Thursday, September 17, 2009

Making Tessellations

Mrs. Gross' medieval times summer school class, 1991

Heather pays tribute to:
Mrs. Elaine Gross
Science/Gifted teacher
Flamingo Elementary School
Davie, Florida

Everything I am good at today I got my start at in Mrs. Gross’ classroom.

Mrs. Gross was one of those formidable women who seemed terribly scary and overwhelming (especially to a second grader) until she smiled at you. She taught the science "special" (all classes of all grade levels saw her once a week) and the gifted program, which meant most years from third grade on, she taught me reading, math, science and whatever else seemed to fit in there.

In science, we watched chicks hatch from eggs in an incubator, learned to build circuits that turned on lights or buzzed for wrong answers, developed a butterfly garden to attract our favorite colorful insects, experienced the embarrassment of sex ed, made ice cream in ziplock bags (a popular activity), and discovered which chemicals made the best bubbles.

In gifted, we learned to harness our creativity, make medieval family shields, participated in Toastmasters and Invent America, created our own archaeological digs, sang in Swahili, played volleyball with water balloons (measuring splatters in metric and inches), touched ashes from the Mt. St. Helens eruption, studied geological rock formations, and kept every paper mache company in South Florida in business.

In between all that, I got a chance to learn about life too. Nothing was more important to her (or so it seems now) than helping us to recognize that science was all around us, that the world was meant for us to explore it, and that we could learn anything we set our minds to.

Today, I've found a way to use so many of her lessons. I write for New Voices to engage others in science, use that fostered creativity in theater, took Toastmasters training to communications school, and spend every possible minute learning new things.

It's twenty years later, and I can still remember my first lesson in her class, tessellations. Like that one simple shape that multiplied and spread across my paper, Mrs. Gross shaped my love of learning, and encouraged me to repeat it in every sphere of my life.

Thank you Mrs. Gross. I wouldn't be the same without you.

This tribute is part of our spotlight on science educators series.
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - High School Chemistry: More than Science

To share your story about a science educator who helped shape your path, leave a comment, or send your story to hbenson at

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