Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"The Insides Just Got Old"

The cast iron water pump had recently begun to suck more air than water, requiring it to be repeatedly "primed." This happens from time to time with pumps, requiring that these simple machines be dismantled so the leather fittings can be replaced. Normally, I wait until the kids go home for the day to do the job: there are a number of essential nuts, bolts and washers to keep track of and with all those curious fingers, it's just too likely to lose them. But yesterday afternoon, I risked it with our 5's class, who have, as I've written, gone a bit pump crazy as they start to define who they are together.

We start our days in the outdoor classroom. I set myself up at the workbench along with the pump, having removed it from the cistern at the top of the sand pit. I guessed that as the kids arrived, most of them would head for where the pump is normally installed, find it missing, then come looking for me to ask, "Teacher Tom, what happened to the pump?"

I had a little "paper work" business to handle with each child, so I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone, letting each kid know that once I'd heard from all of their friends, we could get to work on the pump. Those that hadn't come right down to me, were soon rounded up by their classmates, and by the time we got going there was quite a bit of anticipation among them, not to mention some cemented knowledge of everyone's name.

Duncan, Finn, Grey, Charlotte, and Rex formed the core group of workers, although several others came and went during the process, freely choosing to hang out with the project for awhile, then freely choosing something else. I love doing essential work while class is in session, because no matter what else there is to do, there are always a handful of kids who prefer "work" over "play," even if in our school it's all the same.

I started by explaining that we needed to replace the "leather fittings," which were "worn out." There were several "why" questions, which I did my best to answer, explaining how a pump works, while they took turns slowly raising and lowering the pump handle while I demonstrated with my hands what the water would be doing inside. "When you push the handle down, the piston goes up, pulling water up. When you push the handle up, the piston goes down, pushing air out of the cylinder and water out the top." I've kept a collection of old leather fittings which I then distributed to the kids so they could have a look at what I was talking about, saying, "We need new leathers every once in awhile to make everything tight so the air and water don't leak out." They handled the leathers. Finn and Grey also satisfied themselves by sniffing them.

I said, "The leathers we need to replace are inside of this cylinder. The first thing we need to do is take the whole thing apart. Does anyone have any ideas about how we can do that?"

There was a quick consensus that we needed to "unscrew" a pair of bolts at the base of the pump. I asked, "What tool should we try?" A couple of the kids said, "Screwdriver," but sounded unconvinced. After a minute, Ben said, "We need one of those shiny tools that pinches the sides," making his fingers into a kind of wrench and grabbing two of the flat sides of the hexagon-shaped bolt heads. Charlotte provided the proper words, "A wrench! We need a wrench!"

I retrieved our set of crescent wrenches, saying, "We need to figure out what size wrench fits these bolts." It only took a few minutes to figure out that the bolts in question required our 7/16-inch wrench. We have two of them, so I sat back while the kids had a go at the tight, rusty bolts. I wasn't surprised when they couldn't budge them. Finally, they suggested that I do it.

"I like to start by removing the top. See here's another bolt up here," pointing at a smaller bolt under the handle that they'd missed, which holds the entire handle/piston mechanism in place. We took a moment to discover that we'd need the 1/2-inch wrench for that one. When I removed the handle I laid it on the workbench, pointing out the "cup leather" that would need to be replaced, then got to work on the lower bolts, while the kids examined it.

Finn said, "This is the part that sucks the water up," using the word "sucks," which was not a word I'd used in my own description, telling me that he had a genuine understanding. When children put things into their own words, that's how you know they "get it."

When I removed the nut, bolt, and washer I asked Rex to be "in charge" of it, reminding him of the importance of not losing any pieces. He clutched the parts in his fist, grinning, then showing them off to his friends by quickly opening his hand, but shutting it before they could touch.

I pulled out the flat leather that seals the bottom of the cylinder, dropping it on the work bench with the rest of the old ones. I then pulled out the new leather. We could tell it was new because it was a much lighter shade of brown. Finn and Grey, then the rest of the kids, wanted to smell it.

By now we were a good 20 minutes into the project and time was running short, so I talked my way through the reassembly, applying a thick layer of plumbing grease to the cup fitting with my fingers before inserting it back where it belongs. Duncan and Diego then helped me carry it up to the top of the sand pit where our cistern awaited.

Duncan took the honors of the first test of the newly refurbished pump. It worked right away, not after 10 pumps as had been the case.


Duncan, in fact, had been silently attentive throughout the entire process, not budging from the workbench, but not chattering with the other kids. Later in the afternoon one of the adults said to him as he pumped wildly (he likes to pump wildly), "Be careful or you'll break the pump again."

Duncan answered, politely, but with the confidence of authority, "We didn't break it. The insides just got . . . " he hunted for a word for a moment, then said, "The insides just got old."

(This is the first year of our 5's class. If you have a 4-5 year old, live in Seattle, or know someone who does, we still have a few spots available. Contact woodlandpark5s@gmail.com to set up a tour.)

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Meagan said...

Your kids say so many things that make me want to cheer.

gutscheine zum ausdrucken said...

very good comment

Dawn Elise Carlsen said...

Using a pump, fixing a pump with children and many gallons of water-all examples of your teaching brilliance! The kids' comments and helping to fix the pump-examples of their brilliance. I talked to Cooper, one of your 5s students, today. I asked him what he was having fun doing at his new school. Coopers face lit up and with enthusiasm he said, "The pump!". I'm sure he is referring to all aspects of the pump.

Dawn Elise Carlsen