As I dug through my briefcase last Friday morning, I discovered some test tubes full of polymers. What. Doesn’t everybody carry test tubes of polymers in his/her briefcase? Well, apparently I do.

test tubes of polymers
I didn’t want to waste an opportunity.

Just down the hall from the college office, there is a Culinary Arts department full of high school students earning dual credits for both high school and college. They are fun and funky kids, so I took the test tubes down to the big kitchen and poured them into a fishbowl wine goblet that happened to be sitting on the counter behind the teacher’s desk. I don’t judge.

I told the students that the tiny little polymers represented them, themselves, a few pieces of what looked like cookie sprinkles and rock salt, and that to transform these insignificant little specks – and the students – only one ingredient was necessary.  I told them to add some water to the goblet.   I went back to the college office, and waited.

culinary students, polymers

There wasn’t long to wait before I heard them screaming about “how awesomely cool, how absolutely awesomely cool!”

I went back down to the kitchen and took a few pictures so you can share in the excitement.

I‘ve posted before about using polymers as analogies for patience, tolerance, learning, and personal change, but each time I do this with students, I learn as much if not more than they do.  Kids that spend more time out in the hall doing lines than time in the classroom will try extra hard to behave so they, too, can stick their hands in the swollen polymers and give them a squeeze.

A tangible example of what change can mean can be the catalyst that will set a stubborn student onto a path of learning no book or set of rules could ever hope to do.

culinary student, wineglass full of polymers

Be sure to bring a box of baggies with you whenever you do this with students; they’ll all want to take home a handful of the swollen polymers to put in a little glass, set it in the windowsill, and water it regularly to remind themselves of the power of learning, and how one simple little thing can genuinely transform one thing into another: a tiny rock-hard piece of polymer or a human being.  Justone simple little addition, and there is a transformation that rivals anything an X-Man or an Avenger could dream of.  Even Loki.

Loki, glorious purpose

Our students, too, are burdened with glorious purpose.  This is something we must help them continue to nourish.  Some tangible examples help tremendously.

Loki is a villain, of course, but even from the villains there is learning to get.  Besides, if you show them Loki, you’ll have their attention for sure!

2 replies
  1. Moriah
    Moriah says:

    What a find! I wish I randomly found test tubes full of polymer in my teacher bag! I really appreciated your analogies throughout this blog post. I had never thought of tiny pieces of polymer to represent students. A good teacher learns about what interests their students and uses it daily to help the students become engaged.
    I can just about imagine their excitement! These are similar to what my sister used as decorations at her wedding reception. I felt like a little kid the first time I got to play with them! Additionally, the kids at the reception as well! She had them in a glass vase with a light underneath them. I wonder how many little polymer balls were lost, bounced on the dance floor or split open that night.
    Questions: Do they turn back into tiny like rocks after they dry out? And do they swell up again when water is added?

    Reply
    • Jane Goodwin
      Jane Goodwin says:

      Oh yes, the polymers do indeed turn back into their original dried-up shape when they’re allowed to dehydrate, and then you can swell ’em up again any time later by adding water again. They last for years! I’ve got some that I’ve used for eight Christmases now. (Dyed ’em green; they’re beautiful!)

      Reply

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