A couple of weeks ago, I received a very panicked, last-minute text from one of my former English students. This young man needed help with a presentation for his science class. We made arrangements to meet the following morning to work on the assignment together. All I knew was that he needed to make a video of a science experiment in English, and we absolutely had to get together “tomorrow”.
I started to get a bit nervous when more than 15 minutes after our agreed upon time, my young friend had not arrived. I wondered if I had misunderstood the arrangements we made the night before. That happens sometimes when I am texting in Spanish! Soon after, however, I saw him walking through the gate and heading my way.
He was a sweaty, tired mess- -having walked nearly four miles to my home from his in a small fishing village outside of town. “Why didn’t you ask me pick you up?” I asked incredulously. After gulping down a glass of ice water, he replied that it was no big deal. Wow! I was thinking what dedication this kid has to his studies. Yeah, more about that later.
My friend explained that he needed to video tape a science experiment, detailing the steps in English. He pulled a few of the necessary items out of his backpack and then asked if I had a wine cork and a book of matches. (Is a cork a common household item?) Now it was my turn to go into panic mode. How were we going to be able to finish his assignment without one of the key parts of the experiment?! Why did I not ask for more information the night before?! I googled substitutions for a cork and came up with nothing. As I contemplated driving into town to buy a bottle of wine just for the cork, he suggested we ask one of my neighbors.
I do not know very many of my neighbors well. Most of them are seasonal and keep to themselves when they are here. Could I really just knock on their doors and ask for a wine cork? At 9:30 am? What the heck. We headed off on our mission. The first neighbor was not home. We moved on down the block. I rehearsed our strange request all the way.
Fortunately, the next neighbor was home. Unfortunately, this meant I had to ask for the cork. She jokingly suggested that I knew just where to come for a wine cork. (I guess I do know some of my neighbors pretty well.) She then proceeded to open a brand new bottle of wine just so she could give us the cork. “Hey, no worries. We’ll just have to drink it this afternoon.” she said. I awkwardly thanked her, and we left. We had used about 30 precious minutes of our hour and a half just securing the needed materials.
Rather than get right to work upon our return, the scientist asked for my wi-fi password and then checked his Facebook page. Apparently, nothing urgent was breaking on his newsfeed, so we were finally able to focus on the task at hand. First, we reviewed his brochure and made a few vocabulary corrections. Then, he walked me through the experiment and explained what should happen. Finally, he practiced in English several times. We began filming.
I think we were both holding our breath at the climax of the experiment- -and then simultaneously wondering what in the world had gone so wrong. We had three matches left by this point, exactly the number we needed. (Obviously, I am not at all prepared for scientific emergencies.) I did a quick internet search for the experiment, thinking we could figure out our error that way. Like the wine gods earlier, the science gods were smiling upon us as well because lo and behold, there it was! (Interestingly, we could have conducted the experiment without a cork.)
I explained what I had found, requiring some new vocabulary to be added to the pamphlet and a few more rounds of practice- -without lighting the matches, of course. This time, the results were perfect, and we were both pretty amazed with the science. We fist bumped, high-fived, and did a happy dance. Then the mad scientist quickly sent the video to his teacher, as the due date was that afternoon, not the next day. We hurriedly cleaned up our mess so I could drive him home. It turned out he had more homework to finish before heading to school that afternoon.