A nice Splash! in Magical Fluids.
Achieving goals goes through three phases.
- Inspiration – I vividly remember sitting in the library and reading about Splash. I had a click! moment and I thought, whoa, wouldn’t it be cool if I could teach something too. I’ve never done it. But how difficult could it be. It’s just a bunch of kids. Plus, this is an amazing opportunity, I told myself. Riding high on the excitement phase, I sent out a bunch of emails and a few people showed enthusiasm and we were off. I had floated three classes – one of which I would teach with other ChemEs and two I would do on my own. Here’s where I first mentioned it.
- Panic – This phase hits about a week before the deadline. I had underestimated the cost of the materials. Some people had to drop out at the last-minute. New people joined. My slides were not ready. I was trying to complete a course assignment which took over 20 hours. I was trading emails with the organizers. I clearly remember one night I was sitting in the lab and having a nervous breakdown. Next day R asked me why I was smiling. I replied, this is me giving up. I laugh when I realize that I’m beyond my stress point. Theres nothing more I can do. It is what it is! (At one point, I was running out of ideas and had to shout out for some fresh ideas. Extremely thankful to everyone who gave suggestions especially MJ and RM)
- Relief – The day came. It was a beautiful day. The weather was perfect. It was sunny. Six of us showed up early on the Saturday morning and started preparing the cornstarch solution in my lab. No one had had breakfast. But no one cared. We laughed. We joked. And made a grand mess. It took us two hours to get the thing to a proper consistency. By noon, we were wheeling all our materials to the Main Quad, all excited to meet the first batch of twenty kids. And the kids came. The first session was chaotic. We had no idea how it would be. But it was over in 45 mins. We regrouped and decided to organize things better. The next session was much better. And from then on, it was more or less under control. I learnt a couple of lessons from this entire experience:
- Ask kids questions. MJ had suggested this. And it worked like a charm. Kids say the darndest things.
- Use analogies. One I used was what would happen if I jumped off the San Francisco bridge etc..
- Make jokes. Once they started smiling and laughing, even we felt comfortable teaching them.
- Break the task into small steps and give them a demo.
- But at give them some space for creativity. So for the silly putty they chose their own colors and shapes etc..
- Smile. They were tired. We were tired. Smiling helps.
- Have a team you can depend on. Mind you, we had to handle 100 kids in five sessions. At one point, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t get myself up to go and gather the kids from the meeting point. But the show still went on. People stepped up. If I haven’t said so, I’m grateful to be surrounded by such awesome friends.
- Give something to the kids to take back. We had candy. Kids + candy = hyperactive combo. But so much more fun. Plus, the kids also took home the silly putty they made in ziplock bags.
- Location. Thanks to RP, we setup base smack in the middle of Main Quad. Almost every kid and every parent passed by us.
- Don’t worry about being messy. I would tell the kids, your mom is not going to let you do this at home. So, better make all the mess you want here. You don’t have to clean up.
And so it went on. After five hours, and hundred plus kids and dozens of curious parents, we closed shop. The kids just wouldn’t stop. We had these big black trash bags into which we emptied the corn starch and the kids started kickboxing on it. A bunch of them pleaded us to let them take the corn starch home. We firmly said no. Whoa. I had enough of my share of kids for the day..
A bunch of us hung out at Coho’s and laughed. I went back home took a nap and started to get ready for my Muhammad Ali class which was the next day. I realized that I was so tired, that I decided to teach only the Muhammad Ali class twice. I was hoping the kids wouldn’t have minded the last minute change of plans. Not that they had a choice now..
For my Muhammad Ali inspiration class, here were a couple of things I wanted to do:
- Make sure the kids got enough time to speak. I wanted this to be about them and less about Ali.
- I needed to make sure they got a chance to hear and see Ali for themself. If you haven’t heard Ali speak, I strongly recommend you look at the presentation below and at least watch the videos. Trust me on this. The kids loved it.
Some memorable highlights from the Muhammad Ali class:
- When I asked the kids to share their inspirational stories, I expected them to say something along the lines of, Oh, I saw this kitten and gave it some milk etc. But was I in for a surprise. One guy mentioned how his dad was fighting his battle with pancreatic cancer, another one spoke about how her grandfather had dementia but still recognized her grandmother, others shared stories about friends who had been bullied upon and family members going through divorce… I was speechless.
- Having a small class helped. By the end of the 45 min class, I knew most of their names and they came around, shook our hands. I was touched. Have you ever had a kid come up to you and shake you hand and thank you? Sigh. Did I mention this was one of the best days of my life?
- I was surprised to read their goals. When I was in the 7th grade, all I knew was how to play counter-strike. These guys were so detailed in their goals. From learning guitar in the next one year, to joining med school.. these kids inspired me.
- Candy. Helps. Immensely. You want to keep them as enthusiastic as possible.
- I gave them couple of mins to discuss amongst themselves before they would share with the class. From my experience, I feel it helps to bounce off ideas on one person before you declare them to the class.
- Getting them to move about. I had them write things on post-its and stick it on the board. This served two purposes – One it got them off their butts. Second, when they glanced at all the post-its they could collectively see common goals and patterns. It highlighted that we all had common aspirations and weaknesses after all.
In my opinion, the last weekend was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had at Stanford. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the following awesome people: DK, RP, RJ, NN, FS, PH, LDP, DA, SS, BU, CS, AL and AM.
Also, we got some coverage in the local media. You can read it here.
In total – we taught 100+ kids for the Magical Fluids course. And I had another 20 kids for my Muhammad Ali class.
Mission Accomplished !