The first thing that I distinctly remember learning in school was the science of bubbles during second grade. To clarify, it wasn’t the first thing I ever learned, and I sincerely apologize to the English alphabet, the Hindu-Arabic numerals, and the melody to “Peaches en Regalia” if they felt snubbed by my introductory sentence. However, I remember bubbles being the earliest unit of schooling that truly engaged me: it was the first time in class I felt encouraged to scratch the itch of curiosity.
That was 2004, let’s move the narrative forward about three presidential terms to summer 2016. I, the former Bob Boyle of bubbles in elementary school and current Saturday Academy intern, had the pleasure of working with instructor Beth Morton, who taught “Chemistry for Inventors” for 4th and 5th graders attending TAG camp. The premise of the class, as some readers might guess, was to focus on several inventions and how their function relies on principles of chemistry. Students were taught how things like heat packs, glow sticks, and even rocket fuel worked and, even better, they were able to test those principles on a small scale. However, my nostalgia is stuck on the day these students learned bubbles.
As I learned that day, replacing whatever dormant knowledge I had left behind in 2004, a molecule of a soap bubble consists of two pieces, the head and the tail. The head is “hydrophilic,” or enjoys the company of water. Meanwhile, the tail is “hydrophobic,” and they swiftly deploy excuses about a dental appointment if water were to invite them to lunch. In soap bubbles, the tail points inward, and the head faces outward. The idea is that dirt and grime gets trapped inside the bubble, while the outer wall of the soap jail, being hydrophilic, washes off easily due to their longstanding friendship with water. Well, that’s how I understood it.
After receiving this crash course, wouldn’t it be a shame if the students didn’t get to blow any bubbles? Of course since this is about science, the kids were asked to test out different variations of bubble formula. Changing the amount of dish detergent mixed with water as well as their brand, the lab made about five different solutions to compare their proficiency in producing bubbles. We went outside, and for about thirty minutes the students blew bubbles, laughing and cheering all the way. If asked for any scientific observations, the students would simply say, “our group has nice bubbles,” or, “these bubbles are tough to make.” After we went back in, they added glycerin to their formula, which overnight would increase its longevity and allow bubbles to be caught and bounced on fabrics. The next day, students were delighted to find out it worked and, with socks in hand, competed to see who could keep the bubbles afloat for the most bounces. I think the highest score was thirteen.
At this point, the reader may wonder why I took so much space just to describe a summer scene of kids outside blowing bubbles, which really doesn’t require so much explanation to appreciate. The thing is, as much I forgot what actually happened during the bubbles unit in 2004, I still think of it as the first thing that really pulled me in during school. Even as a silhouette in my memory, I recognize it as a formative experience that inspired me to pursue knowledge. I think a similar impression could be seen in looks of delight that filled the lawn outside of the lab building. With this in mind, I firmly believe that the Saturday Academy’s great achievement is not in the dispersing of scientific facts, but in its ability to engage and invigorate young minds. Curiosity lasts longer than facts anyway.