Judging at a youth science competition. Or: Colourful bubbles!!!

Last week my colleague Uta and I had the pleasure to act as a judges in the largest German youth science competition, “Jugend forscht“. Jugend forscht has been around for a long time, and I’ve been familiar with it for quite some time, too: My sister participated a couple of times when she was a teenager, and my mom was the instructor for many many projects over the years. But this was my first direct exposure, and it was so much fun! For a collection of pictures, assembled in a fun movie by TUHH staff, check this out!

Participants, aged between 15 and 21, choose their own topic to do research on. They work on the project, write a short thesis, and then present their work at a science fair. The projects are judged by volunteers with a background in the respective topics of the projects. I got to be the judge on five projects: four in physics and one in Arbeitswelt (and I have no idea how one would call that in English – Wiki suggests “work environment” but I don’t know that one would understand what that is supposed to mean if one didn’t understand the German). And three out of my five projects were actually from the young version of Jugend forscht: “Schüler experimentieren”, where participants can enter as early as fourth grade.

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Participants being handed their certificates for their first price! Hamburg University of Technology, February 20, 2016

There were so many great, innovative projects around! But my personal favourite was Lina and Lia’s project: Producing coloured bubbles! The two of them were bored with the white bubbles in their baths and set out to figure out how to make colourful bubbles. Not an easy task, seeing that the colour is actually only in the water/soap mix, not inside the bubbles themselves! But they did brilliantly and even came up with methods to make the foam last longer.

But of course there was this nagging thought in the back of my mind: What if I could make bubbles with colour INSIDE? How would one do that?

Here is my idea. At least grey bubbles should be easy enough to produce: Blow out a candle so that it produces smoke. Blow the smoke through the ring of a soap bubble maker into the bubble. The smoke should stay visible inside the bubble! Right? I think the challenge is that whatever colors the air needs to stay suspended inside the bubble, so any pulverized color won’t be helping as it would just stick to the walls of the bubble. What do you think, any great ideas? Best picture of bubbles with colors inside wins a fantastic price! :-)

Anyway. Congratulations to all participants — you did a great job!

P.S.: Obviously, the above could be achieved much more easily. One could just ask a smoker to exhale into soap bubbles! But we don’t want to encourage anybody to use this as a pretense to smoke, not even for science’s sake… ;-)

The Marshmallow Challenge

My colleague Caroline and I recently ran a training course for student tutors and we started it out with the Marshmallow Challenge, that Siska had suggested, both as an ice breaker, team building task and to have participants gain experiences together that we could refer to later on during the workshop.

So, Marshmallow Challenge. Except that we modified it and used a kind of pasta that was a lot more bendy than typical spaghetti — we are working with future engineers, after all!

So this is what we started out from: Every group got

  • 20 “spaghetti”
  • 1m of tape
  • 1m of string
  • 1 marshmallow

They were then asked to build the highest possible, free-standing tower with a marshmallow on top in 18 minutes.

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Some groups started sketching out solutions, others started experimenting. Lots to talk about later on: How did the design process go? How did you assign roles to different participants? Was there conflict? How did you solve it?

IMG_3127Everybody was busy and 18 minutes flew past! When looking at the schedule for the workshop, it seemed like a lot of time out of the half day to spend on, basically, a game. But there was so much going on!

In some of the constructions looked very sophisticated, and all of them looked very different from all the others. And the design and prototyping and construction process went very differently from team to team, too.

This is at the very end of the 18 minutes, when all the hands had to be off the towers. As you see, some had difficulties staying upright.

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The Marshmellow Challenge definitely worked well for our purposes, and it was fun!

After the Marshmallow Challenge, we went on for the more conventional part of the workshop, and this is when we talked for example about group development.

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I like giving workshops! :-)

Stages of group development

Last weekend I had the chance to fill in for a colleague and help run a training course for student tutors. One of the topics was what kind of group processes they should be prepared to encounter and how to deal with them.

Here is more or less what I told them about Tucker’s 1956 model of stages of group development.

There are a couple of stages that occur with every group.

1. Forming

The forming stage occurs when a new group first meets. Everybody is a little unsure of what to expect, people are very polite and don’t quite open up. Everybody is trying to figure out what is going to happen. Trust needs to be established.

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Group stage no 1: Forming.

2. Storming

This is the conflict phase in the team. People start staking claims — both in terms of leadership, topics, loyalties. During this stage emotions are high, the mood of the team can change dramatically over short periods of time. The team recognizes that the task they are supposed to be working on might be harder than they thought initially, and less well defined.

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Group stage no 2: Storming.

3. Norming

When a group reaches this phase, everybody is working towards defining a common goal. Group rules are negotiated, roles filled. The group finds compromises that everybody is happy with and team members take on responsibilities for tasks.

Norming
Group stage no 3: Norming.

4. Performing

After all the previous stages have been lived through, a team can reach the performing stage. Now work runs smoothly, roles are filled confidently but also flexibly. Most decisions are made within the team and there is no need for external guidance.

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Group stage no 4.: Performing.

5. Adjourning

The task is completed and the team members are moving on to new tasks with new teams. Now it is time to celebrate the achievement! But especially if the team worked really well together, team members might be sad to be leaving.

Adjourning
Group stage no 5.: Adjourning

But the thing is: These stages aren’t just passed through once. And there is no rule for how long each of the phases typically lasts.

A team that has reached the performing stage won’t necessarily perform well until the task is finished, quite often it “falls back” into a storming phase. This can happen for many different reasons. A new member might join the team, or an old one leave, opening up a role that someone else wants to claim. To get back to performing, this team now needs to go through a full storming and a full norming phase.

Another time might never leave the storming phase at all. Especially if there are personal of work style conflicts that are not adequately addressed it might be really difficult to leave this phase.

Yet, ideally we want to spend most of the time in the performing phase.

So what can a tutor do to move a group to the performing stage? That we’ll talk about in a later post! :-)

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Stages of group development

 

As frost starts melting, and the roof is getting dry, oh! The sun is up.

My office looks out directly onto the roof of our main lecture theatre, and it is fascinating how much you can observe just by looking out of a window and onto a roof.

Below is a picture of one of the first cold mornings we had this year. As the sun rose, more and more of the roof was lit and the frost melted away. Can you see where the shadow used to be just minutes ago from the shape of the still-frozen frost?

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Some time later, the first corner was completely dry, while other parts of the roof were still wet, the only-recently-lit parts of the roof still had frost n them, and some parts of the roof were still frosty in the shadows.

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I really enjoy making random observations that I bet most people wouldn’t even notice, but I take pictures of and write a haiku about. Good thing I have my blog :-)