Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Ice Fishing in Alaska" - Science with Seniors



Ok...we weren't actually "ice fishing," but we did have a lot of fun! Humor is key to engaging seniors in activities. It is not an across the board approach as each senior has their own unique way of engaging with the world at large and with others who occupy that world alongside them. Yet, a good laugh is often welcomed. Everyone had several last week during Science with Seniors.

I like to start each science group with a brief repeat of an activity from the week before. For those seniors who do not have advanced dementia, this prepares them for this week's activity. It reminds them of the enjoyment they had engaging with prior experiments. It also reminds me of a Montessori teaching philosophy about building trust from those that you are instructing, teaching, leading or guiding - pick your word. This trust that you are going to give interesting and challenging lessons opens the door to future teaching/leading/guiding moments. "Susan, you always show us stuff that makes us think," was one of the comments I was told by a senior last week. The woman who said it pointed her finger at me as she did and then said, "We don't tell you enough how much we appreciate you, but we really do, Susan. We really do." So what was it that we did? Oh, yeah! We went ice fishing.

I started the science group with two static electricity activities. These provided immediate results and such good, scientific eye candy. Both used balloons. All of the participants rubbed their balloons on their sweaters and vests. Next they held them over a plate of Styrofoam shapes. Those shapes jumped right up to meet the balloon.


The room buzzed with exclamations and laughter. Next,  I removed the Styrofoam shapes and poured about a fourth of a cup of dry Jello onto each of the participant's plates. Again they rubbed the balloons. Again they held them over their plates. It was like the balloons were mini vacuum cleaners. The Jello stirred, swirled and then rose up to cling to the balloons. Unfortunately, though, some of the seniors could not see, due to issues regarding their vision, the movement of the Jello as well as the Styrofoam shapes.





As interest in the Styrofoam and Jello was slowly waning, I walked around with my assistant and removed all of the items used for the static electricity exercises. I then spoke briefly about how the Styrofoam "clung" to the balloon. That the balloon could lift them up off the plate. I then explained that temperature can also cause similar reactions. This is when I stated, "It's time to go ice fishing!" Eyebrows raised and a few jaws dropped. I heard, as I hear every week, "What is she up to now?"


My assistant, or aide, placed plastic cups in front of each of the seniors and filled all of them three quarters full. I then gave each participant large, plastic tweezers (these are perfect in size, shape and color and cost $1.49 each) and a piece of yarn that was about six inches in length. We then placed an ice cube in each cup. When everyone had an ice cube, I asked that the participants tie the piece of yarn around the ice cube in the water and pull it up out of the cup. Faces leaned over the cups and then looked up at me like I was crazy. "How do you expect us to do that??" asked one of the more talkative seniors. "Don't worry. I will help you. But, first let me get some salt," I answered with a smile. "Salt? What do you need salt for?" she asked as I headed for the kitchen.


I returned to the table a few seconds later, the kitchen is quite close, and walked over to the senior who had asked me why I was getting the salt. I asked her to place one end of her piece of yarn on top of the ice cube in her cup. She did. Next, I sprinkled salt on the yarn and cube. I waited a few seconds and then asked her to pull up the cube. To her great surprise, she did just that. The cube clung to the piece of yarn and hovered in the air.


I went around the table repeating the above. Some ice cubes stuck immediately to the yarn. Others did not. When the cube did not stick, I explained that the temperature of both the ice and the water had been affected by the addition of the salt. I then replaced the ice cube with a fresh one. I also switched ends of the yarn. Finally, I sprinkled salt on both again. By the end of the group, all had pulled ice cubes up out of the water with their piece of yarn.




Waiting can be a very big challenge for seniors. They can lose interest quickly. Therefore, it is important to choose projects that take about 15 minutes or so to complete from beginning to end. This is why I generally do three science projects/activities during each Science with Seniors group. Also, and this is so important, if a senior decides that they no longer want to do the activity, even after you have briefly encouraged them to stay, simply assist them to get up and move to a place away from the group. This has actually happened at least once during all the activities I have led at The Bridge.

It has nothing to do with the competency of the staff or the quality of the activity. When a senior participant has decided that they are finished with whatever it is that they were doing, then that is it. Grace and courtesy is what you must offer. Insisting that they stay and participate is only about your ego and your ego has no place here. They may not even remember who you are, let alone what it is that you were attempting to show them.

If you are doing your activity at the same tables that they eat their snack and lunch, as I am, don't be surprised if one of the seniors states loudly, "I'm hungry." They are sitting at a table. They don't know what your science activity is all about or why you expect them to. They just know that this is where they eat and there is no food in front of them.

Again the Montessori method returns to me. Use materials appropriately. Unfortunately, these are the only tables available for large group activities - well maybe. I am thinking now of maybe moving this activity to the back room where our table puzzles are done. Yes, I think this might be a good idea. I will ask next week. If not, I will bring table cloths in to change the tables aesthetically and see if that is effective. Again, please remember you are all reading what I call my first field notes.  You are reading my diary, as is written beneath the name of this blog - The Diary of An AMI Montessori Theorist. Gosh, I am so glad I decided to call it that years ago!

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