Monday, August 11, 2008

Teacher of the Year, Foiled Again!

Jabberwock is full of questions. Some of them are annoying, some of them are completely bizarre, and a good deal of them are about trying to figure out the way things work in this world. I try to answer him.

The last couple of weeks, we have been going for short hikes at a river near our home, and the questions have tended toward the scientific. In just the last week, we have had pretty in-depth conversations about evaporation/condensation (and the three states of matter), erosion, and then yesterday it was all about animal classification. Now I have always enjoyed biology--from the microscopic level right up to the cat dissection we did in advanced bio in high school. But this was the subject that stumped me, that made me say, "Gosh, Jabber, I just don't know. I guess we'll have to look that up."

OK, so from an educational standpoint, I know it's actually better for us to explore resources and learn the answers together, rather than a sort of Biology 101 lecture from the voice of Mom. Still, it irks me that I couldn't pull the answer out of my brain.

So we're sitting in the sandbox, and he asks me, "Mom, humans are mammals, right? So what makes us mammals?"

Yes! Easy question! I rattle off a bunch of characteristics of mammals, excited beyond all normal parameters that just yesterday we had been talking about animals being warm or cold-blooded. We chat for a while about animals giving birth to live young and then move on to discuss how mammals all feed their babies "nummies." Monkey joins the discussion at this point, lifting two sandy hands from his mud pie to caress my breasts.

"Nummie-nummie-nummie-num," he says solemnly. My shirt will never be the same.

"So, Jabber, can you think of any animals besides humans that would fit those characteristics? What other mammals are there?" I must be getting ready for school after all, hopping into Bloom's Taxonomy Mode while hanging out in the sandbox with a four-year-old.

He thinks for a minute. "A polar bear!" he shouts. "And a deer!"

We all applaud. It is quite exciting, let me tell you. I feel like science teacher of the year. And then.

"Are worms mammals?"

No. No, they are not. I am sure of that. He doesn't ask the next question: well, then, what ARE they? But I do. Come on, Science Teacher of the Freaking Year, what is a worm? My brain starts throwing words around, like Kingdom Phylum Class Order, or...damn, was it Order Class? Yeah, yeah. I dredge up an idea about five different groups of animals, but my brain can't fit worms into any of them.

Even though I don't have any idea how to fit a worm into my classification system, I start talking, trusting my Intro to Bio knowledge to show up when it really counts. "There are other groups of animals, too, besides Mammals," I say. "Like reptiles." Yeah, I am absolutely sure that's one of the groups. Is it a Kingdom? A Phylum? A Class, no Order?

"Dinosaurs were reptiles," says Jabber, full of wisdom.

"Yes, they were, but there are other animals that are reptiles, too, like turtles and snakes." Oh, I can feel that Best Teacher Tiara settling back onto my head now.

"Snakes?" asks Jabber.

"Nakes?" asks Monkey.

"Well, that's kind of like a worm," says Jabberwock. "So is a worm a reptile?"

Damn! "What is with you and worms?" No, I don't think I actually said that. "Well, there's Birds," I continue. I'm sure of birds. Mammals, Reptiles, Birds, and..."And amphibians, like frogs, that live on both water and land." Yep, I know that's one. I search through my brain for the fifth category. I know there's five; that number is clear in my memory, although I still can't remember what level of the taxonomy I am babbling about. I mean, one category can't include insects, worms, fish, and oh! there's a category that's like things with shells...crustaceans! Shit, this is too many categories. Suddenly, in my head, two Latin words compete: Annelida and Arthropoda. Annelids? Worms are Annelids! But...what about fish? What about the five categories?

"What is a worm?" He is pretty insistent at this point.

"Wom?" asks Monkey.

I sigh. "I don't know." I am defeated, vanquished by the natural sciences.

Come on, kid, ask me about poetry, plot structure, a vocabulary word?


cowpops said...

hmm. =\

I remember being told as a youngster that they are mammals. My dad had a biology major, I should know.. =\

I hope I prodded my parents with such enormous questions when I was young.

liss n kids said...

Oh. I suppose I could have put the answer. The Kingdom is Animalia. Then for the Phylum, they divide into vertebrates (that's the five groups I was naming...those four plus fish are the orders of the Chordata phylum) and invertebrates. Worms do not have a spine, and they are in the phylum annelida. Arthropoda, the other word that was rattling around in my head, is for insects and spiders. :D

Beverly said...

Yeah, thanks a lot. I had to spend 15 minutes reading about this before going to bed. :-)
I look up a lot of stuff. Can't help it!