Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More from Childhood

While we're on the subject of nostalgia and things that make me more excited than they should, let's talk about how the Magic School Bus is currently on Netflix.

I loved watching the Magic School Bus as a kid. The hours spent watching reruns over and over paid off when I was older too. We did some cool things in my AP Bio class in high school (like learning to use a centrifuge) but my teacher also avoided lesson plans and didn't know how to structure the class. It wasn't surprising that we had never even broached the topics of at least two of the AP test essays. I panicked for a minute when I read the question asking us to describe the evolution of a flower's reproductive mechanisms... until I remembered Magic School Bus "Goes to Seed": a whole episode devoted to analysis of flower parts and the ways that flowers spread their seeds. Thanks to Magic School Bus, I passed the exam and got to opt out of BYU's general education Biology class as a result (phew!).

My experience on the AP test made me very loyal to Magic School Bus if I wasn't enough so already. I determined then that my children would  grow up on them too.

Seeing the Magic School Bus on Netflix allowed me to review the show for the first time in years. Guess what? It's even better than I remember!

I learned two new words within about two minutes of each other while I was watching that show the other day. I learned mellifluous (sweetly or smoothly flowing as with honey, sweet-sounding) and... ready for a seriously amazing word?


Which means, apparently, the ringing or sound of bells, origin 1825-35 American.

Just for fun, here's a verse from Edgar Allen Poe:

While the stars that oversprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells...

One of the things that has really impressed me is that the Magic School Bus is as much about the learning process as it is about the topical scientific knowledge it provides. Every episode depicts the school children:

  1. Encountering a problem
  2. Asking questions about the problem
  3. Making a theory towards resolution
  4. Testing that theory 
  5. Making observations
  6. Synthesizing the observations to realize that their first theory was mistaken or inaccurate
  7. Asking more questions and making more observations
  8. Learning from their mistakes and their new observations to make a better theory
  9. Making connections
  10. Confirming their discoveries by testing their solution on additional but related scenarios

One of the Magic School Bus's narrative strategies is to give characters catchphrases (Arnold's, for example, is "I knew I should have stayed home today"). One of Ms. Frizzle's phrases, said every episode, is "Take chances, make mistakes." I love that. We live in a society that fears failure, for good reason. But the creative process (and the learning process!) inherently requires risk-taking. And taking risks means that sometimes you will make mistakes. I'm glad this children's show is teaching it. (If you have a spare moment, I strongly encourage you to click here and read an article about how to raise children who are not afraid to grit their teeth and LEARN despite the mistakes and the challenges. It's long, but worth it).

The Magic School Bus is also extraordinary because of its commitment to scholarly transparency. At the end of each episode, there is a "phone the producers" section where a know-it-all kid calls to challenge the "poetic license" the show had to take in order to, say, visit all nine planets in a day. So the show itself admits its own limitations in a way that children can understand, acknowledging what it couldn't cover in half an hour and briefly explaining some of the more scientific points that are harder to narrate.

The show features its share of insider quips for the parents (like, "This always happens. The Shrinkerscope breaks the second the warranty runs out.") And let's be honest, who doesn't love their guest stars: Little Richard sings the theme song, Malcolm Jamal-Warner voices one of the animated producers and I just watched an episode where Carol Channing voices a slightly-crazy sound museum curator.

Moral of the story is, thank you Magic School Bus for providing awesome tv shows (and books!) for kids and parents. I will probably be a ready consumer throughout the next 20 years.

1 comment:

Paulita said...

magic schoolbus was also a part of my children's lives. may i also give a shoutout to another program that made a permanent valuable contribution? Schoolhouse Rock. WOOT for incredibly talented people who share their gifts with children.

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