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Shoebox Science

T3I remember student books saying that some day men would land on the moon, Sputnik, men on the moon, Hubble—now Webb, Shuttles to space lab, the end of Shuttles, and shoebox science. I loved shoebox science. As a matter of fact, in those days, the prerequisite for teaching science was that you loved science, and could wheels carts of guppies in plastic containers between classrooms.

Other than teaching first graders to read, teaching science was the most fun and rewarding teaching I’d done, and it only got better with technology. We could do digital lab notes, online research and reporting, collaboration with experts around the world—both audio and video. And I’m talking about this all happening from my room with old computers (486 doorstops) and at 28.8. It’s probably too easy to do now. ;>)

The mid 90s became prime pioneering times. And the shoebox got a bit larger. Parallel science projects, accentuated with lines like “Can you hear me, see me, check the e-mail, and what time is it there?". My shoebox scientists heard me rant about someday having computers on their lap tops. They politely listened; even when I knew that the average number of computers in the home for each of my 10 classes was 3. But in the classroom we had 12 assorted and ancient PCs, with one of them acting as server, and everything orchestrated through my teaching station machine.

A networked server in a mid-90s science classroom, amongst animal bones being measured and articulated. It was magic, although my network-protocol buddies hated that word. It was magic, and my seventh graders considered it magic, too. It was also the first time that I said, and could really mean it, that with technology, if you could dream it, you could do it. I still say that today.

Shoebox science, even then, wasn’t all wires and keyboards, and the essence of it is still in the best of T4 science teaching today—no matter the age of the teacher. Shoebox was science of sport with curving Wiffle balls, Frisbees and Bernoulli, and golf ball dimple configuration, as well as calculating distance and speed with equations and mathematical measurements. We even transformed an entire room into a camera obscura. I still owe the art teachers for construction paper and the office for tape. Additionally, there were plants growing all year round, and tanks of hand-fed fish and frogs. Did you know that it's easier to keep cold water fish? Remind me sometime to tell you about the snapping turtle! And each year we hatched chicks and watched them grow from cute to back-to-the-farmer. So much more. It was all shoebox science to me. A good friend called it experiential learning. I began using that, especially with most of the shoebox crowd retired.

Blast from the past:

There are some things, like the egg on the pie plate hit by the broom, to help explain Newton’s theory—object remains in motion unless acted upon… that can be done today, just as they were done then (I always had a raw egg to show, and switched it before the actual demo.). But I have to share one shoebox project from ages ago that a buddy of mine did during his science days. I think it actually turned him into a US History teacher. ;>)

Cube2 In the 60s, my friend assigned a project to design and build an experiment, bring it to class, and demonstrate it for a grade. Parents and grandparents got involved. My buddy tells me that the projects were spectacular, and one was even more outstanding. This little girl’s grandfather, who was an electrician had build a gadget out of a cigar box that would, when plugged in launch a spark, similar to a lightning bolt across two-wired nail towers. It was designed to step down the current enough so you could put your hand between, giving a Frankenstein lab look. Well, my friend was smart enough not to let the student try this, even though the grandfather had guaranteed safety.

According to my shoebox-science teaching friend, the cigar box worked fine for 2 classes. He plugged it in, put his hand between the arc, and students cheered. The third class was not the charm, though. He plugged the cigar box in, it whirred brilliant electricity like before, but this time when he inserted his hand, the magical box shocked him so hard, he went crashing against the blackboard. In the silence of the room, there was a scent of something similar to burnt toast.  Suddenly, a kid in the back shouted out, “That was cool. Can you do it again?” My friend, checking himself for damage replied, “Not today.”


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