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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

By Anne Spencer

Meal worms were the answer! As  teacher of this elementary class I found them perfect for my insect unit. Cheap. Easy to keep .And would obligingly turn into beetles before the end of the term.  We had fifteen jars of them on the classroom window ledge. Now, in education week, parents would see nature in the classroom. We didn't just sit and learn science by rote.

The creatures were  in various stages of development. Several had hatched out into beetles from the pupae, where they had had a nice rest from our experiments on whether they liked light or dark,or  wet or dry. We had learned a lot of words like metamorphosis that weren't on the spelling list. Some children had named their beetles.This wasn't something I encouraged. But so far things had gone well.

Parents had come all week. Today was Friday. Those who hadn’t been yet seemed to be here in a group.They had come to the math lesson, standing at the back watching carefully, especially Mrs. Blank who wasn't here to give compliments.

I had a geometry lesson prepared. We used the overhead projector. I liked the kids to put their stuff up on the screen. We were talking about parallel lines. Jane, whose tooth had just come out, showed us its lines on the screen. They were almost parallel.

"And what kind of angles do we see at the corners?" I asked. Robert, who usually didn't answer, raised his hand. I hesitated.  Robert seemed insistent. Not knowing what could come at this critical point, I let him in anyway.

He held up his beetle jar which he had at his desk. "Mrs. S," he called more excitedly than I'd ever heard him."My beetle's mating." My heart sank.

The classroom hushed.  Every eye turned to Robert.  Most of the time children preferred to leave their charges on the shelf. But Robert, beguiled by his beetles when they had hatched, had kept them at his desk.

No-one needed to ask what mating meant. All thoughts of parallel lines had vanished from their radar. They rushed to have a look. I could feel the disapproval of the parental jury watching the scene. All I could do was join in." Well Robert," I said, "you should bring them up here.We can put them on the overhead and all have a look. Now children get back or you won't be able to see."

The beetles, at great cost to their privacy, were put onto the projector. We saw their close encounter on the screen - rather fuzzily. Robert beamed.

"You see," I improvised, "they are almost in parallel. Slightly at an angle." Then one crawled off. The deal was done."Now we can wait for some eggs," I said. "And they will be more like circles."

The parents at the back of the room had frozen during the excitement, but as  Robert put his beetles back on the window shelf, they started to leave. And most of them were smiling.

Anne Spencer lives in Victoria, BC.

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