Friday, November 16, 2012

Learning How People Learn

Working in the Discovery Center and at the Zoo, I have to guess a lot about what kids know when they show up and what I could possibly teach them.  I am not very good at guessing ages, but I find a "shibboleth approach" works pretty well when it comes to gauging a child's knowledge.  When I am in the butterfly garden, I like to ask kids if they know that all these butterflies used to be caterpillars, and if so, what's the big word  that's used to describe the process of changing from that wormy thing into a butterfly?  If they balk, I'll start it for them, "meta-" still leaving a chance for them to get it even if it didn't come to mind immediately.  What doesn't really work is to just ask, "Do you guys have any questions?"  That's a little too blank-slatey for strangers, I think.

These are things it's taken me a while to figure out.  I do remember a few major failures I've had in interactions with kids.  Once, a mother came in with her son who needed to talk to "a scientist" for a Boy Scouts project.  I volunteered myself, and I forgot to get down to the kid's level, and totally lost him when he didn't know what DNA was.  After that, I ended up sort of explaining my last job (molecular diagnostics) to his mother.  D'oh.

I've gone over this in my head several times since it happened about a year ago, and I even woke up this morning thinking about how I could have done better.  Between that, and seeing this link to a series of videos aimed at small children who need to interact with doctors from a Pinterest buddy, I was inspired to write up some of my experience learning education by doing education.  Plus, I need a bit of an extra push when it's this chilly outside and I need to get to the zoo in a few hours.  

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