Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Dry Lab

My chem lab partner is just a little guy. He has neat, close cropped hair and big handle-bar ears. When I sit down next to him, he smiles and extends his hand.

"You must be one of those super-kids who skipped high school," I say.

His skinny shoulders blades rise and fall. "Not really. I'm just doing a cross-over program and taking my science class here."

 I like this little guy immediately. He's much smaller then any of the kids I used to teach in high school. I have the sudden urge to take him under my wing. Show him the ropes. Be the cool older-girl-chem-partner who talks to him about Ipods, and which local hang-outs have the cheapest wings on Tuesdays. I could help him beef up his college essay. One thing is for sure- he'll definitely brag about me to his high school pals. I smile at him and swing my hair off of my shoulder. "Wow!" I tell him. "Smarty pants!"

We watch a half hour video about lab safety. When the video is over, the teacher turns on the lights and tells us to start working on Lab #1 in our books, a 'Dry Lab.' "Mostly just an overview of conversions. Shouldn't take you too long and you're welcome to leave when you're finished."

"That rocks." I whisper to my new friend. He gives me a shy smile and turns to his book.

 The room goes quiet. The only sound is the furious scratching of pencils from all of the students except one. Me. It's been thirteen years since my last chemistry or math class, and the page full of equations in front of me may as well be in Russian. I have absolutely no clue where to start, and the teacher has left the room.

I stare. Across the table from me, someone flips to the next page.

"Um," I say, leaning over to the little guy. "Where did you get that number?"

He opens his book to a page of conversions factors and points.

"But that's a positive number...?" I falter.

"If you put the number on the bottom, you just make it negative before you cross multiply."

"Oh." I say. Then, "Why?"

He tries explaining for a minute, but he doesn't do a great job. He looks a little confused too, although not about the material.

A few more minutes go by. The teacher is still gone. I sketch an octopus on the side of the paper. Eight legs.

Finally, I whisper to the boy, "So, where are you going to college?"

He looks up. "Don't know. I haven't thought that far ahead."

Oh no. "Are you a junior?"

"Sophomore."

Oh God he's a sophomore. He's a zygote. And he's racing through the problems with neat little numbers that all line up. I study his work, trying to orient myself. "Okay, um, how did you get that number up there?"

He looks down at this paper, starts pointing to an equation, and then hesitates. "I really don't know how to explain it," he says, obviously feeling bad. He looks over at my page, the octopus, then up at me, and I see it. In his eyes. Not annoyance, not anger, but pity.

And let me tell you, you've never felt shame like the shame that comes with having your skinny little lab partner, who is exactly half your age, feel very, very, very bad for you, on the first day of what is amounting to be a very, very, very long year. 

11 comments:

Heather Goodell said...

awe, what a bummer of a day! no worries, I don't doubt you will figure it all out :) Best of luck this year!

Sarah P. said...

I decided to go back for my nutrition degree. SO MUCH SCIENCE. Taking the chem prerequisites was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my LIFE. It is soul sucking. But the feeling of accomplishment that comes from stepping so far out of the comfort zone is really gratifying in the end.

carolyn said...

My college Chem instructor was SO bad, I had to go back to my high school after school open tutoring session where I knew my old chem teacher did tutoring. He got a big kick out of it, glad someone did! :) The good news is nine years into nursing and you don't have to use any of that stuff!

Maria said...

in high school, i was a math wunderkind. you know, the girl who finished everything early, quickly asked "what's for home?" and then finished all the home assignments in class also. saved me having to do homework.

but then i went to study law (NEVER used that stuff), then did another degree in journalism (NEVER used that stuff) and it's only now that i am coming up to my 30th birthday in november that i realise... i'm actually a numbers person, mentally.

so what am i about to do? i'm about to start studying quantity surveying, so i can work out how things are built.

and whilst i am excited as to be going back to school, i am also painfully aware of the fact that, in all likelihood, i am going to struggle as (!) with those basic math classes there.

and that in all likelihood, i am, too, going to sit next to a 17-year-old who is going to scribble-scribble-scribble and finish his assignment, and i am going to look at the notebook, thinking, "man, i used to know how to do this stuff."

and then i am going to try and copy what that 17-year-old is doing into MY notebook, and figure it out at home.

it's going to be two long, long years.

Whitney said...

Nerd confession: Dimensional Analysis was (is) my FAVORITE thing I learned in HS. I'm not lying. Maybe I could teach you to do it and you could teach me to be sporty and outdoorsy.

Jody said...

The thing about college chem is to memorize the equations and work every single problem you can get your hand on. It will come back to you and click if you do that. Once it clicks, it is actually fun.

Jessica said...

I am so excited that you're blogging again, Lina!

I'm also absolutely awful, terrible, HORRIBLE at math. In high school, I cried through every math class and eventually, skipped the class altogether.

Hang in there, friend. You're my hero for sticking through it!

Lisa said...

That's ridiculous- I can't believe the teacher left you to it on day one. That is awful. Hopefully you have a good workbook with lots of examples.
The thing with chemistry that is so cool is that crazy insane people figured most of that stuff out in the last couple hundred years, before there was even electricity in labs, etc. and chemistry is everywhere- pick up your ketchup bottle and look at the list of ingredients....chemistry is awe inspiring. Chemistry constantly left me in awe.

Sabertoothali said...

Don't forget you have an awesome cousin who has a chemistry degree who can help with all (okay, some) things chemistry and math!

Christal said...

I totally relate to this post as I am 3 classes into Probability and Linear Mathematics and I am THE ONLY ONE who asks questions because I didn't get it on the homework.

The instructor is nice but I really don't want to monopolize the class time because I don't understand it quite as fast as the rest... or maybe they don't care if they pass...

Faigie said...

Thank the Lord I got my degree in Early childhood education and didnt have to do ANY math for chem. I never would have survived.