I’m lucky in that public speaking is not something that’s ever really bothered me much. Yes, I know some polls claim that people fear it more than death. Really? People would rather die than stand up and say some words?
Way back when I started out as an education major. And while I changed majors to geology, I still got plenty of public speaking practice at conferences, and later teaching classes. During one semester in grad school, I taught historical geology. I had over 100 kids in my class. It was awesome. Later I tried to teach earth science to 8th graders in what can only be described as an inner-city school. I loved the teaching. What I couldn’t hack was that environment. I was completely unprepared for those challenges. I could not maintain anything resembling discipline and order. I ultimately had to leave, as I wasn’t doing those kids any favors. I had a handful that I was really reaching, but the others? They needed a more seasoned, old school teacher. I tucked tail and ran and now, 15 or so years later, here I sit at a desk surrounded by reports.
Long story short, I guess I love anything remotely similar to teaching, and I jump at the chance to do it – provided it’s a subject I feel confident in. I’ve gone to a few schools over the years to demo rocks and fossils, and 2 years in a row I helped out during a Cub Scout summer camp so the little guys could earn their geo badges. More recently I have spoken to the biggest kids about what possibly waits for them when they graduate from college with staggering student loans.
This week I’ve had the best of both worlds. I spoke to a group of geology students at a college in New Orleans, and yesterday I was asked to present a lesson on groundwater to my Daisy Scouts and some Junior Scouts (5th graders) for an Earth Day patch. I have to admit, that was initially daunting. Groundwater isn’t sexy. It’s not as exciting as talking to kids about volcanoes and ancient animals and paleoclimates. And trying to find a way to make it interesting and palatable to not only kindergartners but 5th graders was even more challenging.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon an idea on the internet (All hail Google): edible aquifers. Essentially, you build a soil column out of incredibly sweet stuff – gummy bears, chocolate chips, marshmallows, ice cream – then you “pollute it” by sprinkling Kool Aid mix on top. Finally, you “recharge” your aquifer with Sprite or 7 Up and watch as the pollution in your groundwater spreads. The students then get to “clean it up” with their “recovery wells” (straws).
I started with the “real” lesson first, using a clear jar with “rocks” (really different colors of beans and lentils…..don’t mock me….we live in a state composed completely of unconsolidated sediment) and some sand. I then filled it with blue-dyed water. I showed how different contaminants behave; I dyed Karo syrup red to show how some chemicals sink, and used good old vegetable oil to show how something like gasoline would stay near the surface.
Then we built the edible aquifers. It was a hit. I have no illusions. The girls were most excited about all of the sugary goodness at their disposal. The only thing that may have made me more popular was if I had brought ponies disguised as unicorns or a karaoke machine along. But I’ll take it. I think most of them at least now know what an aquifer is. I did make some of them pinky-promise not to rat me out to their mothers when they weren’t hungry for dinner.
And on some level, although I can’t be sure of this, I think it made Stella proud – that her mom is cool and did a rad demo for her scouting sisters. In any case, I’m bookmarking this for when she’s older and she thinks I’m a nuisance. I’ll have documented proof that I wasn’t always a drag.