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Helping teens teach science through music and dance

TASC flashmob performance June 29 - 04

This summer, I've been given the opportunity to expand the range of youth programs I facilitate at the California Academy of Sciences. Along with the Digital Learning youth programs that I manage, I also started co-managing the Cal Academy's "TASC Force" last week.  

The Teen Advocates for Science Communication (TASC) is an initiative to support Bay Area teens in conceiving, creating, and performing science-based "experiences" for the public visiting the Cal Academy. Designed for young people that love to be in the spotlight, to interact with the public, and to teach science in new ways, TASC is a unique and fun way to bring youthful energy to our museum.

We have about thirty teens in our TASC summer cohort that I'm responsible for, along with my co-manager. That's a daunting number of kids to keep track of and keep engaged, particularly when I'm also learning the TASC Experiences and approach myself.  But it's also a natural outgrowth of my development as a youth educator and a dancer.

 Today was the first of what I've started calling "Super Show Saturdays" at the Cal Academy, when our TASC teens get to learn one of the TASC Experiences and deliver it to the public. Today's "experience" was a science-focused flashmob-type dance on human evolution that's a lot of fun.  In a light and fun three minute dance, the kids impart some cool science information about how humans have evolved over the millenia to adapt to their environment, including such attributes as upright walking, symbolic thinking, and tool making.

And the music mix includes our own version of "Hammer Time."  So yeah, it's pretty awesome.

One part of facilitating the TASC Force that has been a challenge for me is teaching the choreography of the teens' performances. While I've been dancing for a very long time, I've never really considered myself a good dance teacher.  I have a hard time memorizing choreography, breaking down steps, and remembering what count goes with what move. I just... do it.

So learning a set of choreography, even a very simple set of steps designed for novice teen performers, and thinking of how to teach it, was really daunting to me.

Luckily my friend Josh is the choreographer of the human evolution dance, and was able to come support one group of the TASC teens. I got to observe him teach it our morning shift of TASC youth, while I got to teach the afternoon group. It was great seeing how he was able to get even kids who felt nervous or unsure of how to do the dance to smile and do their best.  He's a natural teacher, and our kids are super excited when he's around.

TASC flashmob practice - 08

I think I did a pretty good job with the afternoon group, supported by several of the kids who already knew the choreography. We had an hour to learn the choreo before performing it for the public, which I think was the right amount of time to have them feel fairly confident with the steps, but also have some nervous tension to manage. Seeing our TASC teens that I taught successfully perform the dance for our museum guests was really gratifying for me.  

As we were processing the experience afterwards, several of the TASC teens said that they wished that I could perform it with them, which was very sweet. More importantly, our TASC teens had a fun time today and made lots of our museum guests smile.  So today was a good day. 

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