Crossing a Stream

I used to live in Baltimore when I was a kid. I was a bit of a troublesome elementary student—in third grade I had to bring home a note to my parents each and every day reporting on how chatty I had been. In first grade I got sent to the principal’s office for a big fight in the cafeteria. I don’t remember how it started, I just remember how it ended: in tears.

I had been sitting their eating my lunch out of my plastic lunchbox as my classmates began hurling insults at each other. Soon Andrew…G…(Andrew and I once made a killer Helen Keller video [ironic?] wherein we were a news network who had an exclusive interview with Helen Keller [My Sister] and her teacher Anne [My Mom]. It was an adorable video. My sister was probably…four or five? She accidentally anticipated a question, giving away that she could hear, and backpedaled very cutely.) called me a derogatory name.

I coolly quipped back, “Poopyhead!” just as a cafeteria monitor walked by. Andrew, Angela, another boy, and myself were held after lunch in the principal’s office. We had to recount the fight to the principal through our tears and then face the humiliation of arriving late to Math class. Our teacher was Mrs. Rochefort (Which I just realized is French for “Strong Rock!” We always assumed it was related to “Roach Fart.” Go Figure) and she was really mean. She told my parents once that I was a good student but, and I quote, “A little bit silly.” I believe their response was, “Well, he’s six. We’d be worried if he wasn’t a little bit silly.” Mrs. Rochefort also liked to play with my curly hair. It really skeeved me out.

My other memory from that cafeteria (Disclaimer: I mean, one of my other memories from that cafeteria.) was that a cafeteria lady died once. I never knew her—I was a home-lunch-kid back in those days—but I remember her photo up on a poster mounted on an easel. It had a wreath and a little eulogizing paragraph or two under her smiling visage and the dates of her birth and death. It was a nice gesture from the school.

When I was little, I was obsessed with a lot of things. Dinosaurs were definitely number one on my list of favorite things. I once “wrote” a “book” by copying a small book about dinosaurs into a notepad (a physical one, not a Windows program) and putting in my puffy dinosaur stickers in lieu of illustrations. Does anyone remember having those puffy stickers? I had dinosaur ones.

I also had a really sweet book about the planets. It was chock full of awesome photographs of all nine planets and many of their moons! I would pour over pictures of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and Saturn’s moons while skipping chapters about Earth because they were “boring.” Funny thing about those memories- Pluto doesn’t count anymore.

What I remember from my little book is that Pluto was the farthest planet out. It sometimes crossed into Neptune’s orbit, becoming the eighth planet for a while. Its orbit was super-elliptical and took about 935 years. I’m not fact checking this as I go, so bear with me. Pluto also had a moon that was nearly as big as it called Charon—Pluto’s erstwhile ferryman companion. The two orbited each other. My book didn’t have any good photos of Pluto because no satellites had done a flyby of Pluto (and I don’t think any has yet, or ever will), just these blurry, pixilated shapes, overlapping and running together. And then disaster struck.

Poor, poor Pluto. Back in…2006?…the United Space Scientists’ Review (USSR)* reviewed Pluto’s case and decided, “Meh, we could kind of take or leave you, Pluto,” and kicked the poor God of the Underworld out of the Club of Planets. Not long after they made their cruel, cruel decision (The USSR has always been known for its cruel decisions!), I found myself wandering around the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. It was a place I always liked but uncommonly visited.

We moseyed on over to the Solar System exhibit. Each planet has a Greek letter or symbol that represents it. All I remember is Neptune’s, which looks like a trident. Fitting. The doorway to the exhibit had a vertical arrangement of the symbols backlit so that you could see them against their black backgrounds. Pluto’s (maybe a P with a _ attached?) had a piece of black paper covering it. That’s how we knew that “Only pain will you find.” (-Yoda)

I meandered through the exhibit, admiring the dioramas that a fourth grader could only dream of building (The Smithsonian has far greater resources and artistry than nearly any fourth grader in America!!). In all of the exhibits, Pluto remained, but got no love. Past the Solar System Diorama, each planet had its own little exhibit. Fun Facts abounded (A concept many of my students had a hard time grasping [No, a statistical break-down of Pennsylvania’s population by religion does not qualify as a Fun Fact.]) and many photos littered the hall. And then I turned the corner past Uranus and Neptune (Jeff Zimmer, I’m looking at you.).

