On Wednesday, June 17, several of my fourth grade students went off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz, in a production staged by PS 76 and Harlem Children's Zone and dedicated to the organization Teens Making a Difference, founded by Koree Richardson and Samantha Lawrence. With sets and costumes designed and sewn by members of the elementary school's dedicated staff, the nine-years-olds skipped close to Baum's original fantasy.
"You're nothing but a coward," Dorothy said.
"I guess I'm just a coward," said the Lion.
The audience of teachers, parents and siblings lacked the star quality of productions closer to Broadway. The evening I saw the City Center production of The Wiz, I shared the night with the stars of the brilliant winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama -- Lynn Nottage's Ruined, in the midst of an extended-extended run at New York City Center's Manhattan Theatre Club: Condola Rashad, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and Cherise Boothe -- each as beautiful as they were masterful in Nottage's new play -- had a mini-reunion in the Mezzanine.
Nevertheless, the young students were washed in that end of year glow where everything is bright, and each day is a gift as life closes in on the season that makes everyone free: summer. They were also awash in their year ending exam triumphs. With only a very few exceptions, PS 76's fourth graders improved on their state exams, many scoring threes and fours on both their language and mathematics skills assessments: our months spent studying poetry, including the work of Langston Hughes, thanks to donations of books for all the fourth graders by Melanie Fallon-Houska and Random House, and the lattice method for multiplication, both thanks to the indomitable work of fourth grade teachers Ms. Miller and Ms. Dewely, a success.
Next week is the science fair. All this week and last, the halls have been home to tables and poster boards outlining the machinations of batteries and light bulbs; the making of an earthquake; the volcano that erupts; how water stubbornly splits.
"The salt gives the water sodium and chloride ions," one of my students said to an impromptu assembly of third graders.
"Chlorine ions," I said.
"Water is neutral," her partner said. "So you need the salt to power the system. If we just used tap water, it wouldn't work. Right, Mr. Christian?"
"Right," I said. "So, tell us how the experiment works."
"Our materials are a jar, tap water, salt, two pencils, two insulated wires and a nine volt battery," the first student said. "H-2-O is water: two hydrogens and one oxygen. Sodium chloride is salt: N-A-C-L. When you dissolve the salt into the water, you get salt water, and sodium and chlorine ions. The sodium ions have a positive charge and the chlorine has a negative charge. So, we connect the wires to the battery and then to the pencils."
"What does that make the pencils?"
"Electrodes," she said. "The positive electrode is the anode and the negative electrode is the cathode."
"So we run the electric current through the electrodes and the chlorine ions are attracted to the anode and that powers the system to pull off hydrogens from the water molecules," he said. "Those are hydrogen bubbles around the cathode."
"Why do you need to use energy to pull off the hydrogens?"
"Because the water molecule is stable, and it doesn't want to come apart," he said.
"So what's left after you pull off the hydrogens?" I said.
"Wait, I know," Miss Electrode said.
"The sodium stays in solution..." Mr. Electric Current began.
"Wait," she said, stopping her fellow scientist. "The sodium stays in solution and we have water and hydroxyl ions. Right?"
"Sometimes my memory curves like a watermelon rind," Miss Electrode said.
"Elizabeth Alexander said that," Mr. Electric Current said. "'Curves like watermelon rinds.'"
"She's the President's poet," she said.
"Omni-Albert Murray," he said. "Omni-Barack Obama."
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