STEM Problems

Boat Journey

“You have twins?” My husband, Kory, leans over our stern, shooting the shit with a fellow boater on the dock.

The man nods.

I light up. “Really? What age?”

“No, honey,” Kory corrects with a laugh, “Twin engines.”

“Oh, I’m such a woman,” I say in excuse though I despise gender stereotypes. “Someone says ‘twins’ and I go, ‘where?’”.

The conversation descends to lugers, John Deer, blah blah blah. I gracefully slip away, citing a need to make breakfast, as I tend to do when shop talk begins.

I’m a cheerleader for women in STEM, though I myself have little aptitude in the area. It wasn’t always that way. In seventh grade, I was a mathlete— I placed second out of all the girls my age in a city-wide tournament. In eighth grade, I won first place in an engineering contest. And, I consistently demolished anyone who dared challenge me in a Mad Minute competition (I’m a hare, if you’re listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s latest season of Revisionist History, which is why I did well on the LSAT and OK at law school without really trying.)  

Unfortunately, by around tenth grade, I had lost interest in STEM. Other subjects were simply more FUN. It didn’t help I went to a high school that specialized in performing arts. My time table as a junior read: DANCE, DRAMA, CHEMISTRY, ENGLISH, one semester; then, ART, MATH, DRAMA, DRAMA, the next. Guess which classes I was most likely to skip? It’s not chemistry’s fault. It’s hard to retain a student’s interest in copying notes from an overhead transparency projector when the rest of her world is a living and breathing high school musical. We’d get to do the odd experiment, sure, but the particularity they required pained me, especially when my head was in the clouds, full of characters under development for upcoming plays. Even in English class, we were allowed to choreograph ballets and make movies about Shakespeare instead of writing essays. I played MacBeth in both a student-produced ballet and a Law & Order rip-off where the Scottish King from the Scottish Play faced criminal prosecution for his crimes. And yes, my Braveheart accent was fantastic.

In addition to a minimum of one science class, we had to take math in eleventh grade. We could choose between three different streams: college prep, college/university prep, or university prep— which was a weird way of classifying easy, medium, and hard math. The minimum prerequisite for university admission was medium, so I took medium math along with many of the drama kids who had ambitious post-secondary plans but who, like me, didn’t really enjoy numbers all that much. How I wish medium math involved summoning spirits to solve equations and other life problems for you! The only reason I chose chemistry for my science requirement was because I was super into alchemy. Alas, chemistry wasn’t alchemy, and medium math was still real math.

Our class was a handful. Our teacher, Mr. MacKay, was Professor Dumbledore, in both looks and whimsical energy. He tried. Really he did. He attempted to enchant us with imaginary numbers and trigonometry spells. It didn’t work. We were a classful of right-brained students playing games like who could make the coolest image on a graphing calculator, rather than focused our assigned equations.

In December, our school held a competition between all the second-period classes to see which class could: 1) bring in the most canned goods for our Christmas Food Drive, and 2) create the best box to put their canned goods in. For me, second-period was medium math class. It was the art project we’d be dreaming for! We went all out, creating not one box, but three boxes, in the shape of snowman….who was wearing a bikini…. on vacation on a deserted island complete with snow, a palm tree, and a monkey! That’s the kind of dedication to math we had. Never had we been more alive in second period!

Later in my life, I found myself working for an ed tech startup all about STEM. We wanted to encourage interest in the subjects by creating an augmented reality app students could play to learn content their teachers plugged into a gamified platform. I wondered, if STEM had been taught differently when I was in high school, if it was more project-based or creative or fun, would I have liked it more? If I was allowed to choreograph a ballet dance to demonstrate how electrons interact with other electrons to create compounds or whatever, maybe, just maybe, I would be a scientist or a physician today!

I do what I can. Anytime a girl visits the boat, I make a point of asking her if she wants to see the engine. I’ve never been turned down!


If you made it this far, you deserve a trip update!

We’re in the water! We spent Canada Day tied to a dock at Drummond Island Yacht Haven, drinking pink gin with two Canadians we met. In the morning, we were surprised by a flat of Molson Canadian gifted to us with a Happy Canada Day message left by lovely Americans we met on the beach. Now, that’s diplomacy!

July 2nd, we cruised over to Harbor Island, a beautiful lagoon, where we anchored for the night. I swam, tanned, and exercised on the bow of the boat. I should have trusted the locals when they said there’s no hiking trail on the island. Kory, Cadence, and I found ourselves bushwhacking!

Onion is happy. She loves the boat. Did you know that cats have been on boats since the time they were domesticated? It’s in their genes!

As I write this, we are hopping over to Beaver Island on Lake Michigan.


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