'In the Dark with Pencils Flying'
Classroom Management in the planetarium
by Ana Larson
Yes, pencils flying! Other behavior that has occurred in the planetarium while the lights are off: continuous talking, laughter, shoving and hitting, flash cameras, luminous watches and shoes, eating and drinking, wise cracks, withholding of laser pointer, turning upside down on the couch, and more... Is this the rule? Fortunately, no, this kind of behavior is the exception. However, will you be prepared to handle these behavior problems should they arise? This is especially important if you find that the adults in the crowd are waiting for you to do something about these problems!
Here are some pointers to help you head off and/or handle these problems. But always, ALWAYS feel free to ask the adult in charge of the group to maintain control (speak to them before the show begins). They often have avenues of discipline that are not available to you.
- Have a warm-up
- Hand out star maps at the start, as the students come in, and have them pick out a constellation to find in the sky. Have the parents and teachers help you with this.
- If you are doing 'astronomy vs astrology', have the 'astronomical' signs of the zodiac tacked around the room, and have students sit under their 'real' sign.
- Give them two minutes, working with their friends next to them, to come up with a question about astronomy.
- Explain the star balls and where the lights come from. Most students would not know.
- Feel free to move about the planetarium
- Misbehaving students quiet down when the 'teacher' is right next to them. Do not reward misbehavior by acknowledging it (for example, letting the disruptive student use the laser pointer).
- Ask pointed questions of students.
- Even when it's dark, move around; don't be an aloof voice in the night.
- Change the seating arrangement
- The teachers will know who the 'trougle-makers' are most likely to be. Suggest that they help you with a seating change.
- Most of the problems that have arisen in the planetarium have been due to having too many juvenile bodies in a too enclosed space. We're trying to limit seating to 35 or fewer bodies for adolescents and adults.
- Get frequent feedback
- Get audience participation and then reward results. "Let's all give ____ a hand for a great answer!"
- Prompt for the answers you want to hear.
- Give students time to think.
- Have students check with a neighbor to come up with a mutual answer.
- Have 'votes' about what the correct answer might be.
- Often you have a 'know-it-all'. Tell him or her that you are saving a particularly hard question if they will be patient. (Then remember to ask it!)
- Phrase your response to negative behavior in the first person
Sometimes the best response requires no words at all. Simply stop talking, and slowly bring up the lights. The students will discipline their peers. Once all the displace talking has stopped, slowly turn the lights back down, and resume where you left off.
- 'I need to go on with the planetarium show.'
- 'I can tell you aren't enjoying what we are doing.'
- 'I am required by the rules here to turn on the lights if it gets too noisy, because we might disturb other classes.'
- Mix up dark and light
- Usually misbehavior starts when the lights have been off for 10 or more minutes. Mix up your program so that you will turn the lights up as a natural part of the program.
- Move on to something different when attention is flagging.
- Expect good behavior and reward it.
- Students tend to live up to expectations, especially if they come from someone other than their parents.
- Let students who are listening intently use the laser pointer next.
- Accept the participation of those who don't want to participate
- I've had students come in, drop their map, slouch and put their coats over their heads! They did not want to be there, obviously. Guess what? After about 15 minutes, they were paying attention (not participating, but at least listening).