Monday, February 22, 2010

Birds & Bees...and Testis (Part II)

My own high school biology teacher never called evaluations at the end of a unit "tests" or "exams;" they were "learning experiences." I never really felt like I was the one learning anything during the exam and this euphemism just irritated me more than anything else. I know now that he was referring to himself and the subsequent grading of these tests.

Well, I might have been a little premature by posting the "best" quotes of this most awkward part of the curriculum before administering the Cell Division/Reproduction unit exam. There were some gems buried in the scribbles and semblances of answers and I can definitely say it was a "learning experience" for me.

This one was my favorite:

"...the sperms job is to pass through the treacherous vagina to fertilize the egg." (This in response to a question about the path the sperm takes from formation to fertilization. I take no responsibility for the inclusion of the hyperbolic adjective.)

Both of the following were parts of answers responding to the question about the many physiological obstacles a sperm cell encounters that prevent it from reaching and fertilizing an egg:

"Sperms may not have been pulled from the penis with enough velocity." (This is no doubt caused by the suction from that 'treacherous' vagina.)

"When sperm is ejaculated, some don't even touch the woman. They fall on the floor." (Um, no. My jaw, however, is on the floor.)

Definitely a "learning experience," wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Greatest Show On Earth?

Riding the bus to school last a couple weeks ago, I noticed several giant pink semi trucks parked in a large vacant lot on a busy street that serves as a kind of main artery for the south of the city. The next day a large frame-like scaffold had been erected in the middle of the grass and dirt. It was then that I became curious; were they building a drive in movie theatre? My first attempt to read the sides of the trucks as we sped past was unsuccessful and I only got the word "Ruso" (Russian) because it was by far the biggest.

The next day I recruited help from others on the bus to decipher the script. By this point there were more trucks, more scaffolding and what appeared to be entrance gates. As people peered out the bus windows into the already dusty Cali morning air, the other worlds fell into place one by one - "Ballet!" "Hielo!" "Circo!" "Sobre Hielo!" Adding "Russian" back into the mix, we figured out that this organization of pink trucks and tarps was the "Circo Ballet Ruso sobre Hielo" (Russian Circus Ballet on Ice). What?!?!

Last weekend I went with a couple friends, partly out of curiosity and some burning questions that resurfaced every morning on the bus and partly because it sounds too strange to pass up, to investigate. Is it really "Russian?" What are they doing in Cali, Colombia? In a lot across the street from a supermarket? There can't be ice in that big top, can there?

The Russians and the ice rink...what a circus!

Upon entering the Pepto-Bismal colored big top, there was, in the center of the floor, no more than 20 meters in diameter, an ice rink. On the far end leading away from the main circle of ice to the backstage area was another strip of ice. Cooled presumably from underneath, the ice was frozen but struggling to stay that way. I had brought a sweater just in case the climate was like a hockey arena but I didn't need it. I actually was quite warm throughout the two hour show. As was the ice - it had a light film of water on its surface the entire time that occasionally splashed up when the skaters stopped abruptly or slid on the ground.

Tarzan and Jane "swing" above the ice.
As the lights went down and then up again to show the newly emerged performers, it became clear that this was indeed a "Russian Circus." Decked out in Vegas variety show costumes and cheesy choreography, the company spun and twirled its way through interpretations of "The Little Mermaid" and "Tarzan," the later with a man skating and swinging above the ice stage in only a loin cloth and the requisite skates. There was a "circus" aspect of the show too; several clowning skits took place, mostly as a way to fling water around in an effort to patch up the ice, as well as some stunts involving rings and some juggling all while on skates.

While I'm not about to pass judgment on the skills of any of the performers - anyone who can skate backwards is amazing in my book - I couldn't help thinking these were the figure skating rejects of Russia. You know those stories of training camps that young kids get sent to as children in Russia, China, and some other soviet nations? Well, what happens to the ones that just "aren't Olympic material?" Perhaps they tour South America in a big pink tent?

The only frustrating thing - and I've experienced this before - is that, in Colombia, people don't seem to know when to clap. Many a time it felt as though we were leading the applause. I'm sorry, but when a girl is skating around a tiny rink while spinning twelve hoola-hoops around various parts of her body, that deserves some clapping!

The concept was bizarre, the soundtrack cheesy, and the costumes ridiculous, but it was definitely worth attending. So, when the Russian Circus Ballet shows up in your hometown and sets up their tiny ice rink in a vacant lot, take some time out of your busy schedule to pay them a visit.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Birds & Bees...and Testis (Part I)

As a biology teacher I get the joy of teaching human anatomy. More specifically, I get to experience what most never have - a two-week long blush from covering the ins and outs (pun intended) of "reproduction." This starts with rather innocuous lessons on mitosis and essentially culminates with the early '80's NOVA film of the slimy blue baby in all its delivery room glory.

Along the way, however, we inevitably have some lively discussions. Sometimes the questions the students ask make me laugh and other times I become fearful for their future. Regardless, each year, after the unit is over, I always end up wishing I documented these questions - humorous, naïve, bizarre, and otherwise. So, this is the year.

After several weeks of looking at where life begins, I give you the best of the worst; these are my favorite "human reproduction" questions of the year! While they are all typical, most of them I have not been asked before quite like this.


"Does the masculine system look like that [the diagram of the uterus]?" (asked by a boy)

"If you have sex for 30 minutes does that make it more likely to get pregnant?"

"Exactly how many sperm are per cubic centimeter?"

"Ew! It's like spaghetti! [magnified image of the seminiferous tubules inside the testis where sperm are formed]"

"If a guy has sex before breakfast and again after lunch and then again after dinner, how is the number of his sperm changed? (This student assured me that the women - only in Colombia are there multiples - were very pretty.)

" many holes do we have?" (asked by a girl while looking at a diagram of the female anatomy from the text book)

"What happens if a guy puts 'it' in one of a girl's 'other places'?"

"Where on here [diagram of the female reproductive system] is the G-Spot?"

"Would it be a good idea to masturbate before having sex? [What?] Well, if you masturbate then you get rid of all the sperm and then you can have sex and not get the girl pregnant, right?"


It should be noted that all of these questions are said with straight faces and most of the time the rest of the class quiets down to hear the my response. Maybe just having "sex ed" only in fifth grade isn't such a good idea...

Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day!