Monday, September 28, 2009


I can't sleep.

I was almost there, but some insect started making the most unbelievably loud sound right outside my window. The whole “not having glass on the windows” thing is nice for ventilating the house, but it really sucks in terms of drowning out noise from outside. The fact that I was hot and sweaty and uncomfortable already as I was going to bed didn't help with the whole “sleep” thing. Neither did the issue that my whole bed seems to be mildewing or something in the warm air, and I'm trapped in the stink under my mosquito net (side note: Fuck humidity).

Anyway, since I'm very much awake anyway, I might as well put down some of the stuff that's been running through my mind as I try to force myself to sleep.

The kids in my morning 8th grade science class made me very happy at the end of last week. They started asking all sorts of questions – REAL questions, which demonstrated a (possibly) genuine (if fleeting) interest in science: “Do flies have blood?” “Does an ear have bone?” “Do all plants come from seeds?”

As excited as I was that they were asking these questions, the questions are difficult to discuss in class. How to break down the answer in a way that they can understand with the limited science background they have? How to encourage them to think about the answers themselves without simply telling them, but also without frustrating them to the point that they just give up? Combine these issues with the fact that I am not overly confident that I know the answer to some of the questions they ask, and it makes things very challenging.

The plant question in particular really got me. I don't know much at all about plant biology. I had the basics in my introductory biology classes, but that was several years ago, and I haven't had much opportunity to use the information since. I remembered enough to stammer something about mosses and ferns when they asked the question in class, but had to read up on it more in the school library (side note: Do mosses exist in Liberia? It seems like they must but I don't think I've seen any, and I realized that I really have no idea if there is moss everywhere in the world . . . ).

Anyway, what's cool about the student's questions is that they motivate me to go and read up on random things. Although the school is pretty much completely lacking in any other resources, it does have a nice library with quite a few high-school and college-level textbooks. From the question about fly blood, I ended up reading through a whole section on insects, including detailed information on honeybees (Did you know that a queen bee only mates once and then stores the semen inside her body for the rest of her 5-year lifespan? I didn't, though maybe I should have. But can you imagine waddling around, chock-full of semen, for FIVE YEARS??).

Spending time looking up random things also reinforces for me the fact that just about any subject can become interesting if you find a way to tie it back to people and the way it affects their lives (. . . or semen). Like I said, I was never really interested in plant biology before, but reading about it and then trying to find ways to make it interesting to the students makes it interesting to me. And realizing how much having a really solid understanding of plants could really matter to a lot of people, in terms of agricultural endeavors, makes it that much more immediate and thus provides that much greater motivation to learn about it.

That idea – the interconnectedness of subjects and the variety of ways in which isolated topics, like plant biology, are highly applicable when it comes to helping other people – is actually what I intended to write about when I pulled out my laptop, but my sleep-deprived mind seems to have produced a totally different, rambling essay instead, which is already much too long and boring. Oh well. I may not have cured my insomnia, but at least I provided a good remedy for yours.

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