I’m what you’d call very “right brain” when it comes to what I’ve always excelled at and found interesting in school. I joke that my sister, a biology major, is my left brain and I’m her right; we’re identical personalities with opposite passions. Because I’ve never had a natural understanding of science, I doubt I would have ever actively sought out STEM programs to volunteer at without Skokie Public Library’s encouragement. For that little push, I’m grateful. Stepping out of my comfort zone to help with the Explore Space event a few months back and the Family Science Expo this last weekend has helped me feel infinitely more confident in my ability to learn and teach something new to a wide range of audiences. I was so proud of how smoothly it ran, I texted my sister afterwards to brag about my baking soda and vinegar-based experiment. She responded “Anything that explodes is enough to entertain a kid.” That’s a pretty formal seal of approval.
After volunteering to help, I was able to find a fun and simple scientific demonstration pretty easily browsing sources other librarians had posted and I created the below visual guide to accompany my station:
I printed out approximately sixty single-sheet copies of the instructions, sans pictures, for kids and parents to take home after the demonstration, along with a balloon of the kids’ choice. Most of the worksheets were gone by the time the event ended and I definitely failed to stop a couple kids from taking… more than one balloon. But overall, my supplies lasted the entire two hours and having Eric there to rinse my bottles after a handful of demonstrations was beyond helpful.
I had more than just Eric’s help, though. About halfway through the event, a couple of our regular junior high patrons came over to watch my demonstration. One of them had to leave early with his family, but the other pulled up a seat and watched me run through my spiel a couple times before asking if he could help. Soon, he knew the questions, hints, and answers I prepared for participants almost better than I did. While I cleaned up the remnants of one demonstration, he’d set up the next one without question and I began referring to him as my lab assistant when I introduced my station to a new set of participants.
He and I had a really good interaction the previous week in the Junior High Zone, so it was incredibly satisfying to see that relationship solidified outside of my normal hours and away from his group of friends. I’m sure he was primarily bored and looking for something to do when he offered to help, but I’m just so glad he chose to do something productive with me. He even hung back and helped me clean when the event was over and we had a good talk about his involvement with basketball at school. Mid conversation, though, I had to walk away to intervene with an outburst between three other junior high regulars. Luckily, the situation diffused pretty quickly. Two junior high boys had tried messing with a different junior high boy by turning his computer off. He responded by pushing a chair over, but calmed down after we encouraged him to come to a librarian if the two boys tried bothering him again. I had a brief talk with the two boys responsible for the incident and they agreed to back off. They ended up going outside to play, which worked out perfectly considering how much energy they apparently had to waste.
Once everything was calmed down and cleaned up, I chatted with people at the Youth Services desk, said goodbye to my junior high lab assistant, and headed out. Naturally, I got my partner to drive me to the library long before the event started and I found him reading near the swan statues, enjoying that natural sunlight we all raved about during Staff Day. Driving back home I felt a little tired, but more than anything I felt satisfied. I spent a lot of time fretting beforehand over whether I had everything I needed to make my station a success, if the kids were going to like the demonstration I chose, and memorizing enough facts to accurately explain the “why” and “how” of what I was going to show them. But each time I’ve helped lead another program at the library, whether it’s a science expo or a Challenge Accepted hour or a high school council meeting, I get more and more confident in my ability to provide information and services to the community in a natural, proficient way. This experience and practice is exactly what I wanted to get out of interning at Skokie Public Library so, once again, thank you. And more importantly, thank you for always capturing how insane I usually look.