The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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The Free Knowledge Stand: Physics at Breakfast

100_0787This January, upon return from the winter break, students were greeted with the grand opening of the Free Knowledge Stand at breakfast in the cafeteria.

My co-resident and I keep office hours after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are usually well-attended. However, we noticed that many of our students who needed the most support in Physics were not showing up for additional help. At first we assumed that they maybe just didn’t want to, had other priorities, or didn’t value the subject matter or our time. But when we asked students why they weren’t showing up for extra help, we got a variety of reasons that at first we hadn’t considered: transit, work, and family.

Due to Boston’s complex busing system, many of our students are coming from very far across the city, and need to catch BPS shuttle buses to major transit stations, or risk having to make a 2 hour trek home via surface buses (which, as we know, isn’t exactly providing equitable access to underserved populations). These shuttles leave immediately after school, and there is no recourse for missing them other than making one’s own way. Additionally, we found through our case study interviews that many of our students either work after school to help support their families or have to take care of siblings while others work.

Ok, easy we thought. We’ll just come in early before school and have students come in when they get to school. However, this wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. One hurdle we ran into was (necessary) security: students aren’t allowed to roam the halls unescorted before hours. So we would be constantly running back and forth between classroom and cafeteria.

The other hurdle was breakfast. The students were reluctant to leave the cafeteria in the morning because that is when they eat breakfast — and food is not allowed in the classrooms. If you’re getting into school at 7am after a 1.5 hour commute to school, having breakfast before is probably not an option; and if you’re on the Federal Free or Reduced program for low-income students (85% of our student body), you probably don’t have many other options for breakfast anyway. So that wasn’t budging.

The solution: The Free Knowledge Stand, a play on a commonly shouted phrase of our mentor teacher in the hallways, “Free knowledge! Free knowledge today! Come and get the knowledge! Free knowledge my friend, why are you not learning? Free Knowledge! …”

So, every morning, I send out a tweet from my teacher Twitter account letting students know when we will be there. My co-resident and I try to get in at 7am (doesn’t always happen… curse you snooze alarm), when we set up our laptops and our Free Knowledge Stand sign in the cafeteria. Most days, we’ll get a few clients. Some days, no one comes for help — on those days we just do our work of planning and BTR papers as we normally would.

And aside from the content help, the Free Knowledge has been a great way to form positive relationships with students. Many of them like to stop by with their breakfasts and just say hi, talk about what we did in class, and ask far-out questions about the material that they were wondering (“So Mister, is there like, friction everywhere? Like what about in the sun, is it you know like, too hot for friction in there?”).

Since there are two of us, we are often able to tag team, one resident directly helping students while the other does lesson planning and chiming in when able — sharing the workload. The Free Knowledge Stand has been a great way to provide extra physics help and get to know students, without really taking any additional time out of our days. And yes, it is always the grand opening — we’ve got cheesy/nerdy science teacher reputations to maintain after all.