Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Zen of Rotten Worms...

So... I must relate a story... which will forever be linked with my first-year teaching experiences. We were doing a unit on worms this past month, and I though it would be a fantastic experience for the kids to get inside of one, so I obtained a small packet of fishing worms. How to kill them though... Live bugs, you would gas... but live worms? I opted for drowning them... I figured, they come up when it rains because they need to still be able to breath through their skin. Even so, they usually die all over the sidewalks.... so... drowning should work... I put the worms in a small tub of water, and as an afterthought, added a splash of ethyl alcohol, just for good measure... The next day, the worms were dead as I had hoped... slimy at worst, and with an ambient odor of alcoholic worm poo. I was well pleased.

We began the lab 7th period, but explaining things, and observing the external structures took the whole period. (Cest la vi... when each class only gets 50 min) No big deal, thought I, we can just stash the dissection mats in the fridge in the back of the prep room. It wasn't running, but I'd seen that it was still unplugged from break. I had some detainees for an hour that day, so I put them to cleaning out the fridge and plugging it in. I came back to a well cleaned, humming fridge, full of neatly organized worm-dissections-on-hold. Perfect.

The next morning was cool and pleasant when I opened the refrigerator door... to be met by a wave of air as hot as the previous afternoon, though far, far fouler. ::shudder:: If imaginations could bring bile to the back of your throat... I would hold some hope of you being able to share that moment with me... but... just... be grateful. Gag. Apparently the fridge hadn't been working for some eons. The possibility of this reality had passed through my mind... but my optimism had ushered it on through without buying anything.

So... when 7th period rolled around again... I was still debating whether or not to scrap the project... but I decided the experience was still worth something... even if it was a bit more of a trial than it otherwise would have been. I warned the class of the situation when they came in... but assured them that it was just becasue the worms had been sitting in poopy water for two days. I acknowledged that the smell would be overpowering at first, but that they would get used to it. In reality... the worms were definitely rotting.

We brought out the worms... and the class emptied, gagging into the quad. After some further assurance, I managed to coax/herd/prod everyone back into the classroom. After the initial desperate scrabble to fashion crude gas-masks out of paper towels and packing tape, everyone muscled up to the task. I was very impressed and pleased. The worms were in various stages of degradation... the majority were still dissectible. Beyond some slime, you could cut individual tissue layers, and identify most of the major organs. Some though... particularly the smaller ones... ::shudder:: just a squggley line of rotten flesh on a little blue mat. No hope whatsoever for those.

Fortunately we had an excellent series of photos of a professionally dissected earthworms projected on the wall... so if there was any question in a lab group concerning the identity of a little blob of rotting slime in a particular region of the worm... the totally grossed out lab partner could be of some service, venturing some hopeful identification based on the more intact specimen in the photo.

I eggagerate here very little. The smell was so bad that students from other classes were coming into the room after school, just to watch, and test their grit against the titanic odor.

I laugh about it now... but it was the kind of smell that got into your nose and stayed there for a day. UGH. Some of the kids were really into it though... less than a half-dozen, but the others participated admirably. I was very proud of them.

Log that one in the books... Hey Hans... remember that time you had your first biology class dissect rotting fermented worms? ::shudder::

The curious thing is... I think they did BETTER work as a result of knowing that they were walking into adversity. So much of the time... they just float in, expecting to have to do as little as necessary to appease the powers that be... If I could get them to study all the time like they were cutting open rotten worms... man.

Maybe I should just bring in a soupy bucket of them and leave them at the back of the room for a few weeks... and see how things go.