It’s been a busy week for the international news media. A series of Saudi-led strikes pounded rebel targets in Yemen. Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard, and as of now, it appears to have been brought down at the hands of the co-pilot. American Amanda Knox’s second trial for the murder of her roommate in Italy is declared closed by Italy’s supreme court, March Madness continues with many surprises and upsets as college basketball teams battle it out for a place in the “Sweet Sixteen” and then on to the “Elite Eight”. And, today, March 27, 2015, the Duchess of Cambridge made her last public appearance before the impending birth of her second child.
In other news this week, however, three 7th grade boys grew a bean plant in a Styrofoam cup filled with … hair. Along with springtime temperatures and March Madness, this time of year also brings that rite of passage for every middle school student: the science fair.
The K-8 Catholic school where I teach is no different. This week was the culmination of a three-month process where students in grades 6-8 selected a topic, researched it, created the traditional three-panel corrugated board, and brought their projects in for the school assembly and judging. Each year, a lot of bean plants are grown demonstrating various scientific theories from which beans grow the fastest, which light source encourages growth, and what to best feed a bean plant. This year, the three 7th grade boys initially wanted to try growing bean plants in a hydroponic system but the topic had already been reserved by one of their classmates. So, they pressed on, deciding to grow bean plants in just about everything other than water, to see what medium worked best. They “planted” beans in soil, on hay, on pebbles, and yes, on hair.
When I first approached the table, I looked at their board for the topic. It said, “Grow with the Flow”. I looked down at the tray of cups on the table and pointed to the one in the bottom right hand corner, “What is that in that cup?”
All three in unison, “Hair”.
“Yep, we grew a bean plant in a cup of hair,” one of the boys said beaming from ear to ear.
Being a teacher and being quite used to outlandish stories, I asked if they had planted the bean in soil, waited for it to sprout and then transferred it to the cup of hair. No, they assured me, they just put the bean in the cup of hair, watered it, and left it in the sun to grow.
My next question was simple, “Whose hair is it?” One of the boys said, “We got it from Spiro’s Barber Shop. And, you know what, Mrs. Ardillo, he didn’t even ask why we wanted a bag full of hair. He just reached down onto the floor, picked up a handful of hair, and dropped it into the bag we had brought with us. HE WASN’T EVEN WEARING GLOVES!” (Emphasis added to indicate the increased volume level of said 7th grade boy when shouting this last sentence to me.)
Naturally, I was ready with another question. “Why would you think he should be wearing gloves?”
“Because he picked up the hair off the floor!” one of them excitedly replied.
“Boys, does the barber wear gloves when he cuts your hair?”
“Uh, no, that would be silly.”
“Well, didn’t he just cut tha t hair off of someone’s head, without wearing gloves?”
“Uh, yeah, but it wasn’t on the floor!”
This is classic middle school logic. They will focus on something that a grown-up would never ever think of, and trying to move them off of it is like trying to take a bone away from a hungry dog.
We then discussed how much larger the bean plant growing on the hair was than the ones in the other cups. They surmised it was because the cup of hair, with all of its cracks and crevices, allowed for sunlight and water to more efficiently make its way to the bean plant and its root system.
One question kept bubbling around in my mind, so I asked it. “So, if the hair came from a person who was very sick with a very contagious disease, and you grew a bean plant on that hair until you could harvest beans to eat, would the beans make you sick?”
One boy immediately said, “Probably.” Another boy nodded in affirmation. But boy #3, the most gregarious of the group, shook his head and said, “Probably not, but it would be conditioner-flavored!”
And there, my friends, in a nutshell, is the working mind of a 7th grade boy!