IMCA Insights – March 2010

Meteorites 101 at a Deaf School
by Pete Shugar


Background on Learning the Art of Sign Language

It was seventh grade. Her locker was just five away from mine. She was shy. I never saw her with anyone else. I finally screwed up the mental courage and taped a note to her locker, asking for a date. Imagine my surprise when she gave me a note saying yes. I had suggested a ice cream sundae at the local Woolworth. When she arrived, I found out the reason she didn’t have many friends. It was because she was deaf. She then taught me the manual alphabet.

Photo courtesy of Pete Shugar

Thus began my love affair with sign language. Over the years, I did very little to advance that beginning. About 15 years ago I chanced upon another setting that required signing. I took a few free courses from the school system and have continued to work on it ever since.

Ten years ago I found that my hearing was getting progressively worse. I worked faster to learn more signs. Early last year all hearing in the left ear was gone. The right ear was almost gone as well. I didn’t have too much trouble talking to someone face to face as I could read lips, but I was very nervous as this was the first time I had to sign to an audience, not counting my efforts at my home church.

Photo courtesy of Pete Shugar

The Meteorite Teasers

I work for the school system here in Amarillo as a monitor on the bus to keep the kids from killing the bus, the driver, or themselves. I almost always put one or two meteorites in my pocket to show the kids on my bus. I’ve even done this at church or at any other gathering of kids or adults. Many is the parent that asks questions and want to learn something about our visitors from space.

One day I had to drive a SUV as the sub driver on a route. It was to fill in on the route that serves the deaf school here in Amarillo. I always carry a few meteorites with me as there is always someone that has never seen a meteorite or is a science buff that might like to see and hold one. I soon discovered the pleasure of watching the “Look of Wonder” that spreads across their face when they touch a meteorite. Although almost all of my meteorites are micros, I do have a few larger specimens as well as lunar and Martian micros in my collection. The boys and girls really freak out when told that they have just touched a piece of the Moon or Mars.

Photo courtesy of Pete Shugar

As usual, I had specimems with me that day and let a deaf girl touch several. She was very excited and her little fingers just flew far faster than I could read them as she told me of what it meant to be able to see and touch something that had been in space, but now it was in her hand. She was so thrilled to hold them. I promised to let her touch a lunar at a later time. The teacher saw the effect this had on “Karen Jo”* and asked me if I could come to the school and do a presentation. She saw that I signed and promised that I would have someone to  help me if I got stuck for a word. I told her, “Yes, I would be glad to do the presentation”.

Photo courtesy of Pete Shugar

Preparation

Seeing as I only had 3 weeks to get my act together, I asked the MeteoriteCentral mailing list for some cheap meteorites that I could afford. To my surprise, there was an outpouring of offers for free samples. As these poured in, I became very proud of the members of this list and felt that I would do all that I could to honor each and everyone who helped make that presentation the best that I ever did. One offer asked how many there would be in the class. I estimated 30 to 35. What I didn’t know was that there was 2 classes, each with 30 to 35 kids.

Well, when all the offers had arrived, I counted out all of the meteorites. There were enough NWA 869’s for one class and enough NWA 4293’s for the second class. Then there were all the large unclassified NWA’s which became the focus of the science teachers’ gifts. There still remain the many smaller unclassified NWA’s that will find a home in a later presentation. One batch of meteorites did not arrive till the evening after the presentation. When I opened it up, there were 5 perfect small Campos made into individuals with a loop for a necklace which made perfect gifts for the teachers. I went back the next day and left one for the principal, as well as for the teacher who invited me.

Photo courtesy of Pete Shugar

The IMCA “Meteorites 101” PowerPoint presentation was a big help, but I had to trim it down because of time limits. Some of it was just too technical for the lower grade levels. I dug into the history of all the meteorites that I would present to find cool facts and tidbits that made the meteorites come alive, instead of just being a lump of rock and/or metal. I made sure not to take too many with me as there is such a thing as overload. Too many also makes it hard to keep up with what is being passed around. The last thing you need is to lose one of your more valuable meteorites.

The Moment of Truth Arrives

I first told of my awakening to meteorites and what I collected and why. I showed several must read books and told of the work of H.H. Nininger as the father of Meteoritics. The children were very attentive and all asked good questions that showed a grasp of the science of meteoritics. I was asked how the meteoroid could be dislodged from the asteroid belt. What made all the meteoroids and asteroids in the first place? How do we know that this meteorite is from 4 Vesta? These questions and many more were asked and answered.

Photo courtesy of Pete Shugar

“Vaca Muerta” was cool, I just passed Valera around with no explaination. The boys thought it was cool, but the girls just squeeled “Eewweee” when told that Valera was the “bullet” that killed a cow. Of course, the question “Has a meteorite ever killed a person?” came next. I showed the very micro-micro of Sylacauga. “Its so small”, they said. I told of how hard it was to obtain it. Every meteorite brought more questions. The meteorites caused several to want to study and learn more about them. One thought it would make a very interesting science fair project.

At the conclusion of the presentation I had one of the teachers pass out to each member of the class a meteorite. I wanted a teacher to not look at each one, but to simply reach into the box and pass one out. I was worried that there would be much made of the “I got one bigger than you” syndrome. These fourth and fifth grade boys and girls had a wonderful time. I was elated at the reception I received. I became the man of the hour in the eyes of kids as well as the teachers. It’s good to be a good role model for them. The teachers were very happy to have my resources there for them to use. They were also surprised to receive some very cool looking unclassified NWA’s for later use in the classroom.

Photo courtesy of Pete Shugar

Conclusions and Lessons Learned

I fully believe that the giveaways were what made such a big impact upon the overall success of any effort to reach the students. You just need to be willing to spend a little time with them. The payoff is unreal.

My only regret was that I could have used at least 30 more minutes per class to cover more fully all that needed to be covered.

*Not her real name.

— This article will also be published in a future issue of Meteorite Magazine

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