Saturday, May 1, 2010

If anyone asks, say "Limulus polyphemus"

We're taking a bunch of kids to Sandy Hook.

We will be looking for horseshoe crabs, pipefish, eels, and anything else we can legally catch and release. (Clams, alas, are out--even with a license, raking for clams is illegal in condemned areas.)

Many of my kids have never seen a horseshoe crab. Many of those that have, fear them.

Every day from now until the trip I will remind the children that if anyone asks, we are going to study Limulus polyphemus. I work under great conditions, under a wonderful supervisor, but why start trouble?

OK, what do you say if someone asks why we're going to Sandy Hook?
Limulus polyphemus!
What do you say if someone asks you what we're studying?
Limulus polyphemus!
What do you say if someone asks you how nuclear fission works?
Limulus polyphemus!
Spew out a scientific word and folks go running.

Part of teaching is getting observed. I don't mind it so much, and prefer frequent, unannounced visits to formally planned lessons since it gives the administration a better idea of what happens in my class, which (ideally) gives me better feedback. I love gold stars as much as anyone, maybe more (I had a lot of concussions growing up), but I learn most from the occasional disasters. A second pair of eyes helps me dissect them better.

Folks without a scientific background, however, often preface their remarks by saying science is too hard, so they didn't really get the lesson. I don't hear anything else said--I am completely deflated. If I cannot teach an administrator a concept I'm expected to teach to children who still believed in the tooth fairy a few moons ago, what's the point?

(And yes, I get another gold star for my collection....)

So here's the point--we live in a wonderfully complex , ultimately inexplicable,universe. (OK, that was too much of a mouthful--go stare at an ant colony for a few minutes and get back to me). This fantastic universe appears to be governed by teasingly simple laws.

If I ever hope to get a child interested in grasping these laws, a child who just rubbed a amgazine advertisement for Stetson cologne on his chest while leering at another child who (it seems) forgot to put something on over her stockings, I need to get them outside themselves by getting them outside.

If the Park Ranger asks if we have a permit, I'll just mutter Limulus polyphemus....

The horseshoe crab photo is from NOAA, via Wikimedia (public domain, eh?)

1 comment:

beachchairscientist said...

I love this post! Keep up the great work of promoting Limulus Love!