Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Break in the Science Room

A colleague and I share the task of managing the collection of science equipment. It's been some years since this was taken care of in any systematic way, and there's a lot to do. We spent all day today in the lab, pulling out drawer upon drawer of dissection needles, microscope slides, magnets, batteries, rubber tubing, and similarly miscellaneous equipment. We sorted and labeled and cleaned until well into the evening, filled the staff room dishwasher with chemistry glassware, and left school with optics and electricity stuff still lying all over the floor. We'll finish tomorrow, and start next week with an up-and-running lab.

We found some pretty old items, in particular some pieces of complex glass tubing that I couldn't identify, not having had chemistry beyond high school myself. The pieces were all slightly different, so clearly made by hand. I'm wondering if such equipment is still made one piece at a time by a craftsperson, or whether they're all made in identical molds now? My colleague, who has no formal training in science but has a master's in the area of history of technology, gets excited about the same kinds of questions. We chatted about the aesthetics of old laboratory instruments, which were made carefully of dark wood, polished brass, and hand blown glass, and agreed that modern day plastic equipment just doesn't compare.

This week-long Fall Break has been incredibly useful. After six weeks of school we've gotten to know the kids and the courses well enough to know what it would take to meaningfully prepare for them, and so we've been at that for most of the week. I remember this time of the year in California, with no time for catching one's breath until Thanksgiving, and I'm thinking it would be in everyone's interest to cut the summer vacation one week shorter and insert a break right here. Teachers get a chance to regroup, avoid exhaustion, and clean up their planning, and the schools get lots of free work from their teachers because at this time of the year a week off will tend to involve a lot of time being invested in preparing for better work anyway.

Certainly, there's no way that our science room would have been fixed up before a major break came around. I'm excited about the prospect of having this project more or less completed when the kids come back on Monday.

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