Science is a wonderful thing. This is something most of us knew already, and it’s probably one of the greatest factors that put my cohort members (including myself) where we are now.
For me, though, this has been recently eclipsed by educational policy, lesson planning, resume revision, grading, reading, writing, reflecting, job panicking, and sometimes eating and sleeping. With my focus scattered, my energies depleted, and my stocks of Excedrin and chocolate running low, I didn’t even realize how detached I was from the wonder of science until, of all things, our book reports came around.
Hearing the stories that came out of the books we each read and our own personal reactions put my mind in a reflective gear. The Ghost Map sounds like an awesome read that really draws from the notion that science is a mystery – it’s a puzzle you usually won’t get all the pieces to. Jodi and Katy’s talk on the history and classroom applications of HeLa cells was an awesome fusion of modern scientific conflicts with the rich history that supports every major discovery. Even the infamous Botany of Desire brought me back to how connected science is to each and every one of our lives.
The real firestarter for me, though, was Zack’s activity on The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Simply put, I like to build. More specifically, I like to invent. For me, creating what I need from the limited parts I have available is one of the best kinds of challenges. The 20 seconds we spent doing that on paper during seminar was the only excuse I’ve had recently to do that kind of work, and it was kind of like a quick snap to clarity. All of a sudden I wasn’t thinking about the 427 things I have to do before I can experience anything resembling free time, I was thinking about bicycle parts and scrap metal and I knew exactly what I was doing.
See, the way I view the world and each discrete object in it is as the sum of all its parts. Whenever I see a bicycle, I don’t just see the bike as a whole, I see this:
And when I see a Van Dorn Water bottle, I see a tube with some plug caps on it that could easily just be some PVC pipe and toilet flaps. I see these things and intuitively figure out what they do and how they work together in their current arrangement. I see how each individual component could be used in a different arrangement. If I can’t immediately figure out how something works just by looking, I feel the need to find out somehow. My mom used to pull lost screws out of the carpet all the time when I was a kid from the amount of broken CD players, computers and radios I would carefully take apart and try to understand. Sometimes I fixed them. Sometimes I had to break them further in the pursuit of knowledge. Either way, I know she hated it.
So if I’m such an engineering geek, how did I end up teaching biology? To me it’s a simple leap – when I see a person, in my mind’s eye I can see a complex network of specialized tissues that all communicate and collaborate together as one to create a single living, breathing, thinking machine. For a powerful (but visceral) image, click here. It never ceases to amaze me that somewhere along the line a few billion years ago, a couple molecules came together in just the right way to make the key for a code that would warp, mutate, change and evolve through a series of tiny mistakes to eventually produce the blueprints for a human being. The sheer number of cells that work mindlessly in synergy to keep us going, the stream of electric impulses and chemical transmitters that ultimately create our personality, thoughts and memories, the automatic regulation of each and every cell by a part of the brain that we don’t even have the ability to consciously control… when you realize the full scope of it how could you NOT be amazed?
I want to know everything I can about how life does what it does and came to be as it is. I want to know how matter behaves at the core of its parts. I want to know what makes the world tick, and I want to know what I can do to fix what’s broken. I’m still learning, but while I take in everything that I can, I feel strongly that the same inherent curiosity I’ve always had needs to be fostered in those that feel a similar spark. I want kids who ask questions to know how to find the answers for themselves, rather than just being told, “Sorry, we won’t get to that in this unit.” I want to pass on what I know and how I learned it to anyone who is willing to listen. THAT is why I’m teaching biology.
This post may seem long and rambling and pointless, but at the end of the day when we’re sitting in seminar or in Topics or in Lisa’s class, even I can tell how tired everyone is. I know I needed a reflection like this to give myself space to remember why I’m here and why I’m working so hard for this. When all else fails – science is AWESOME. If that’s what it takes to get through the day and keep my head on straight, then so be it.