Reprinted from The San Antonio Register

For part 1 click here

Density; or, the Opposites of Full and Empty, Heavy and Light
By Helena Simon

Part 2

NOTE:  In Part 1, third grade teacher Helena Simon told of her success in teaching descriptive writing through her use of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. Now, she illustrates how she employed this principle of Aesthetic Realism, stated by Eli Siegel, to teach science: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."

Helena SimonOne of the subjects we studied was density, which we were to learn is a surprising drama of opposites. 

Density has been defined as "a measure of how much matter a particular substance contains within a given amount of space." I told my class that in order to understand what density is, we need to know about molecules—tiny particles of a substance which can be seen only with a microscope. Molecules are in everything. I held up a sweater and a glass bottle, and explained that in the bottle molecules are more closely packed together, making for more density and heaviness than in the sweater where they are further apart. To illustrate this, I drew circles close together and further apart on the board. 

I told the class, "We are going to see that density puts together heaviness and lightness, matter and space, or full and empty." And I wrote on the board this description: 

When more molecules are in the same amount of space it is more dense than when fewer molecules are in the same amount of space. Every substance in reality, I have learned, is some relation of matter and space, heaviness and lightness, and these are crucial opposites every child and every teacher wants to make sense of. 

I asked, "If you had to come to school with your book bag completely filled with steel or completely filled with feathers, which would you prefer—and why?" A number of hands shot up. *Ben said, "I would go for the book bag with feathers because it would be lighter." The others agreed. 

I asked, "Which book bag is more dense?" There was unsureness at first. Some students thought the bag full of feathers would be more dense, but Bryan raised his hand and said, "The book bag with the steel would be heavier because the steel is more dense." "Yes," I said. I continued, "We can see this in another way. What's the difference in density between a subway car containing 4 people and a subway car filled with 60 people during rush hour?" Felix said, "I know it would be easier to get a seat in the first subway car because there's more space." "Right," I said. "One subway car has more people and is more densely populated than the other." 

"Now," I told the class, "we are going to conduct an experiment to see that density is always a relation of matter and space, heaviness and lightness. We are going to be scientists. Eli Siegel said science is 'the known desire to know.' A scientist knows he or she wants to know something. This is going to be our purpose as we learn about density. I want everyone to look carefully and observe what happens and why something happens. Afterwards, we will write our observations." 

I said, "On the table I have two beakers. In each are 2 cups of water. Now, I am going to add 1/2 a cup of salt to the second beaker and mix the salt and water together." 

After I did this I asked, "What is the difference between the beaker of water on your left and the beaker on your right?" Laura said, "You can see through the beaker with only water. The other is harder to see through." "What happened," I asked Vito, "to the half cup of salt that I put in the 2 cups of water? Did it make 2 1/2 cups of water?" "No, it's mixed in with the water molecules!" Ben said. "Yes," I said, "the liquid became more dense as the molecules of the salt filled the space between the water molecules." 

"A way we can test the density of something is by seeing how much it can hold up. Here is an egg colored red. If I put this egg into this beaker of water, do you think it will sink or float?" More than half the class thought the egg would sink. The rest thought it might float. I put the egg in, and we watched. There were cries of "I knew it!" and "I was right!" when the egg sank straight to the bottom. "Why do you think that happened?" I asked. Bryan said, "Because the egg was heavier than the water." "So does that mean that the water wasn't dense enough to hold it up?" "Yes," said Bryan. 

"Now, I am going to put the same egg in the second cup of water, where the salt was added. Do you think the egg will sink or float?" This time the majority of the class thought the egg would float, while a few students thought the same thing would happen, it would sink. I put the egg in. "It floats!" yelled the class. "Why?" I asked. Dennis said excitedly, "Because now the water is more thick and heavy with the salt mixed in and can hold up the egg." "Good!" I said. "It floats because there is more matter, more density in the water and it's able to lift the egg up." 

We spoke about how it's easier to float in the ocean than in a pool. And I told them there is a place in Israel called the Dead Sea, which is also known as "The Sea of Salt." In fact, it has so much salt that no creature can live in it, but at the same time its density is so great, it can hold a person up very easily. Visitors from all over the world go there to see it. Marco looked at the egg floating in the salt water and called out happily, "They like floating in it just like the egg!" I asked, "How many people here have ever felt very heavy?" Many hands went up. I told them that as a young person I had, too, and I could also get very giddy and feel empty inside. "Have you ever felt something like this?" The same hands went up. I asked, "If our weight can float, does that mean heaviness and lightness can go together well?" Yes! they said. I said I've learned that we can often feel heavy because we've made light of things that are serious, made fun of people—which is contempt—and when we do this, we always end up feeling weighed down. I said, "Many of you have seen things that you don't like and can't like. I learned that we can make a choice to use what is ugly to say 'Look at what a mess the world is. I have a right to be mean.' Or, we can make a choice to be for what is good in the world and have more feeling for people." 

I told them something that surprised and affected them very much—when I was in elementary school I had a very hard time reading. I was very lucky to be able to study Aesthetic Realism and learn it was my desire to have contempt that made me want to keep out the world—including words, and other people's feelings in books—and it also made me unkind to other children. When I learned that the world has a structure that is beautiful, and that words do, I was able to read. And I have seen that we'll feel both solid, grounded, and at the same time honestly lighthearted if we want to know the world as exactly as we can—and that has been our purpose today as scientists. 

As my students respected the facts of the world more, felt they added to them, they were eager to learn other subjects. And this very important thing happened—their desire to fight with each other, retreat, or mock everything, changed dramatically! 

Children stopped putting their heads on their desks. Students spoke of how they respected Roberto for listening better in class and walking quietly on line; and when one child told of how Selina was changing, doing her work, and not getting out of her seat—the rest of the class applauded. Janice, who was known for starting and instigating fights, was now known for breaking them up! 

Bryan and Thomas, who had earlier been in a team, making fun of the other children, started to have a good effect on each other. When Bryan got angry Thomas would say to him, "No, man, don't do that." And Bryan would listen and stop. One day after lunch a few students raised their hands and told me they respected Bryan very much for encouraging another boy not to get into a fight in the schoolyard. Tyquan said, "I respect Bryan because he was encouraging Raphael to walk away." Then Bryan raised his hand and said, "I respect Raphael because when the boy from the other class said 'Let's fight,' he said 'no.' And, we all walked away." 

I thought I was going to cry when they told me what happened; I was so proud of them and told them so. On the last day of school Bryan was writing note cards to the other students in class, "See you next year, Bryan." He asked me if I would be there next year and for many years. And he said, "Thank you for teaching me the neat things you taught me." 

Every child improved academically. Their ECLAS assessment scores in reading and writing went from 2 and 3 in many instances, to 6, which is the highest level—and this included Bryan and Thomas. Very dramatically Shaniqua, who could not read at the beginning of the year and whose score was 1 in December, five months later got a 5! And our class was thrilled to learn that we won second prize for our presentation on "What Is Density?" at the school science fair. 

At the end of the semester Stephanie's mother said to me, "Thank you. Stephanie has more of a desire to learn than she had before!" Dennis' mother wrote me a card thanking me for what he learned—and said that he is kinder. Janice's aunt said, "Thank you so much for helping Janny. Her reading has improved. She is better at home too. God bless you." 

Through the changes in these young people I am convinced that the crisis in education will be a thing of the past when teachers all over America learn to use the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. Through it, I am able to be fair to the children I teach and the subjects we are studying. Every teacher and student has a right to know the success of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method! 

* The names of the children have been changed.

—Sept. 28, 2000 

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