Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Science Is Messy

This week is a whole lot of Chemistry, with some astronomy thrown in at the end if I run out of demos.

Monday, we did invisible ink with lemon juice, and I tried it again with vinegar today, since I was told it should also work. I'm amazed at how delinquent and rotten some of these kids are. I gave them each a half sheet of paper to write or draw whatever they wished with the invisible ink. I had three or four choose to write "doo doo", another drew an what he told me was a decapitated body, and my favorite student of all, G----, told me he was going to write "die" all over his paper, and proceeded to line his paper with "DI". He might be a psychotic little demon spawn, but I don't think it would be very hard to catch him.

I was showing some of the younger kids the bottle of vinegar I had. It occurred to me that some of these kids might not know what some of these things are, so I try to show them as much as possible and expose them to as much as possible (not in that way). I passed around the bottle of vinegar and wafted (I'm such a good chemist) it in front of them to smell. Most of them shrieked and told me it smelled bad, but all the Filippino kids told me it smelled really good. That's my bit of racial humor for the day. I'm done. Except I do notice the Asian kids are a lot better at science. There, now I'm done.

Today I attempted to make gak, or slime, or silly putty, or whatever you want to call it. Glue and Borax, pretty simple. The Borax acts as a cross-linking agent for the glue polymers, which I think is downright nifty. Anywho, I tried to explain why the gak forms as it does, with the cross-linking explanation. I had the kids line up and form polymer chains by linking arms. It's been a while since I've been around little kids, but it didn't occur to me that linking arms with someone of the other sex would be that much of an issue. It was. After 10 minutes of yelling and crying and sorting and bargaining, we formed our polymer chains. I asked them if it was easy or hard to move around in these polymer chains. Most said it was easy, I got a few who said it was "easy-hard" or "hard-easy". I generally ignore these kids. Then to demonstrate cross-linking, I took a roll of tape and taped the polymer-kids together. It's a very vivid and useful teaching model, to actually cross-link the kids together, but as much as it was for them to learn why the gak forms the way it does, it was also for me. By this point in the day, I was tired, stressed, a little pissed at certain kids, and it just felt very good to tape those kids together, to make sure they couldn't run around and knock my things over (the floor is now green thanks to some not so soluble food coloring). A brief moment of catharsis goes a long way.

Now, earlier that morning I had tried the gak recipe to make sure it worked and the proportions were right. It turned out fantastically, and I thought I was set for a pretty easy day. Very, very wrong. The first class I tried it with used a different glue (though it still said Elmer's All-Purpose Glue), and none of them worked. Having a class of 18 disappointed and bored kids is not a good feeling. I frantically spent the recess trying to figure out what the hell went wrong and why nothing was working. I settled on that it must have been the glue was a different type than labeled, or it was too old and the polymer had degraded too far. Either way, after a frantic scramble around the school scooping up any Elmer's glue I could find, the rest of the gak making went fine.

I've also learned children are sneaky. They're supposed to write in their journals after every class session (though 50% of them never have their journal with them). They always want to know how many sentences they have to write. I usually ask them how old they are, and tell them to write 5 regardless of the answer. Most don't really know what a sentence is other than that it ends with a period. So usually a kid will bring up their journal for me to check, I'll tell them that this is only one long sentence. They'll go back, pretend to write more, and bring it back to me. The entry will be the same single long sentence, but dotted occasionally by an additional 4 periods. I'm not teaching English, but I feel the need to spend time with these kids and tell them what a sentence is. Subject. Predicate. As simple as that. Blah blah blah, is not a sentence. Writing "I had fun" is nice and all, but you can't write that 5 times and count that as 5 sentences.

Today was perhaps the sternest I've ever been with the kids. I hate disciplining because it's not in my kind hearted nature to yell and scold, but some of these kids need it really bad. I've begun to pull the "if you don't be quiet, we can't do the experiment" card when they're too noisy. I've also just sat and waited until they decide independently to be quiet. But today, I had to kick it up. I haven't yelled yet, but I can feel myself getting there with some of these kids. I recently reread Machiavelli's The Prince. Contrary to popular belief, Machiavelli said that it is always preferable to seek a populace's adoration and respect, and that such a bond formed from love would produce the most loyal and obedient subjects. But, if and when such a method fails, then fear is the way to go. It's either complete love and adoration, or complete fear. No middle road. I've been trying the first method with these kids, and it works for the most part. Everybody loves Mr. Science. But it's never a bad thing to have Mr. Hyde waiting in the wings to pop out as necessary. I think I'll keep him on retainer for the rest of this program.

And there were some rewards, small though they might be. This program put out it's first newsletter for the parents, and there was a blurb about me (I was the only afternoon teacher they wrote a blurb about!):
A popular class in the afternoon is our Kool Science class taught by Mr. Kelsey Sakimoto. "Mr. Kelsey" or "Mr. Science", as he is known, is a Punahou graduate and currently attending Yale University pursuing a major in chemical engineering. Mr. Sakimoto has varied interests, like playing the accordion, erhu, and many types of woodwind instruments. Mr. Sakimoto relates that his first experience with The Summer Concept is "a lot of work but definitely worth it!"

Now I know I blow a lot of smoke out my ass, but I honestly meant that last sentiment. Though a pain, I can find the small rewards in this job, and cling to those moments. And, hey, it's always nice to be recognized.


  1. Blah. Blah. Blah. (Blah. Blah.)


  2. My overall reaction to much of the post is just "awwww".

    Hmm, I took HS chemistry, but I don't think I ever learned about cross-linking.

    I think I'm gonna start calling you Mr. Science :P.

    I knew you played a lot of interests, but accordion and erhu are two I haven't seen you play.

  3. =>Angela: No. Not acceptable. Go back to your desk and write 5 actual sentences. You can't go to recess until I see 5 legit sentences. And stop tasting the chemicals, we do not eat the chemicals in science class.

    => Anthony: I don't think they talk about cross-linking in HS, since I don't remember a lot about polymers in HS. It's a very cool concept. Very important in material sciences.
    Accordion and erhu fall under my "weird instruments" category, and generally stay at home. Harmonica would also fall in there, and this pvc instrument I built.