Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Logarithms of Helicopters

When I sat outside in the van waiting for Asherel, the rain fell like a prayer on the upturned faces of the lovely flower-scape. Obviously the van was not sitting in front of my house, as flowers have long since determined our yard is hostile territory. But I drank in the sight as the flowers drank in the gentle rain, edging the lovely lawn of a friend. It was a balm and a delight to settle my eyes on the bursts of color in the gray day.

So later, armed with optimism and hope, I watched the youtube video on how to build a rubber-band powered helicopter. I lay all the needed supplies before me, and decided the supplies I didn't have probably weren't really necessary. (This is also the way I cook, and while results may vary, occasionally it works out.)  I will admit up front in the spirit of full disclosure that this is not how I would joyfully spend my busy homeschool afternoon, but I am determined to be the best Science Olympiad teacher I can be, and have been told that the role calls upon me to actually teach. Unfortunately, I believe that I must also be able to teach them to build the helicopter and if I haven't the foggiest notion of how to do so, they may detect some degree of incompetence.

"What about the maxim that those who can't do, teach!?" I cry, "Doesn't that suggest that I will be unsuccessful in building a helicopter if I have to teach others how to do so?"

My cries are met with silence.

As I began to delve into construction, my normally helpful daughter simply ignored my pleas for help saying, "I thought you were the teacher."  As I suspected, a dangerous precedent was being set. Not only did she refuse to assist me in building the helicopter that I need to teach her how to build Friday, but she asked for help on logarithms.

"Are you certain you can't figure it out yourself?" I called out. This is my most effective teaching strategy and often works.
"I don't understand!" she wailed.
With trepidation I left my woeful looking half constructed helicopter and headed to the math book.
I settled in beside Asherel wondering how many decades had passed since I had had to look at a logarithm. I would bet that even then I didn't really know what a logarithm was.
I reviewed what she had learned thus far with the guise of helping her "read more carefully", but in reality learning the material myself at warp speed. Whew! We didn't really need to know what a logarithm was...we just needed to know how to use it. Once I convinced her that for now, just accept that logarithms exist , like God, we don't need to understand exactly what they do or even why they do it.
"After you use them a while, you will understand what they are," I pronounced confidently. And lo and behold, on the next problem that she wailed for help, there was an equation with n+2 as an exponent.
"THIS," I declared ,"Is exactly the situation where a logarithm is useful!" (I had learned just 5 minutes ago that logarithms can be used to get rid of exponents). I applied the formula, and helped Asherel then solve it, and we got the right answer. (PS- if any of you readers know what a logarithm actually IS, please let me know.)

Now, having solved a logarithmic conundrum, I knew I could make a helicopter. I just knew it!
But I was wrong. I spent 2 hours on the helicopter, wound the rubber band motor, tossed it in the air, and it fell like a stone to the ground, not a single turn of the rotors interrupting its descent. Maybe it did need those parts I had not bothered to add after all.

"Those flowers are pretty," said Asherel looking at my drawing after laughing till her guts splashed out at my helicopter, "They must have taken you a long time to draw."
"Yes, they did, " I said, and wished that Science Olympiad were Art Olympiad.  But I actually think I know why my helicopter doesn't work, and so today I will try try again. Those poor flowers went 45 days without rain here in Charlotte, and they soldiered on, refusing to die, and were rewarded. Sometimes, the "drought" lasts a very long time in many areas- seeming unanswered prayer, struggles through work, or school, or friendships, that perfect "one" entering someone's life, grief that never dulls, dogs that won't stay inside their fence, problems that seem to have no easy solution, and helicopters that won't fly. (This list is not exhaustive, just illustrative.)  But then, the rain comes. It always does, eventually. Sometimes God is just teaching us to persevere.

"I will let you have an extra half cup of trail mix if you build the helicopter and teach me how to do it," I told my student.
"IF I have time," she said.

Hebrews 10:36
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.


  1. The picture is beautiful.

    Too bad you do not live near us. We live 4 miles from Sikorsky helicopter and there are tons of engineers in the area that help students with their science projects and competitions.

  2. arggghhh! Can't you go find out how to do it and email me with explicit instructions?