A blacked-out section of wall stood behind a conspicuous structure to the side of the path. There, where an exhibit devoted to Pluto presumably once resided, stood an easel with a wreath and a photo of the once-ninth planet. Beneath the photo it said, “Pluto: 1933-2006” and had a brief history of the planetoid (as we are all now forced to call it) and the decision to demote Pluto to an equivalent status (Thank you Mr. Pascarella. I reminded myself how to spell “equivalent” by thinking of valence shells of electrons. Here’s to you, Science!) to some of the larger bodies of the asteroid belt.

Also, when making the Empire Strikes Back they used a shoe and potato for some of the asteroids in the Asteroid Field chase sequence. It is one fricking big asteroid that they land on/in. It could probably vie with Pluto for planet status!

I stood there and read Pluto’s funerary placard and thought about that little old lunch lady. It was kind of a strange thing to watch the death of a planet. Here, let me invite you to share in the strangeness:

So, in this vein, let me talk about a lesson I had to teach just the other day. I’m not going to password-protect this post, because it’s not going to really involve any of my co-teachers or students. Marissa’s taught this lesson, and so she knows exactly how tricky it is.

The seventh grade text book in question has a unit on the Water Cycle. You know, the one where rain goes to the ocean, evaporates, becomes clouds, and then rains again? First I had to write and explain each step of the process on the board. I copied phrases to the board from the book such as, “Snowmelt runoff,” “Ground Water Infiltration,” and “Transpiration,” and turned around to face the class.

The kids were copying down the phrases, some with more gusto than others, but there was a universal look of confusion and apprehension on the kids’ faces. They looked up as I began to explain the entire water cycle to them. As they took notes, it dawned on me that the kids seemed to be having a hard time grasping the concepts. I asked them, “How well do you know physics?” The seventh grade had been doing a unit on “The First Day of School” and so they knew the English words for classes like “Social Studies,” “Chemistry,” and “Physics.” Chemistry and Physics were particularly tricky as “CH” and “PH” weren’t behaving as you’d expect in these words. But I digress.

The seventh graders don’t know any physics.

“Okay! Two minute physics lesson!” I cried out. I never liked physics. It’s far and away my least favorite natural science. I’ve clearly outed myself above as being at least aware of astronomy and chemistry above (Hint: Pluto and Valence Shells of Electrons). Back in the day, I was a pretty hot-shot chemistry and biology student. In fact, my old Biology teacher was recently regaling my younger brother with stories of the Bug Holocaust of ’05 wherein we tested taxis and kinesis, much to the detriment of Greely High School’s bug population. But that’s another story, for another day. The point of this digression is that I hated physics and never took it after middle school.

I turned around and drew a square, a squiggle, and a cloud on the board and arrows between them. I labeled them “Solid,” “Liquid,” and “Gas.” I explained to the children how when a solid becomes a liquid it melts, a liquid evaporates into a gas, a gas condenses into a liquid, and a liquid freezes into a solid. I left out sublimation. No need to further boggle them.

Now with a working grasp of the three main phases of matter, we could carry on. I explained each term to the best of my knowledge, skipping over “Ground Water Infiltration” and others that I couldn’t explain, even to my peers. It was a rough lesson.

Nonetheless, it was a nice refresher of how the water cycle works. I hadn’t really thought about the water cycle for some time. I mean, I think about water, every so often, especially this weekend, as I’ve been sick. I also recently learned/recalled that the Mtkvari and Rioni rivers serve as major connectors/barriers between Eurasia and Europe and they’re both in Georgia! Crazy! In fact, Water features prominently in the title of this post, Crossing A Stream. Thank you all for crossing a stream with me this fine evening.

“What stream?” you might ask. Why, the stream of consciousness, of course! It may not have been apparent to the reader, but this post began with no intended structure. Just like many of Joanne’s comebacks, I began aimlessly with the hope that I would figure out how to finish by the time I made it halfway through. Well, this time, I think I managed it successfully.

*Note: This is a fictional organization. I just like the USSR!

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2 thoughts on “Crossing a Stream

  1. You know Raughley, you really are a ….am….a…. Nope. I got nothin.

    I liked this post, its kinda like the other lunch ladies and the other planets were a bit sad but the world wasnt exactly shaken (thats what she said). Know what I mean.

    I too was very sad to see Pluto go.

    RIP Pluto and Agnes.

    (Agnes is always a lunch ladies name. Always.)

  2. > My book didn’t have any good photos of Pluto because no satellites had done
    > a flyby of Pluto (and I don’t think any has yet, or ever will)

    Wait four more years, New Horizons will arrive there.

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