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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Nuggets from High School: Chemistry

     “We are going to begin learning the Gas Laws today. You will not be allowed to memorize the formulas in my class. Instead, you will learn how to reason out just what should be happening in each problem and that will give you the formula.  You will not just memorize the formulas.” What? Can he be serious? We’ve spent the last 11 years of our lives just memorizing stuff. In fact, we memorized the Periodic Table of Elements in this class not long ago so how can he think we shouldn’t memorize these formulas? It’s easy to memorize stuff and just plug in the numbers. Why does he think he needs to make things harder? Mr. Neitz caught us giving each other “the look” and began to smile. “Believe me when I say, you’ll be glad you learned the laws this way; you’ll never forget them.”

     None of us were convinced. We had been in school enough years already to have developed a pattern of learning and it didn’t include reasoning anything out. We just memorized whatever it was the teachers wanted us to learn and spit it back out at test time. Since I had a good memory, it worked well for me and I was not anxious, at this late stage in the game, to re-learn how to acquire and retain information to pass a test. Now, here stood the Chemistry teacher, clad in his long-sleeved white shirt, dark tie and crisp white lab coat, throwing his wrench in my well-oiled learning machine.

     “Okay now, if you have a set volume of gas inside a container and turned up the heat, what affect would that have on the pressure of the gas?” We agreed that it should increase the pressure inside the container. “So, how do you set up the formula that will result in an increase in the value of the pressure?” Meanwhile, I’m thinking how ‘bout you just put the formulas on the board and we’ll tell you. But, the teacher would have none of our old ways to solve a problem. He was determined that we would learn to reason it out.

     It was a bit of a struggle, at first, because actually “thinking” how to work out a
solution was new to us. Plugging numbers into formulas was so much easier, more familiar. However, the year progressed and I finished the course with a B in Chemistry, glad to leave the Gas Laws behind me. Or so I thought, anyway.

     The first year at university, ye ole Gas Laws re-surfaced. Funny how we think that whatever it is we learned in high school will be left there and university studies of the same subject will be different. No sirree, right after memorizing the Periodic Table came the Gas Laws! Just like high school. Mr. Neitz was absolutely right. I did not need to rack my brain trying to pull up those formulas; I knew the principles and could easily solve the problems. Piece of cake. In fact, for the entire first year of Chemistry I cruised through the course with an A in each of the three academic quarters. Mr. Neitz had taught me how to reason, to think and not just to memorize for a test. How grateful I was to him… for the rest of my life, actually. I approached each Chemistry class for my entire university education in that same way. I even tutored students in Biochemistry, a super surprise to me! The thrill to me was that my students earned high grades for themselves, too, as they learned to reason as I had been taught.

     Forty-six years later, I still know how to figure out problems in the Gas Laws so, maybe, he was right when he said we would never forget if we learned his way! For the past 28 years I have made a career out of my interest in helping folks reason out another problem, not related to academic chemistry but to their eternal existence… not Gas Laws and how to solve the problems but God’s Laws and how to live by them to solve our daily problems. It is much the same, really.

In the Old Testament, we read the words God inspired the Prophet Isaiah to record, 1:18:

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as
crimson, they shall be like wool.”

     One of the most difficult concepts for us to grab a hold of is the issue of our sins being forgiven. That we could actually be made whole and clean after what we have done is so hard for us to accept. How could that be… too good to be true, so we reject the truth of God’s Word. God doesn’t want us to just plug whatever information we are given about our lives into someone else’s formula. Instead, God invites us to walk with Him and talk it out, use reasoning to see what He’s trying to teach us. If we can prayerfully study His Holy Word, God will teach us His ways, customized to our own method of understanding. God also wants us to reason things out… even more than my high school Chemistry teacher!

****Nuggets from High School: English… Coming Tomorrow

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