Legend has it that when the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the Third Punic War in 146 BC, the victorious Romans sacked Carthage plowing under the crops and sowing salt into the soil, rendering the land ruined. Probably by pouring seawater into the farmer’s fields because salt was valuable at the time. I learned this in middle school history in Mr. Burn’s class. It was a harsh punishment and the lessons of history are full of harsh penalties and punishments, of people acting with vengeance instead of reaching out and pulling up. Sadly, history repeats itself – repeatedly.
Last week I was in Mississippi to visit my step-mom and I had to leave a day early because of Octavia. Octavia was the winter storm that wreaked havoc across America’s midsection at the beginning of last week. I decided I couldn’t risk being stranded in Oxford or at the Memphis airport on Monday and flew out Sunday evening. It was a good decision because all of Monday’s flights from Memphis to Chicago and the first two flights Tuesday were cancelled. I got home and it was bitter cold here but the roads were dry, in part to large doses of salt when it has snowed. The roads are coated with a white salt brine that seems to leach from the road and sidewalks until the spring rains wash it all away.
Enough of the history and the weather lesson and on to science. Last week I handed my science students a paper cup filled with a mixture of salt and sand and challenged them to separate the salt from sand. I gave them parameters – they had to design a procedure and carry out. I provided a list of materials they could use and let them work. My classes are 45 minutes long from the time the bell rings to start until the bell rings to end class and that leaves about 40 minutes to work; so it took several days before all of the groups had reached a conclusion. It was a challenge for them to think on their own and come up with a method to separate the sand from the salt. One group was able to separate the materials right away. I was mildly surprised other groups did not spy on the others and learn from each other. In the end, the students discovered if they placed a sample of the salt and sand mixture in a paper filter and ran water through it they would have a salt-water solution. Then they placed the salt water on a hot plate an evaporated the water, leaving behind salt. To finish the lesson, I pulled out a microscope and we looked at table salt under the microscope and the salt they were able to produce. They had to compare the two samples in their final report.
It was a good lesson in basic chemistry, and life. Often it is challenging finding solutions to new problems, or even old problems, and new ways of thinking. It’s always good to push oneself, to stretch, and to grow. It reminds me of how difficult it can be to separate fact from fiction or in my student’s case salt from sand.
Last Monday, I began writing a post and it remains unfinished and at this point irrelevant. I have moments like that I suppose we all do. Why try to change me now…..I’ve been busy making the days count in every possible way. Today was a great day and tomorrow promises to be a million and six times better. That’s something to look forward to – Making the Days Count, one day at a time, separating the bits from the pieces, fact from fiction, and moving forward – always.
What do you have a difficult time separating?