Here’s one of our favorite stories so far from the “100 books for 100 stories” contest. There are still plenty of books to giveaway, so make sure to tell your teacher friends: Email us — — a story of a lesson that stuck and we’ll ship you a free signed copy of our book. (Must be a U.S. resident and a current teacher.)

Check out this tale from Saleem Reshamwala (a few comments below the story):

When I was a middle school student in Apex, North Carolina, I took a class called “Small Engines” with a guy named Mr. Trueblood. It was basically a class in how to repair lawnmowers, and a stepping-stone class for learning how to fix cars.

Here’s the four steps in making a four-stroke engine (the one in most cars) go:

1) Piston goes down, gas and air mixture gets sucked into the cylinder
2) Piston goes up, compresses gas and air (makes gas and air mix more explosive)
3) gas explodes piston is forced down (this is the explosion that makes your car go)
4) Piston goes up (exhaust is pushed out)

I don’t think a single one of us understood that about cars before we started the class. So, Mr. Trueblood tells us, a group of middle-school boys in rural North Carolina, that he’s going to teach us the basic science of how a four-stroke engine works. We’re expecting him to go to the blackboard with the chalk. He walks out of the room.

1) He then walks back in giving a monologue as if he were a mix of gas and air that had been sucked into a car engine. “Woah, got sucked in here, it’s not so bad lots of space to move around” and he’s kind of moving around the class a bit, acting as if he’s talking to various particles around the room. It’s a little weird, and some of the boys are laughing.

2) Then he starts acting as if the back wall of the class is moving toward him. He gets really into it. Laughing nervously at first, talking about how the piston is making things get really crowded for him and the other particles. Then he briefly looks genuinely scared. He’s talking about how being this crowded in, all he wants to do is anything he can to get out.

At this point, a few of us were like, ‘Uh, what the hell is going on here’

3) He yells something about a fire coming in the side of the class, and then SCREAMS and SPRINTS toward the back of the room, yelling that he’s burning. I was kind of terrified at this point. He looked crazy. And, like I said, he’s yelling about having come into contact with flame.

4) He slams himself into the back wall, stops acting crazy, and just acts like he’s exhausted, mentions how shocked he is at the force that he was able to push the piston away with, acts like it’s coming back towards him, and then walks out the classroom door.

I can’t remember if we clapped or not, but I know we all laughed. Nervously. And it sure as hell taught the concept.

There’s a lot to love about this: Note how the teacher is trying to turn a complex process into a concrete story. He is trying to get students to experience the four-stroke engine. And the fact that he freaks them out a little is just gravy. Also note that the initial student reaction to the, er, performance is not particularly positive. Sticky ideas won’t always get instant acclaim, and yet it wins in the end — here’s a guy who still remembers the details of a class from middle school!

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