All Hands on the Poop Deck

Mike Fritz, who helped me in the classroom this term, shared his experience
with his co-workers at the US Environmental Protection Agency:

As I strode to the front of Ms. Molly Moran’s second grade class at
Annapolis Elementary School one June morning in downtown Annapolis, I
was confident in my lesson plan, so elegantly simple that I didn’t even
need the 3X5 index card in my shirt pocket on which I had it drawn out.
My former boss at EPA’s Wetlands Division, John Meagher (now retired),
had invited me to talk about what I do in my work. He would do his
lesson first. I had scoped out his topic and had identified a
meaningful connection between his talk and mine. He was going to teach
a hands-on, desk-top laboratory lesson about buoyancy, including a key
vocabulary word “gravity.” (Did you know that a lacrosse ball sinks in
fresh water but floats in salt water?) “Gravity”, I decided, was my
link. The audience would be primed. I had decided on the audience
participation approach, to put the pen into their little hands. It was
my turn.

On the flip chart I drew a hillside, a single black line, with wavy blue
water at the bottom of the hill, the Bay, just like right outside the
classroom window. A stick-figure person. A lolli-pop green tree. A
cloud. A fish in the water. A swimmer. Rain. “Where does the water
go when it rains?” “Down to the Bay” “Why?” One smart kid: “Gravity”
“How many of you have or know people who have dogs?” All the hands went
up. Another volunteer drew a red dog on the hillside. Then the
clincher: “What do dogs do when you take them out to walk in the
morning?” The entire chorus: “THEY POOP!” Ms. Moran interrupted:
“Oh, Mr. Mike, you just got them to say their favorite word!” The
audience, giggling, was rapt. “Wait!” I said, fumbling around the
front desk, “There’s no brown marker!” Ms. Moran stopped the lesson
until she could find one. There was no shortage of volunteers to draw
the little brown pile behind the dog. It was not exactly to scale.
“Where does that poop go when it rains?” “To the Bay” “Why?” ”
Gravity!” “How do you think the fish and the swimmer feel about that?”
“Yech!” “What do you think you can do about that?” And they knew that
answer too. And the lesson was over. I haven’t had that much fun since
the last time I caught a steelhead on a fly rod in a snowstorm.
Seriously, if you like kids half as much as I do and care about the
future of the world, combine the two by volunteering with John in the
ReSet program. John has the lesson plans; you and the kids have the

ReSET is a D.C.-based non-profit volunteer organization that partners
working and retired scientists, engineers, and technicians with
elementary school teachers to improve science motivation and literacy.
ReSET’s goal is to introduce children in the classroom to science,
engineering and technology as being enjoyable and exciting (i.e., fun!).
Find them at

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.