Friday, August 8, 2008

Science Fair; Comedy Fare

These past few weeks have been what we teachers like to call, in scientific terms, “chocka”. For those unfamiliar with the idiom from which this less-than-sophisticated word is derived, the phrase is “chock-a-block”, and means, “Insanely overscheduled calendar in which humans struggle to find time to pee”.

I have found the ability to laugh a necessity; with parent-teacher interviews until 9pm night after night, Mathletics tournaments, school open days, open nights, a school-wide science fair, that thing called “planning” and its friend, “marking”, all crammed together into an action-packed three weeks, I’m not sure how well I would have coped without it. Especially since somewhere in there, I took my class on a camp.

Today felt like the final page in the hectic chapter somehow – and I found myself in one of those moods akin to being overtired and easily amused.

I had just dismissed my class of 30 students, suffering from Friday-itis, and was setting up the projector in my classroom for film club (starting 5 minutes after the school bell). But my classroom was not in its usual state, no no – science fair boards were perched in tight clusters atop all of the desks – complete with fragile models, mobiles suspended from strings, and things glued vertically on a prayer. As a result of this arrangement, the best way to find another person within Room 1 was to get on hand and knees and spot their shoes – as the displays add another 1.5m to the height of the desks, creating a maze of sorts. In this condition, students were lugging in “soft chairs” from the library to form our very own theatre, in a cleared area of the room, for our viewing of Labyrinth (yes, I force these young ones to view cult-classics).

I remember looking at the model made by one of my dear girls – a “Sand Hopper Farm” – (much like an art farm), constructed of a wooden frame and two glass panels encasing the little creatures in their natural habitat. This student had laboured over researching trends in sand hopper preference for kelp at varied tide levels (her dad is a marine biologist for The Department of Conservation, and try as she might to resist his influence, the science gene seems to be strong with this one). As I looked at this studious young lady’s work, I recall saying, “You’ll need to move that somewhere safe, we don’t want it getting bumped over”. She nodded, causing her henna-dyed bob of hair to bounce, and picked her little farm up as I walked away to grab speakers.

It was when I heard the sound of smashing glass that I learned “somewhere safe” had been further towards the middle of the desk group, instead of on the edge of it – not quite the relocation I’d had in mind. As my film club of 12 rushed through the labyrinth of displays to the sound, I could see the young scientist’s eyes welling up. After removing her from the scene to avert the tear crisis and make a plan of action, we confidently returned through a wide-swung door to 11 and 12-year-olds, scattered on all fours, with cupped hands held together to the carpet as they tried to capture the sand hoppers that were very much living up to their name. Once I ensured all knees and hands were clear of the glass zone, I took the time to pause and chuckle to myself. Broken glass, sand on the carpet, and jumping little creatures – perhaps a mother or teacher’s triple threat – and yet one of the most entertaining sights I have ever beheld.

20 minutes later, 80% or so of the little guys had been safely delivered to a clear-topped lego container, along with 50% of the sand. The glass shards were wrapped in newspaper, remaining sand vacuumed with the “Wombat” (as the “Hoover” is affectionately named), and wooden frame pieces bagged for disposal.

What then? Then the room was filled with the voice of David Bowie and the flapping wings of an ’86-animated owl – which somehow put everything in perspective – there’s nothing like an unfortunate and immortal costume choice and the portrayal of a true dilemma (those goblins stole my baby!) to do that. I chuckled again – causing a few film clubbers to turn with comically-raised eyebrows that said, “This part’s not even funny”, which only fuelled my easily-amused mood.

Lastly, for you squirmy, is a sand hopper.

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