Of Birds and Stars

Recently, some hometown friends and I were reminiscing about a favorite 8th grade science teacher. I’m sure we learned chemistry well that year, but what we really recall and appreciate were the constellations and the birds. Each week, we were required to accurately color a black and white drawing of a bird and to identify another constellation in a cluster of black dots on paper. During the week, our homework was to go outside and LOOK.

What did this have to do with chemistry? Nothing, of course. What did it have to do with our education? Everything. At one point, particularly concerned parent had questioned the teacher (at one of those beginning-of-the-year open houses) on the value of using science class to color and connect-dots. The teacher’s response…

“Mrs. Smith, it is my bid at immortality.”

How did he know? To this day, I think of Mr. Hubley often and appreciate his gift to us every time I look up to see Cassiopeia and Cepheus in the sky. Or when I look out and see a starling or a red-winged blackbird flit by. I did chemistry in Mr. Hubley’s class, but I learned something else entirely.

I am incorporating Mr. Hubley’s example into the activities my kids are doing while their schools are closed. Each week, we’ll choose a bird and a constellation. The 11-year-old picked the mallard for our first week. We live by a river and it should be easy for us to observe this most common duck. Here is a coloring page for the mallard. I chose the constellation Virgo for this week. Virgo is just becoming visible and her story will engage the kids. (They are already familiar with the Big Dipper and Orion, which no doubt would make more sense to start with.)

If you want to follow along, too, I’ll keep posting our bird and constellation of the week.

Mathematically…Oh, I’m sure I can relate this to math. As we observe the world through the focused lens of birds and stars, we’ll start to notice and wonder. How many mallards did we observe today? How many males? Females? Babies? How many stars do you think you can see? What other shapes are up there? What is infinity? As another beloved teacher said to us many many times, “Math is life.”

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