The children were higgledy piggledy spread across the rolling field. Ms. Fuentes knew they were there to be citizen scientists. She also knew they were there to be enjoying the spring air and sunshine after a long winter.
For eleven years she’d been bringing her class here in order to gather data on the local flora and fauna. The municipality had rehabbed this site, a long-abandoned amusement park, to restore it to the verdant meadow it had once been. Native species had been reintroduced and most were flourishing. Every spring, Ms. Fuentes and her students collected data to show the meadow’s progress. And the parks department staff posted the results of her students’ efforts.
The kids loved it. And it was real field science. Authentic learning—and on a sunny day, to boot. With the help of a cadre of loyal parent chaperones, Ms. Fuentes’s students were fanned out and, in their roundabout fifth grade way, diligently tallying their assigned native species.
Atul. Atul. Atul.
Atul was her challenge this year. In her nineteen years teaching, she’d never had a student quite like Atul. He was as good natured a young soul as could be imagined, but Ms. Fuentes couldn’t for the life of her figure out how his surprising mind worked.
She approached Atul sitting cross-legged in the tall grass. His arms flung out, his palms brushing the lush blades, his eyes shut, his brow slightly furrowed.
Ms. Fuentes had seen his brow crinkled on a daily basis. It meant he was concentrating on some problem he would eventually share with her. The question was whether she should inquire. She’d learned that it was impossible to predict what Atul’s unique mind was poking at. Out here on this glorious spring day, she wondered if she should ask him.
She didn’t have to.
“I’m going to get to the bottom of it, Ms. Fuentes,” he said softly without opening his eyes. “Even if it means no more recess.”
Ms. Fuentes squatted. “Tell me more about that, Atul,” she said. One thing she’d learned was that Atul would always tell her more.
His eyes popped open. Soft brown eyes, so loamy rich they could nurture acres of fantastic ideas. “You brought us here to observe and count things, right?”
“Yes. To observe. To count. To collect our data on native species. Do you have a question about that?”
Bringing his small hands together in his lap, Atul said, “I have a concern.”
“Tell me about your concern.”
“I don’t think we’re observing the right things.”
Ms. Fuentes waited. She knew to wait on her students. To let them process their thinking. Especially Atul.
“We aren’t going far enough down,” Atul finally said.
Patting the ground beside her, Ms. Fuentes asked, “Do you mean we should be taking soil samples? That we should dig into the ground and find out what insects and mircro-organisms are established here? That is thinking like a biologist, Atul. That is great.”
Atul closed his eyes again. “No, Ms. Fuentes. We need to go deeper. We should be charting the field that makes all of this possible.”
“That’s what we are doing, Atul,” Ms. Fuentes reassured him. “Collecting data on the flora and fauna here in this field, so we can put it in a spreadsheet for the parks department, and they can—”
“Field you say,” Atul interrupted with a Yoda-like lilt, opening his eyes again and gesturing at the meadow around them. “A field this is not.” He cupped his hands. “Magnetic. Gravitational. Electric. Real fields those are. Observing those fields, using those fields, are what we should be doing.”
In her classroom, Ms. Fuentes had watched Atul imitate Yoda many times before. She suspected it was his way of helping mentor her and his classmates into his unique mind, showing them his way of seeing the world. As always, she respected it.
“How can we do that, Atul? Tell me more.”
Atul met her eyes and held them. “Mistake not the waves for the ocean, Ms. Fuentes. Feel your way past organisms, you must. Past particles. To the very bottom of it all. To the ether of the field. You must.”
Atul extended his hands towards her. The sun glared suddenly brighter. Feeling strangely light-headed, Ms. Fuentes sat down across from Atul. She closed her eyes.
“Feel it now, do you?” Atul coached.
She didn’t know what she was feeling, but something was tugging at her. A something. A force. A field.
If Ms. Fuentes could have only opened her eyes, she’d have seen all her fifth-graders chasing her and Atul as they floated cross-legged across the meadow.
All the while, Atul telling her more.