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‘Don’t Thank Me, Thank Science’

It was already one of those mornings: We had to be at school by 7:30 am, but my daughter, Olive, was still working on her reading log while the rest of us scrambled to solve the mystery of her missing shoe. We didn’t want to be late again and disappoint Olive’s teacher, Ms. Hong, who had recently congratulated us for showing improvement in this area. So I grabbed my car keys and we dashed out the door.

While walking to the car, I reached to open my purse and the car keys slipped right out of my hand. I was standing atop a sidewalk grate that was roughly 20 feet above a dirty platform. For a moment, the key ring caught the side of the metal grate, but as I reached down to grab the keys, my eagerness got the best of me and I ended up pushing them into the cavern below.

I thought my day was ruined. I had a spare set of keys at home, but then we would surely be late, and car keys can cost up to $250 to replace. Olive, always calm in the midst of a storm, said, “You know, Mom, in Mr. Waiyaki’s class we did a unit on magnets. We conducted experiments with magnetic forces and we tested them on different things. On one quiz, there was a scenario about a boy who dropped his keys down a gutter, and we had to choose the correct magnet based on the distance the keys had dropped. You should get a magnet and tie it to a string and get your keys back that way.”

It was a great idea, and one I likely would not have thought of. I decided to go back for the spare keys and drive Olive to school (we arrived on time!), then went to the hardware store and bought a powerful magnet and a ball of twine. I was so impressed with Olive’s idea that I took pictures documenting the entire process: making a “string magnet,” then lowering it down through the grate. It took only one try—the keys clung to the magnet, and I had them back within seconds. Passersby stopped and clapped when I brought them up.

Olive’s favorite class this year has been science. She talks constantly about Mr. Waiyaki and the amazing experiments they do in class: studying the phases of the moon with Oreo cookies, or conducting electricity using Halloween candy. Her dad and I often learn new things about science from hearing what she has learned about the world around her — like how to recover dropped keys with a “string magnet.” In fact, when I tried to thank Olive for coming up with her brilliant idea, she said, “Don’t thank me. Thank science!”

Recently, Mr. Waiyaki left Olive a voicemail on the night before a big test. He told her how proud of her he was and that he had total confidence in her ability to “slam the exam.” This brought tears to my eyes, because I know that every day my daughter goes to school, she is not only getting a first-rate education, but is surrounded by teachers like Mr. Waiyaki who truly care about her. When I heard that he had won a Success Academy Excellence Award this year, I was so happy for him and grateful that he is Olive’s teacher.





Written by Erin Zwicky May 26, 2016

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