January Reflections

Maggie C.
No Comments February 5, 2017

Red-cheeked and ruddy, four sixth graders push their way through the driving January wind and rain to conduct currents calculations on a very swollen and swift-moving Alewife cove.

Looking out over the dark gray and brown landscape, I reluctantly admit to myself that winter has indeed arrived in New England. Summer and fall have come and gone along with the old year, and the change in the weather was as apparent as the change in our students. Especially in the sixth graders, I reflect. Originally quite shy and reticent, over the past few months they had gradually become more open, confident, and active.

Almost as if in response to my thoughts, Michael plucks up one of the current-measuring sticks and tosses is into the creek with much ceremony and shouting. Two students wait on the other end of the measuring tape, at-the-ready with their stopwatches. I tell them they look like real scientists out in the field with such dogged looks of determination and focus on their faces, and they scowl back through the stinging mist good-naturedly. Beside me, Elijah walks in characteristic silence, keeping an eye on the stick floating downstream and untangling the measuring tape when the wind blows it into the brambles without being asked to do so. Over the next twenty minutes, he continues to make these little thoughtful gestures - volunteering to stand with the stopwatch a second time in the cold, writing “good job” at the bottom of the data sheet, and rolling up the measuring tape at the end of the lesson. He doesn’t expect to be thanked, and always looks a little surprised every time I do so. I’ve come to notice this quiet helpfulness about him over the months, and think back to the first day of school when he rarely made eye-contact, let alone spoke to anybody. The changes in him- like many of the students - have been simultaneously minute and monumental, and sometimes easy to miss in the day-to-day routine. Standing next to Elijah, I am struck with gratitude for the rain and cold, and such opportunities to slow down and get to know the students a little more. Given the last few months and their work today in the storm, I conclude that they’re all certainly tougher and cleverer than they often give themselves credit for.

At the end of the lesson, everyone is thoroughly cold and bleary-eyed. But they’re also eager to ask questions and tell their own stories, some of them related to ocean currents and some of them decidedly not, imbuing every interjection and anecdote with distinct enthusiasm and energy. As we gather our things and prepare to move inside, I try to explain to them that braving the elements is an important part of being a scientist, and congratulate them on their success in doing so.

“This is what fieldwork for scientists is like sometimes!” I tell them. “You all want to be scientists when you get older, right?”

I shake the numbness from my hands and smile back. That was enough for me.

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