My first year teaching 5th grade, Dr. Grisham, a UCLA scientist whose specialty is brain research, visited my classroom. He brought with him a goodly number and variety of brains, and my students and I all got to hold them. He also shared a lot of fascinating information. For instance did you know that calling someone a bird brain is not the ultimate insult? A turtle brain is smaller.
When Dr. Grisham came to my classroom he brought slides, hand-outs and activities. Upon leaving he presented me with my very own goat’s brain sealed in a jar of formaldehyde. For the next several years it served me well.
My first day of school has been pretty much the same for the past 10 years. I start with the rules and procedures. While doing so, I walk around the room and point out special features. Back before the brain started to disintegrate from too much moving and shaking, I would pick the jar up in my circuit around the room. I wouldn’t refer to it. I would just hold it in my hand while I talked.
Every kid’s attention would riviet on that jar. I would hear mutterings, “What is that?” “Is that a brain?” “It’s a brain.” “No way. It can’t be a brain.” “It looks like a brain.” Finally some brave kid would raise his or her hand and ask, “What’s in the jar?”
I would act perplexed, then look down at the jar as though I was surprised to find it in my hand. “This?” I’d say, shaking my head while I set it aside as if it was no importance. “Nothing. Just the brain of the last kid that talked back to me.”