Science Kit

Lessons learned from a frog in a jar

by , posted on November 2nd, 2010 in The Science Issue


When I was 10, I got a science kit for Christmas. It was another in the list of things my father bought on a whim in the hopes that some hidden genius-level talent would reveal itself. The kit was full of all kinds of semidangerous chemicals, a microscope, a vial of brine shrimp (Sea Monkeys for you unscientific types) and the piece de la resistance: a frog in a vial of formaldehyde.

As I breathlessly said I was going to do one of the experiments right now, he ever so thoughtfully said, “Not without supervision, and I’m too busy to help you today. Maybe tomorrow.” Tomorrow became tomorrow became tomorrow… you get the picture. As an adult, I understand how time slips so quickly away, but then, when days were everlong and yawned in front of me, I didn’t understand at all. I pestered him about it for a while but eventually I gave up and moved on to entertaining myself elsewhere. The science kit found a home next to the unicycle, the stilts, the juggling clubs, and the ceramics wheel, each covered in its own layer of sad dust.

I spent a lot of time goofing off in Mrs. Kelly’s science class the following year, laughing at the bad boys cutting up in the back of the room. I should’ve felt more sympathetic towards her but I didn’t because, as her class was constantly disrupted by our pubescent hijinks, she spent a good deal of time humiliating us in front of our peers. What’s more, being the know-it-all child of an aerospace engineer and a nurse anesthetist placed me perpetually on her bad side. However, a casual comment about the frog dissection we’d likely do in high school brought my shenanigans to an abrupt halt, prompting a series of questions about how one would go about doing such a thing. Looking back, I’m sure she assumed I was either a budding serial killer or thought I was just trying to divert her from the lesson, because she ended her answer with something along the lines of “but we don’t have anything to dissect, so it’s pointless to discuss.” I mentioned the frog and that I’d bring it in tomorrow; she noncommittally said that would be fine.

The next day I sacrificed my frog in his evermore cloudy vial and waited. And waited. And waited. I thought she’d forgotten so I reminded her; she told me she’d not forgotten and would I please sit down and be quiet. I slunk into my chair and brooded over adults and their conflicting messages about science and trying to better oneself. Whatever that meant.

One day shortly after that as classes were changing, Mrs. Kelly pulled me aside. She said that if I was still interested, we could dissect the frog during recess. I asked her if I could bring a few friends who were also interested; she agreed. I still remember that recess as one of the best times of my young academic life—right next to the time in kindergarten when a classmate’s neurosurgeon father came to show and tell with a brain in a bucket. Mrs. Kelly took her time, pointing out each thing as she encountered it, and when we ran out of time at recess, she said we could come back in the following day to finish it up. The next day I was back, but with fewer friends. We finished up that frog, and while my feelings about her were no softer than they were before, I had a bit of respect for the old gal. I think she had some for me as well, and encouraged me to follow my dream to become a veterinarian.

It wasn’t until recently that I considered what happened next and, for the very first time, saw it for what it was.

A few months later, Mrs. Kelly asked me if I’d be interested in coming in that very day to dissect a pig heart. The following year it was lungs, followed by a kidney. In eighth grade it was eyeballs, a pancreas, and some intestines. I feel a little sheepish for not seeing it at the time, but she was encouraging me in ways that my parents didn’t have time for and fostering a life-long fascination with the sciences. She might not have been the smartest teacher I ever had, but she was definitely one of the best because she took the lesson outside of the classroom in a way that engaged my special interests. I continued to repay her at the time with the casual cruelty so popular with the young, but if I saw her now I’d definitely give her a big hug for giving me such a wonderful gift.

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7 Responses to “Science Kit”

  1. Jennifer Cooper Says:

    November 2nd, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Your Mrs. Kelly was like my Ms. Herrara.

    It was seventh grade and I stayed after school to be Ms. Herrara’s aide. She was a little mousy and a little too earnest but I loved that about her.

    I cleaned out the guinea pig cage and fed the fish. Note: because of that experience my children are not allowed to have a guinea pig or fish.

    But back to Ms. Herrara…

    We had a slaughterhouse in town; right next to the school actually. Is that weird? It sounds weird when I say it but it just seemed normal at the time. Anyway, one day Ms. Herrara went over to the slaughterhouse and brought back a cow’s heart to show us all. I have to admit, it was quite the highlight of seventh grade.


  2. Kirsten Says:

    November 3rd, 2010 at 2:43 am

    The perspective in this is wonderful – we simply don’t have the wisdom to know, sometimes, what gifts are being offered, and yet the gift still manages to alter us in important ways.

    And that she wasn’t the most brilliant teacher ever? Even more perfect, really. Cause how many of those are we going to get?


  3. Bill Says:

    November 3rd, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Stories like this are the reason I want to teach. While I don’t think I’d be strong enough to tackle public education on a full-time basis, I’d love to be able to make that much of a difference in someone’s life.


  4. Eric Baliko Says:

    November 24th, 2010 at 5:29 am

    Wow! I won’t even try to explain how your writing puts me right back at the scene of the crime. I would just embarrass myself. It is incredible what you do and how vivid your memory is. Thank you for the trip back in time.


  5. Eric Baliko Says:

    November 24th, 2010 at 5:34 am

    She told my parents that I was the most deviant person she’d ever met.


  6. Jen Says:

    November 24th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Eric, as I was writing this, I was remembering your being one of those ‘bad boys’ I was so enamored of. I -completely- forgot that she said you were deviant. I don’t think she knew what that word meant, honestly, because deviant would’ve been something else entirely. Ornery? Whip-smart? Crackling with energy? All of those things described you then, and still do now. But deviant? I just don’t see that.

    But about those ass-less chaps in your closet…


    Eric Baliko Reply:

    Ha! I’m truly honored!

    Did you just say that?- ass-less chaps? what?


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