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I’ve spent way too many years in middle school. Including my own sentence back in the ‘80’s, I’ve spent somewhere around 20 years in middle school. Even during my time teaching in Turkey, I was in middle school. Is it odd that I’m most comfortable in the one stage of life most people spend years trying to forget? Perhaps. But don’t be mistaken, it’s not like I hit my peak in middle school and thus decided to stay. Oh no. I was a hot mess of braces, bad hair, excess chub and incredible fashion missteps. (I have photographic proof if in doubt.) Middle school was certainly not my jam, so why do I keep going back? No clue but I do love it. Yet another reason that I’m a psychoanalyst’s dream.

While I’ve matured past middle school in some aspects of life, (like my sagging neck and creaky knees) the middle schoolers I teach often surpass me in maturity. This became clear again last week as my middle school science classes began an in-depth study of the Milky Way Galaxy.

As every Earthling knows, (ok maybe not those crazies who are certain Jesus’ sat astride a T-Rex, but I don’t believe those science deniers really deserve to be labeled Earthlings.) that any study of the Milky Way must include, at the very least, mention of the Gas Giant Uranus. (Ok, I cracked up just typing that!)

This is my first time teaching about space so way back last summer when I planned to add this into my winter curriculum, it never occurred to me that I’d have to have various in-depth discussions of Uranus. (HA! Better yours than mine! HA!) No, I was lured into astronomy by the thought of settlements on Mars and the anniversary of Pluto being striped of his planetary status (10 years people, it’s been ten years!). Uranus never entered my mind. (No offense, but I don’t think of my anus often either.)

Perhaps Uranus didn’t come to mind because the last astronomy class I took was in January of ‘92 and involved standing in a cornfield on the northern Iowa tundra during sub-zero temps. The class consisted of staring into the darkness while snot-cicles formed under our noses, clad in layers of clothes scavenged from dorm mates enrolled in more sensible academic pursuits. Not a lot of science happened as we hid bargain booze in our long johns and cracked jokes for survival.

“It’s so dark I can’t even see Uranus.”

“Uranus is so cold it got a crack in it.”

“Move over! Uranus is the only thing I can see though this telescope right now.”

Brilliant young astronomers we were not.

In the years since then, attempts have been made to push through an alternate pronunciation for the gas ball, but it’s useless. You can’t let the world mispronounce your name for 166 years and then decide to change it, (I know, people have been mispronouncing mine for 40+ years.) especially if your name is the butt of so many jokes. (See what I did there? Butt…Uranus…ha!)

During our introduction to planetary alignment, I rushed through the whole “gas giants” section of the solar system with only a few giggles (me, not the kids.) But by fourth period I’d met my maturity cap. The transition between Saturn and Neptune was killing me! Sure, statements like “Uranus rotates horizontally” is relatively innocuous but let’s be honest, if you had to repeatedly explain “Uranus is huge. It is made of gas.” You’d lose it too.

I made it through a few more classes filled with snickers and giggles from both the kids and me. We were all clear on the importance of Uranus and it looked like we might make it until, the Great Toilet Paper lab.

See, there is this method of teaching AU (Astronomical Units, for those of you who haven’t taken an astronomy class since 1992 either. Solidarity my people.) illustrating the vast distances between planets by using toilet paper rolled out on the floor. While Mercury is only half a sheet from the sun, Saturn is 65 sheets of toilet paper away and on and on.

It’s fun and provides an easily visible representation of distance. Unfortunately, my classroom is not big enough to hold an entire scale map of the solar system made in t.p., so the talk of Uranus had to be moved into public space…public space filled with other middle schoolers and teachers. Our immaturity fest was on display as phrases like, “How much toilet paper does Uranus need?” wafted through the halls.

Within seconds, every other adult in the vicinity was sharing the same contorted gafaw-stiffling grimace I’d been wearing all week. Finally, I was not alone. No one in middle school is mature enough for Uranus. No one.

Years ago when I coached middle school boys tennis, no matter how hard I tried, every day at the end of practice, when it was time to say, “Alright boys, pick up your balls.” I couldn’t do it without busting into giggles. Every damn time. It’s kind of reassuring to see that while I’m a very different teacher than I was all those years ago, my soul is still 12.

While this exploration of Uranus has been painful, (hehehe…) it has taught me that, someday when we are all sitting in the TV room at Shady Pines Retirement Villa, I’ll still be crackin’ fart jokes and laughing about Uranus. You’ll just have to listen harder to catch my toothless ramblings.

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