Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sometimes I Forget Who I'm Talking To

On Friday, I decided to give my students a little creative problem solving exercise. The lesson previous, I had gone over polarity and density of compounds, using a density column of corn syrup, water, and oil, as a means of segueing into Chemistry (thank you to Angela She for the lesson plans). I thought this would lay a great foundation for a problem solving exercise that's quite relevant: Solve the BP Oil Crisis.

I am by no means pioneering in this endeavor, as it is a well known secret that kids can be the best problem solvers, since their creativity isn't hindered by social rationalizations and self-consciousness. Considering a truly viable solution has yet to be found (well, it depends on who you ask. I have my own opinion), I thought it wouldn't hurt to let 89 elementary school students have a stab at it.

I presented each group with two problems: how to seal the broken pipe, and how to handle the oil slick. I gave them all the stats: how far down the hole is (around 5,000 ft) and how far out (26 miles) as well as other pertinent data, and told them to go for it.

I ran into a bit of a problem when describing the current state of the fractured well. I tried to pull out all the technical jargon and explain it to them simply. I said: "Okay, there's a big hole in the middle of the ocean and it's spewing all this crabcakes out into the ocean..." Except I didn't say crabcakes. It's weird, now, for me to think of crap as a bad word, since I use it so often. But the glare from my mother who was working in the back told me that teachers should not use that word around 3rd graders. Surprisingly, none of the kids seemed to notice, nor did they make a big fuss that I swore. So either they didn't notice, or they've become desensitized to the word. I think I'm going to test this out by swearing more. A list of your favorite expletives and ideas on how to work them into a science lesson would be much appreciated from the readership.

So back to the lesson. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the ideas. Most decided to just shove a bunch of crap into the hole to plug it up. Some came up with the solution BP is currently employing: sticking a narrow tube into the hole to siphon off some of the leaking petroleum.

The second problem, how to deal with the oil slick, drew more creative solutions. My favorite called for a fleet of thousands of robotic fish to swim around and eat up the oil. I asked the student how she was expecting to pay for thousands of high-tech robots, to which she replied "my dad will pay for it". Another called for a giant corral type thing to scoop up all the oil. Some of the students actually used what they had learned previously about density and polarity, and suggested collecting the oil and seawater in a tanker, and decanting the oil from the water.

My biggest surprise of the day came from E----, a special ed. student that has his own para-professional aide to monitor his behavioral issues. This student, I had been warned, was known to assault teachers, in addition to the usual host of behavioral problems. However, he was perhaps the smartest student of the day. He came up with maybe 9 different solutions, each well thought out and at the very least plausible, solutions I think BP would have liked to hear. I've been told that many behavioral problems arise from a lack of stimulation, that the child becomes bored and begins to act out. Perhaps that's what caused E----'s uncharacteristically well-behaved performance on Friday. I'm going to keep an eye on this. Very intriguing.

I've been trying to drive home everyday from work, since I have yet to get my license (I'm going to renew my permit for the 3rd time later this month). I'm not the best driver, yet, but I'm....competent. Usually. My dad always yells at me, telling me going at the speed limit is too slow. As a result, I've developed a bit of a lead foot, and a waning patience. As we were driving home from the school, we approached a 4 lane intersection. In the corner of my eye I could see someone crossing the street. I figured I best just speed through the intersection, since the pedestrian was taking forever to cross the street. I guessed I missed timed it a bit because I almost ran them over. I could see them not 3 feet away from me as I sped past them. And as their figures passed my window, I saw who I had almost run down. An old woman. And her granddaughter. In a wheelchair. With a cast. You can't make this stuff up. A few seconds later, I would have hit the world's best sympathy case. Lesson learned, patience is a virtue. Or if you do hit something, drive away before they can read your plates. Haha, I'm just joking. There'd be no witnesses left.

Next week marks a whole lot of Chemistry. Not only a lot of my favorite science, but another 4 day week, since Friday we're taking the kiddies to Ice Palace, Hawaii's only skating rink. I haven't ice skated in nearly 8 years, and even then I wasn't very good. I mostly clung to the walls and slowly drifted from the natural rotation of the earth. However, this time I'm supposed to be chaperoning 89 elementary school kids, who are all faster and more athletic than I am. And they know it.


  1. their creativity isn't hindered by social rationalizations and self-consciousness
    So true! I know exactly what you're talking about. Sometimes I wish as an adult I could reclaim some of that innocence and ignorance.

    You explain things really well and captivatingly. I bet you are a fantastic teacher.

  2. It would be so cool if Ethan was a secret genius in disguise, merely held back by his circumstances and lack of stimulation.