Story 05: Memoirs of a Bubble Blower

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What Holds Kids' Interest?

Written by Bernie Zubrowski

Even though it was a rocky start, I knew we were onto something. Initially somewhat frustrating, this process became a useful learning experience. When I went into an afterschool program to lead an activity, I was to a great degree completely at the whim of the children. If they found the activity less than compelling, they would wander off to do some other activity or play a game with their friends. Some afterschool programs were run on a drop-in basis or were mainly recreational. The challenge then was to use materials and find ways of presenting challenges and problems that would immediately engage their interest. A bigger challenge was to sustain this interest over multiple sessions. I had made a commitment to come to these sites on a regular basis and I felt that the activities should be more than entertainment or passing the time. The activities should have some real science content although it would be implicit.

During this period I tried out variations of bubbles activities. I found that I could introduce new techniques to make bubbles or new materials to use with the bubbles and then let the children explore what they could do with it all. I could step back and observe, occasionally helping them master a technique or showing them how to produce interesting effects with the materials. I did not have to continually give instructions or lead them through the activity. In each successive session I introduced new ways of blowing bubbles. Sometimes this kept the same children coming back.

This early afterschool and out-of-school programming forced me to pay close attention to children's interests and motivations. What excited children, and what were they capable of doing? I learned that sometimes I had to modify materials and problems so that if the children were motivated they could work with the materials in a way that would allow them to produce interesting results—or to what they thought they wanted to produce—quickly. The afterschool environment was a real test of the curriculum activities I was designing and developing. If the activities went over well in this kind of informal learning environment, it meant that they would also engage children in other kinds of settings. This proved to be true in future years when I took some of the same activities and adapted them for use in museum exhibits and in the development of curriculum for use in schools.

Next: The Luxury of Time to Develop