Willowside POW # 7: Is failure even an option?

There was just no way around it: Lynn was quiet. Introverted. Shy. Painfully introspective. That was one thing she shared in common with her mother: quiet solitude. She could spend an entire rainy Saturday in the house, hardly crossing a word or two with her mother, and still feel understood and accepted.  Her father, on the other hand, was a jolly, extroverted man who lit up every room he entered with infectious laughter and the ability to turn mundane stories into epic sagas. He loved his daughter, often including her in the stories he would tell, but he never did quite understand her quiet nature.

Since kindergarten Lynn’s teachers had invariably commented on her silent nature. They knew she was incredibly bright and attentive in class. Some teachers would practically beg her to speak up in class. In elementary school they would set goals for her: “Just raise your hand twice a day, that’s all, even if it’s to ask to go to the bathroom or something.” She would try to follow their goals for the first week or so, painful as it was, because she wanted to do well in school, make her father happy and change her reputation forever. But all it took was one or two days when the teacher forgot to call on her or a kid next to her would smirk at something she said and she would close back up into her shell.

Lynn’s saving grace, aside from her mother’s silent support, was that she was a superb student. She loved school, though few people actually knew this. She relished in the complex math problems that Mr. LeFour would give the class (between baseball stories). She devoted herself wholeheartedly to writing long, involved stories for Ms. E’s class (as long as she wasn’t asked to read or comment on them). And now she was discovering a passion for science, thanks, in no small part, to the patient attention of her science teacher, Mrs. Johnson.

“You know something, Lynn,” Mrs. Johnson had said to her in September, “I notice how deeply you understand the cell biology unit. Your report on mitosis was remarkable in its details and simple elegance.” Lynn wasn’t so sure what “simple elegance” meant in science, but she was excited by Mrs. Johnson’s feedback. Mrs. Johnson’s was the first teacher ever to NOT write a sentence or two of concern about Lynn’s quiet nature in class. Lynn devoted herself to maintaining Mrs. Johnson’s admiration for the rest of the year.

But that was easier said than done. Mrs. Johnson hadn’t really commented on Lynn’s work since September, other than to tell her she was doing “just fine”. So when Mrs. Johnson explained that this year’s Middle School Science Fair was going to focus on COLLABORATION, Lynn entered into a silent state of panic. Collaboration meant working together, in groups, perhaps even with people she had not choses. Lynn was convinced this was a disaster waiting to happen. She tried to talk to Mrs. Johnson about this, but the reply was something like “In the real world, Lynn, we don’t get to work alone. In fact, it’s not even an option in science, so why fake it here?” Lynn had no response to offer.

So it was that when partner work was assigned, Lynn found herself assigned to work with Peter. Peter was one of the “cool” kids in class. Great hair, fantastic clothes, cool sunglasses: Peter had it all going for him. To top it off, he was extroverted and funny to be around, not unlike Lynn’s father in that respect. So of all the kids that could have been her partner, Lynn found herself working with the one most unlike her in every way. At least that is what she thought.

Peter proposed to Lynn that they do an experiment with eggs because his parents raised chickens in their backyard and he could lots of eggs. Lynn remembered her fifth grade teacher putting an egg in vinegar for a long time and when he pulled it out, the shell was all rubbery and soft. Peter had another idea, “Let’s do an experiment on osmosis.” Lynn had no idea what he was talking about. Neither did Peter, it turned out, but he liked the word because “it sounded all scientific and stuff.” He immediately called out for Mrs. Johnson to come help them out. Lynn dreaded letting science teacher know that she didn’t have a clue what “osmosis” meant.

“That sounds like a great idea, but you two will have to investigate it a little more” responded Mrs. Johnson. She suggested they go do an Internet search on the topic to start off.

Lynn and Peter went over to the computer and searched for osmosis and eggs. They read through the results and Peter suggested the click on the link labeled Humpty Dumpty Takes Some Baths. This is what it said:

Humpty Dumpty Takes Some Baths
Assume you have one normal egg and three solutions: 100g pure water, 100g. pure corn syrup and 100g. salt water. The water and corn syrup are 100% pure, while the salt solution is 30%.
You first place your egg into the water solution and let it stay there for a while.
1. What happens to the mass of your egg?
You take the egg out of the water and place it in the corn syrup solution. Your corn syrup solution now weighs 140 grams?  
2. Explain why.
After a while, you take the egg out of the corn syrup solution and place it in the salt water solution. Your salt and H2O solution now weighs 110 grams. 
3. Explain why.
4. Based on this info, how can you determine the original weight of H2O of the egg?
5. How many grams of sugar and salt were in the original egg?

They read the problem together. Lynn thought she had a good idea how to solve this problem because it looked so much like the math problems Mr. LeFour would give them. Peter was less convinced he could actually solve this problem, but he trusted Lynn’s intuition on this one. They looked around some other Internet pages to figure out more about osmosis and eggs. There was a lot of information and Lynn was feeling pretty good not only about their initial foray into science fair collaboration, but also about how easy it was to talk with Peter.

However, as they began to work on the actual problem, Lynn realized that she was more confused than she thought about what to do. Sometimes the egg seemed to absorb the solution, making it heavier. Other times it would give off weight to the solution. They worked and worked on the problem, but Lynn had a sinking feeling that perhaps this was one of those “trick” problems that is actually unsolvable without more information. She started to worry about not only letting Mrs. Johnson down, but also Peter. She wasn’t sure which concerned her more.

Your Task: Based on your lab report about osmosis and eggs in your own science class, is Lynn correct that there is not enough information to solve this problem. If this is the case, what additional information is needed? If not, clearly explain to her how to go about understanding and solving this problem and help her and Peter win the Science Fair competition this year.