Sixth grade, Newburyport, Massachusetts, science class… that’s where I found my love for science.

I wanted to be a scientist.

It was a fall morning, and our science teacher explained we would be beginning a little journey of ecological study. She handed out journal books and clipboards to each one of us, told us to grab our jackets, and lined up at the door. Through the cold mist, she led us out through the school parking lot, across the street and into a little patch of forestland. One at a time, she assigned a two-foot by two-foot patch of soil that we would monitor for the rest of the school year. We were to record everything that happened to that patch of earth, from beetles to pine cones. She gave us little wooden sticks and a roll of nubby yarn to mark out our spaces.

Once assigned and marked, we sat down and began observing. I remember the birds chirping, as if we were intruders, but then calmed down when they saw we weren’t trying to eat them. Everyone was focused on their own spots. It became quiet, even peaceful. I look back now and think, how did a 6th grade science teacher captivate an entire class by taking them out into the woods? I moved a few leaves around so I could see if I had any creeping critters, and suddenly, a black beetle crawled out as if he was rudely awakened. Note taken.

I scribbled what I saw… maple leaves, oak leaves, some kind of viney thing, a broken stick from the tree above, some moss, a black beetle, a small wormy looking creature, black soil. I liked to sketch, so my teacher encouraged me to not only write what I saw, but to sketch it! Are you kidding me? Is this even school?

Time flew by and it was time to go back. Our teacher called us all up, and we lined up to return to our classroom. I looked back at my little grid square. “I will be back, little space,” I whispered under my breath.

I LOVED this class, and this teacher. I decided on that day, yes, this is it, someday I will be a researcher, a scientist. With a clipboard even. Or maybe be a science teacher, just like her.

Every day, we walked over to our grids. Every visit was logged and the changes were recorded. What was changing in our spaces? Winter was coming. What evidence did we see of the changing season? It was glorious. I looked forward to that class. Even though I had other disappointments, being one of six kids at home, the day in science class was the happiest time of all.

On one particularly cold day, I knelt down to secure one of the corner sticks of my space, and I felt something sharp on my knee. Ouch! I got back up quickly and noticed I had cut my knee on something sharp. My teacher noticed my upset, and sent me back to the nurse’s office with another classmate. I had knelt onto a piece of glass! My mother was called and they placed a butterfly patch on the cut, but by the time the nurse finished, class was over and my time with my grid was lost. Argghhh! Why me? Why glass? Who would put that there, in the woods?

The next day, I most certainly did NOT kneel down by my space. I was more careful and made a note in my journal about the incident, even though the glass wasn’t officially in my grid space. Note in journal “beware of glass and litter”. (I have a scar on my knee from that moment, and it reminds me of that day in the woods every time I see it).

Winter came, snow covered our study areas, and we still trudged out to note any animal tracks or evidence of animals preparing for the long winter.

Winter turned to Spring, our grids were visible again, the earth was wet, the leaves had partially decomposed, new bugs were found, and small grasses were seen shooting up through the soil. What a joyful time, to see life springing back into our little spaces.

Spring now ending, summer began, and our spaces were filling with ferns and other flora. Our teacher asked us to share about our time with our little patches of forest. We researched our insects, the trees, leaves, grasses, worms, anything that we saw in our grid, we reported to our classmates. It was most fascinating, to hear the similarities, as well as the differences in what we all observed.

I had to think again to myself, was this even school? How could this be learning, when it was so fun?

I will never forget that class. I will never forget what that teacher did for me as she brought to life a subject I took for granted. She presented an environment where I thrived enough to remember the experience. I can remember that moment, with a clipboard and journal, how comfortable that was, and for that school year, I was a scientist.

Over 40 years later, I can still remember that class. The teacher. The journal. The grid. The desire to be a scientist. We don’t know what God has planned for us until we try life on. And it came through a science teacher, in a small middle school, in a town on the east coast.

I have spent countless hours in scientific labs and testing centers over the years, for tech companies and engineering groups. Taking notes, sketching what I saw, and reporting my findings. Thank you, teacher from middle school, for creating the space for me to realize what interests God had placed in me.

So go out and find your “space” in God’s creation, and don’t forget the clipboard.

By Erica Berdan
19 OCT 2017

The Journey to Sciencehood: How a middle school science teacher showed me the way.
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