Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Science Project

My mother taught school for over thirty years. She started in high school teaching typing, shorthand and music and worked her way down in the grades while taking more courses along the way. She ended up with a Master's degree in elementary education and in first grade. She always said she liked first grade because they were a fresh slate. She loved to teach them to read, and that look on their faces when the light bulb of understanding came on. Adults underestimate or have forgotten that joy that kids get when they can first read for themselves.

In Indiana, she taught at the school down the street from our house. In first grade the science instruction was pretty simple and kids responded as one would expect to small experiments they could watch. One year she decided to let them watch little chicks hatching. She researched what was necessary. My dad helped her rig up an incubator that consisted of our frying pan with the temperature set very low and the dial taped securely, a sealed box with cellophane inserted in a cut out so the kids could watch and a source of moisture inside the box. There was also a light for a little extra heat when the box flap was opened to turn the eggs. They had to turn the eggs daily so they put them in the pan with dish towels to cushion them. The plan was for the kids to watch the chicks peck their way out of the shells, let them then feed and water them as they grew and then, with the permission of the parents, they would take them home. Of course only five or six could do so.

They obtained the fertilized eggs from a nearby chicken farm and set it up. The children were fascinated. The parents were fascinated. Finally, the little chicks began to start pecking their way out. Mom explained to the children that they could not help them, they had to do it themselves so they could develop more strength. During this period of time, the school had an open house. The kids in mom's class brought their parents and everyone flocked around the incubator. When mom wasn't looking and over the protestations of his child, one father reached in and "helped" a little chick that was "almost out by himself anyway." It became clear a couple of days later that this chick, one of the last to hatch, had problems with his feet. The claws were curled under and he couldn't stand up.

Dad, being raised on a farm, said this fellow couldn't survive in this condition and suggested humanely euthanizing him. Of course, I went into a hissy, tizzy fit over it and begged and pleaded to take him home. "What will you do with him?" "I don't know, but you can't kill him!" Crying does occasionally get you somewhere. Not often, but occasionally. I took the crippled chick home.

I decided to make some tiny splints for his toes. We had some flat wooden toothpicks, wider than those square ones they sell now. I split them in half and made them the length of his toes. Then I straightened his toes and taped one splint to each one. They stuck out a little bit in the back and it took him a while to get used to it but he could stand on them and hop about the box. I kept him in a big box in the corner of my room. He had a soft mound of cloth to nest in and a light for warmth and food and water.

The splints stayed on for two weeks. The chick was growing. Mom was getting nervous about him trying to get out of the box, but while he could walk with the wooden splints, it was an awkward gait. After the two weeks I decided to take them off and see what would happen. IT WORKED!!! His toes stayed straight, he could hop and walk around like a normal chick. It came time to give him a new home. He had been promised to a little boy in her class, IF, the experimental splints worked. So, little Cheep-Cheep #2 (I was never very original in naming the chicks) went to his new home.

This was the first time I had contrived something to treat a sick animal and it worked. Maybe this was the beginning (along with my 9th grade Biology teacher and watching actual surgery on TV when I was a kid) of my interest in science. Who knows? I thought it was great. Mom decided that it would be her last "hatching chicks" experiment.

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