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Experiments and Experiences

“I like the experiments where we dropped stuff and shot rockets in the air, the rest was math and that sucked.” – Jay from A Day in the Park (p.5)

That sounds a lot like me when I was in middle school. I remember going out onto the baseball fields and the teacher setting up a couple of model rockets. I don’t think anyone in the class actually expected to enjoy the activity, lighting off the rocket, watching it shoot up into the clouds, seeing the parachute pop out, and running to pick up the pieces when they landed.

There were other experiments I remember from way back then (well, maybe not that far back). Things like dissecting a frog or building a miniature bridge out of toothpicks and seeing how much weight it could hold before it broke.

One of the common threads in each of these experiences was having a teacher willing to do activities that didn’t feel like they were out of a textbook. I know now that each of these exercises are a part of the curriculum (or at least they were at that time), but the teachers made them feel like they were an adventure, rather than a chore. Another common thread is that each experiment was hands on. My classmates and I got to design the rocket or the bridge, make predictions about how they would perform, and then see results.

To this day I still believe there’s no substitute for hands on experimentation. It’s been reinforced time and again as I’ve pursued my career path. Granted, I’ve pursued a career in the physical sciences, where it’s easier to learn about the subject matter in the laboratory or in out nature. The point is that experiences like these are things you remember way after you forget the equations in the textbook. Even more importantly, experiences drive imagination. People ask themselves, if I was able to do this thing and get this result, what happens if I do something differently? Or, what happens if I do that same thing, but bigger?

Those are good questions. Now, I understand not everyone is able to have these kind of experiences in the classroom. What if there was a way to have a similar experience that sparked your imagination? Maybe something like a book?

Do you have similar experiences you remember from grade school? Are there books you’ve read that inspired those same feelings?

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