What is Potential, Anyway?

Today, my sixth grader has a science quiz on potential and kinetic energy. It shouldn’t be too difficult, just the basic concepts and definitions, and then, some examples. On the way to school this morning, I reminded her to take a quick look at her notes before class, to remind her brain about what she studied last night. Then, I explained that her brain was, in fact, a nifty representation of the idea.

It is full of stored energy, I told her, and when it takes in information from the world, the energy becomes kinetic, or is set in motion. Crazy ideas flying all over the place. She seemed to like the concept, so I suggested that she include it if she is asked to provide one. Your teacher will think you are clever, I told her, feeling clever. Sometimes, kids don’t take you up on your suggestions, even though they are good ones that come from having been a sixth grader already. Unfortunately, it’s not always enough just to know things. You have to show people that you  know them, particularly teachers. They do not live with you. They do not know that you are always clever, especially after dinner, or when you’re brushing your teeth. They only get to see it sometimes. This is a time.

I hope she uses the brain idea. Actually, I hope she comes up with another thought that is just as smart, but more of her own. That’s the definition of potential.

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