Blue: An Electrical Tangent

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We took a detour this week by learning about electricity. This was definitely not a lesson that was planned, but it comes with a cool story.

The Blue Band has been interested in the process ever since the Violet Band had a welding workshop at the beginning of the year. Having worked in a metal shop before, I’ve been chatting with Blue on and off about the process and possibilities, and they’ve been asking me over and over to schedule some metal time.

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Two Thursdays ago, Lindsay and I were supposed to teach Blue how to weld. Welding is a technical process that’s admittedly a little dangerous. You can be sunburned (weird, right?) if your skin is exposed. It can damage your eyes. There’s a slight risk of electrical shock if you don’t take precautions, and because you’re melting metal, there’s definitely a risk of burning yourself.

It was rainy on the day of our welding workshop, and before the Band went to the Park, I looked at all of them and said, “It’s going to rain during Park. I wouldn’t normally say this, but if you want to stay back and work on something instead, that’s totally fine. Just tell me what you’re going to work on.” They all thought about it for a moment, and decided that running around outside was a better idea.

Wrong.

Ten minutes into Park, downpour. Everyone came back early — soaked. The afternoon was a bust. You can’t weld in wet clothes.

Wet, cold, uncomfortable kids who can’t do the thing they’ve been looking forward to are usually not receptive to any sort of filler afternoon lesson plan. So, I went with the flow, and after lunch, Blue Band decided to set up a clothes drying station in the art studio. Their makeshift laundry mat consisted of an iron and a couple of heat guns, as well as an ever-expanding list of clientele (on a first come, first serve basis). Blue helped the rest of the school dry out for the better part of the afternoon.

It was great. Until I noticed that all of their equipment was plugged in to the same extension cord, which was daisy-chained to another extension cord, and stretched way too far across the school. Long story short, we definitely melted some shop equipment and risked an electrical fire.

On Monday, we had an electricity intervention. Yes, we almost burned down the school. No, we couldn’t weld on the rainy Thursday that we were soaked down to our underwear.

But why? Let’s find out.

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Rather than lead with a lecture on, “don’t do this again,” I brought in Gever to explain how electricity works. He had a really long but really great metaphor for explaining the concept. A hose, a bucket, water and gravity can explain the way we manipulate the flow of electrons and convert one type of energy into another. We can even see this metaphor at play with a motor and LED. Or, when we get to weld.

And yes, we finally got to weld last week.

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Even though we were just laying down some beads and getting familiar with the manipulation of a new tool, Blue had a blast welding. There’s definitely something scary and exhilarating about the process. There are sparks and heat and all the cool clothing, and the process is a thing that conceptually makes sense but in practice is sometimes mindblowing, and it was so great to see these young people experience it for the first time.

This is the thing (making, and the technical skills that go with it) that I get really excited about, and it was also great to share one of my passions with them.

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