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It’s Alive (A Frankenstein Reprise)

1. Scientists and Mathematicians

I write ‘x’ and ‘y’ on the board in blue.

“Scientists,” I say, “care about these x’s and y’s. They care about what they mean. Given the current time (x), how fast is the rocket going (y)? Given the distance downstream from the dam (x), how many fish are in the river (y)? Given the amount of pesticide (x), how many bees are there (y)? To scientists these meanings of ‘x’ and ‘y’ are at the heart of what they do.”

“But mathematicians?” I say, pausing and looking out at the students. “…not so much.”

“Of course, we will have word problems where ‘x’ and ‘y’ have a particular meaning. Of course, the math only matters if we use it. But as mathematicians, we study the relationship between the x’s and y’s without focusing too much on what they mean.”

“Today we’re beginning to look at linearly related x’s and y’s. Soon we’ll have x’s and y’s that are related quadratically and exponentially and logarithmically. For the rest of the year, we’re going to ask, “How is ‘y’ related to ‘x’? And for that, we don’t really need to know what ‘x’ and ‘y’ mean.”

“Scientists, on the other hand, care deeply about what they mean.”

I stop.

“That makes me think of something…”

2. A Video Clip

“The word ‘scientist’ makes me think of ‘laboratories’. And ‘laboratory’ makes me think of Frankenstein.”

I switch the projector from my document camera to my laptop. 

“How many of you have seen the black and white Frankenstein movie?” I ask.

In all of my periods, only one student raised her hand. (When that particular period was over, I heard her explain what the movie was about to one of her friends as they left my classroom.)

I explain how the story was originally a book by Mary Shelley and how it is a story about creation and the meaning of life and what it means to be human. Then I expand Youtube to full screen.

Thunder is crashing. Lightning is flashing. Victor Frankenstein is standing in his lab coat staring at the ceiling where his creature is exposed to the storm. He lowers the gurney back into the laboratory. The camera zooms in on the creature’s hand hanging limply to one side.

A finger moves. I hear my students gasp. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what comes next. 

Dr. Frankenstein stares closely at the moving fingers.

“Look,” he says. “It’s moving,” whispering so quietly that I have to repeat it to the class. (Since my classroom audio isn’t working, I use my laptop audio which is hard to hear.)

“It’s alive,” he says, clenching his fists and shaking with excitement. And then he shouts (and this is the classic part)…

“It’s alive. It’s alive! It’s alive!!

At that point, I pause the video. I don’t think the students know what to think. 

“This is a classic scene,” I tell them. “You should know it. And better yet, when one of your friends discovers something (maybe in a science project) or gets excited about something new, you can say…”

It’s alive. It’s alive! It’s alive!!