This week for my biotechnology course I had to build a bioreactor and its subsystems that would allow me to capture and measure the carbon dioxide gas produced in order to determine the volume of ethanol in my dextrose and yeast solution.
Translation: I had to use yeast and sugar water to make alcohol and tell how much I had made by capturing the CO2.
Needless to say, with more than a decade between me and my last biology and chemistry courses, this was a challenge. (And that was an understatement.)
I’ve been working on this project for about three weeks now. Here is a rundown of the steps:
- Attempted to not freak out by assuring myself that all other elementary teachers in the class are in the same boat. “He won’t let us fail,” was my frequent self-talk.
- Started a list of, “What I Know.” For many minutes that list consisted of one statement: Yeast is a fungus. This is all I could remember from teaching fifth grade science.
- Began research. I alternated between YouTube home brew videos, that were probably not credible sources, and scholarly articles that I could not understand.
- Drew first plan. It was a joke.
- Met with my 5 person planning team via video conference. One I couldn’t see, one I couldn’t hear, and the other two were nearly as clueless as I was.
- Spent a week revising plan after plan, muddling my way through mole calculations and projected volume.
- Found a God-send in Cheryl, a like-minded fourth grade teacher who doesn’t make me feel dumb. We have sent countless Facebook messages and emails, shared chicken scratch calculations, and used Google Hangouts at all sorts of odd hours of the day.
- Consulted two other people who don’t usually make me feel dumb: Jay and Papa. One night I even made them both talk to Cheryl over Hangouts after dinner.
- Submitted a plan and received very vague feedback.
- Gathered all of the materials. This consisted of very grouchy trips to Walmart, the pet store, and Michael’s with my two little people. After dinner I made Jay continue the shopping, with them, while I wrote a paper for another class. No rest for the weary….him or me!
- Felt pretty ready when class started. We were supposed to build it in class, and I had about 95% of what I needed. Except my ideas were all wrong. My containers were too huge, and I spent most of our building time trying to find new materials in the lab while editing my design. I shed the first of many tears over this thing that night.
- Forgot about it for almost a week while I Love Math Day happened.
- Day 2 of in-class building went so much better. Something said in class made me think of a way to stir the solution: LittleBits.
So the listing the steps idea sounded like a great plan when I started this post, but now I realize if I keep going, probably only my mom (and maybe Cheryl) will keep reading. So let me just skip straight to the point:
I had a decent trial run, but my first and second, “Ok….let’s do this for real!” were complete flops. I came home in tears last night, puddled on the sofa while Jay tried to talk me back to life. I was doing every last thing that I don’t want to see my students or own kids do when they face a challenge.
But this morning I was at it again. Fueled by enough hours of sleep and the promise of an entire free day ahead of me, I started in on the research again, determined to figure out the trick of immobilization.
And it worked. Tiny, glorious CO2 bubbles floating up a clear tube into my graduated cylinder brought me some ridiculous joy.
So this afternoon as I was prancing downtown to meet my family during my one hour break from data collection, I couldn’t help but consider those truly crappy moments of this challenge and what had gotten me through:
*Jay with his calm spirit, reassuring words, and frequent reminders of, “I’m proud of you.”
*Cheryl who understood what I was going through and said, “I feel like I’m in the waiting room at labor an delivery,” while waiting to hear if my design was working.
*Chica who asked me fantastic questions about what I was doing this morning on the phone. “What did you do differently?” and “Can you make it thinner?” she asked. Her sweet questions helped to slowly bring me out of the dizziness and back into the problem solving mode.
*Alissa and Rachel, my running amigas who are also both in grad school. They text me about translation theory and Sherlock, I send them pictures of my moonshine creator, and we all laugh at how different but the same our lives really are.
*My students who seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing, and the sweet little guy who told me I had inspired him to build something one day.
*My mom and mother-in-law who are relentless in their support.
May this project be a reminder to me of what my kids need next time it seems impossible. Most of the time they don’t need a, “Suck it up,” or a lecture on how failure is just an opportunity to learn something.
They need a cheerleader, and hopefully I can be that for them.
(Ok….back to tending my graduated cylinders and watching bubbles trickle up. 1060 mL of CO2 and counting.)