- The Experience Worth Creating

Tracy Chatters is the PACT Academy Coordinator and homeschooling Mom! This week, PACT staff hacked the traditional Science Fair by adding in Engineering Challenges. In addition to Science Fair boards and presentations, families were invited to participate in two engineering challenges and an Egg Drop with a Twist. The event resulted in a fun family evening where taking risks took center stage.

This week we had family science and engineering night at PACT. More than one hundred people gathered to experiment, struggle, try and try again and to persevere. Our challenges could not be contained to one room and we spilled into the hallway. After all, when your project includes spaghetti, a marshmallow, painter's tape and directions to build the tallest tower you possibly can, there is a lot of challenge for everyone!
As I stood in the room surrounded by thoughtful joy and curious questions, I realized I was standing in the sweet spot of the perfect educational experience. I was in the middle of "that" moment right before the ah-ha where everyone is scratching their heads and wondering, feeling the frustration of building but motivated by the challenge. Our youngest engineers at one or two years old, to our grandparents full of wisdom were all looking at the timer and wondering if one more adjustment might make their structure sturdier or topple it over. Teams contemplated taking the risk, unsure of the reward, teams glanced furtively at the timer then their towers and then the timer again.
Sometimes the experience alone is the learning opportunity. We didn't have to articulate a goal, have a contest or rewards or even enforce the rules. Everyone participating was motivated by the opportunity and wanted to do more and do it to a little better. I watched moms and dads who turned their kids loose to build with others, leaving mom and dad to build alone. This was a night were everyone was hands on!

The observer and data collector in me was fascinated by the moms sitting back and letting dad do the building, only to laugh and step in to fix the mistakes at the last minute. I was equally interested in watching the dads who don't normally have the opportunity to build with their kids. They seized the moment, pulled up a carpet square or a skinny desk and set to work playing, building and experimenting. 

There was not a grumpy face in the room, even when towers collapsed and spaghetti broke. Everyone stuck it out, from our kids with frustrating learning challenges to our oldest "too cool" middle schoolers who normally watch from the side but this time couldn't stand to miss out on the fun and joined in.
It is difficult to say what everyone learned as a group, because each experience was different within each family. I watched a dad learn that mom was far more competitive than he imagined and another mom learn that dad was delighted to lay belly down on the classroom floor because that is what his kindergarten son wanted. I saw siblings stop bickering and team up to ensure they could beat their parents. All through the room, magic was happening in big groups and small, as each person contemplated and built and examined and built some more. 

At the end of a school event, we always debrief to make notes for next year. This year, my mental note was to not change a thing. I don't know if everyone there could articulate what each learned, but I know one thing for sure. Each one would come back for more the next time. Sometimes, just providing space and time for the experience is all that's needed for a beautiful night! 

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