Helping a third grader with their homework can be challenging. My third grader was upset that he didn't understand an assignment which he believed meant, staying back a year and carrying the scourge of failure for eternity on his permanent record thus preventing him from going to Bowdoin College, becoming President or getting a really good square dance partner in gym. He was also convinced his parents would be ashamed of him. So, the first thing we had to do was to tell him that how he did in school did not matter how we felt about him, even if he had to dance alone. Then, I read the assignment to prove that my eight years of college were not wasted. QUESTION: "How is solar energy used in your home? Give examples."
"The solar system has lots of energy with all the moving planets, moons and stuff but how do we use that in our home?" he asked. I looked into the teary face of tomorrow's scientist and said in a calming yet intelligent voice, "Ask your mother!" Then, we worked backwards from planet Pluto to the center of the universe - “ Portland, Maine. "And when do we love to go to Portland to see the Sea Dogs play?"
"In the summer," he said.
"Because that's when the seats finally thaw out!"
"Exactly! By using the solar energy of the sun," I said.
"Oh, I get it! We use it at our house to go to baseball games instead of mowing the lawn, right Dad?"
"Right, but let's think of another example how we can use the sun at our house - for extra credit," I said.
So, the two of us sat down and discussed in third grade terms the country's dependence on foreign oil, global warming (I think it's going to snow), macro-economics, inventors of the 19th and 20th century and the girl he would most like to have as a square dancing partner. We then designed and developed a pre-heating prototype water heater using a magnifying glass to tap the sun's energy. This meant we had an economical, pollution free source of energy that saved us electricity and money. For demonstration purposes we made a miniature heating unit with an insulated storage tank with temperature gauge (thermometer) and an oscillating magnifying glass glued to a kitchen cooking timer. Put cold water in, focus the sun through the glass on the side of the insulated tank (beer can) and watch the temperature rise. Not only did he have the answer, he had an invention to prove it. His future looked bright, straight into summer school.
Inventors have always impressed me. Their insight, perseverance and devil may care attitudes have been a source of great inspiration to me over the years. Sometimes I like the inventors as much as their inventions. Thomas Edison, Orville Reddenbacker, Errol Flynn - their discoveries and applications of state-of-the-art technology has helped make America great. Where would we be without the telephone, bigger popcorn kernels and two-way mirrors?
Then I decided that our pre-heating hot water heater invention had investment merit. While my son dreamt he was dose-e-doe'ing his partner, I sent a description and request for funding to the U.S. Department of Energy. I figured asking one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) for project development was a good place to start. I also invented an odorless, environmentally friendly toilet and sent an application for funding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Depending on what responds first will determine where I send the next invention: "Washing Clothes by Tidal Changes."
I'll be happy to share with you the responses we get from government officials as long as you promise you won't get mad if they send me $100,000. Hey, it's an election year! I bet they'll send me a check and invitation to the election party. Hope they have square dancing.