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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Science Can Be Confusing

The other day I found myself remembering my seventh-grade Science teacher, Mr. Kerlee. He was an older teacher who managed to be kind and stern at the same time. I learned a great deal from him, and loved his class. Something that was interesting about him was that he really hated bad spelling. He hated it enough, in fact, that even though it was a science class, he gave us a spelling test every week. They never worried me; I was one of those kids that was a pretty decent speller. In fact, during my seventh-grade year, I was one of the students representing our school in the district preliminaries for the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee. What's that you asked? How did I do? Umm, after boldly correcting the pronunciation of one of the words during the test (papyrus, which the announcer pronounced as something akin to paper-uss), I won the blue ribbon. 

When I went back to my seat in Mr. Kerlee's class, he asked if I had won the loving-cup. I hadn't, it was just a blue ribbon, so I simply said no. After class I showed him the blue ribbon. I know he was irked that he didn't have a chance to praise me in front of the class, but I also know that he was proud of me. When I went to the State Bee, I discovered that there was an entirely different world of spellers out there. Heck, I didn't even understand some of the questions they asked. Yes, I understood the questions about definition and origin, but they were asking things like if the words were assimilated. I had to look it up later. (This has several meanings, but in this case it referred to letters next to one another in words being changed to the same letter. An example would be if the word started out as disference and eventually turned into difference.) Needless to say, I was no match for these intensely-coached kids, and after the written test and the luncheon, I was sent home. Gram was incredibly proud of me, but I felt kind of stupid, to be honest.

That was not my strongest memory of Mr. Kerlee's class, however. That happened at an entirely different time. We were learning about reproduction, a subject that has stricken fear into many a teacher's heart, while titillating many a student. I know that my friends and I were just waiting to see if anyone asked the questions that might make the teacher embarrassed to answer. There was one show-stopping question when it came to question-and-answer time, but it was not what we expected. It came when a girl that I always thought of as being at least averagely intelligent asked, "How do rocks have babies?" Mr. Kerlee's face got tight, and his lips thinned. He was not going to put up with silliness. But then he and the entire class were stunned when the girl continued. "You see big rocks and little rocks, and I just always wondered, how do rocks have babies?" Mr. Kerlee kindly explained that rocks did not have babies, they just broke into smaller pieces in various ways. I remember being impressed that he managed to answer her without making her feel like she'd asked something stupid. He became even greater in my eyes that day.

Fast-forward to another Science class two years later with Mr. Sepich. One of my close friends, who had also been in Mr. Kerlee's class, was the student who got attention for all the wrong reasons one day. We were learning about how scientists come up with hypotheses, and then devise experiments to either prove or disprove them. To encourage us to think, Mr. Sepich asked us what experiment a scientist might carry out to prove his theory that the center portion of a glacier's ice moved faster than the ice on the outside edges. Bob made a great suggestion. How about if the scientist put stakes all along the top of the glacier, and then came back and measured to see how far they had moved? Everyone was pretty impressed by this answer. It was simple but effective. My friend Becky was troubled by the answer, though. "If you put steaks on the ice, wouldn't the animals just eat them?" Luckily, when Becky realized she was talking about a different type of stakes she saw the wisdom of the solution, and was also able to laugh at the mix-up. It was a funny moment, after all. Hey, Science can be confusing!