by K. A. Lamar

        The bell rings at 8:15 A.M.  Twenty-eight middle school students—some of whom are milling about talking with friends, some have taken their seats—are about to embark on a mysterious journey.
Mrs. Janice Hurst, seventh grade science teacher at the Hillsdale Middle School, arranges the material on her desk at the front of the classroom.  She takes note how quiet the room has become—quite rare for these energetic boys and girls, especially for a Friday morning.
“Good morning, everyone” smiles Mrs. Hurst, a 30-something brunette, born and raised in Chester County, Pennsylvania—a graduate from one of its finest education state schools, Millersville University.
“Good morning, Mrs. Hurst!” exclaims a number of students—all now seated in a checkerboard pattern.
“I’m excited to hear from our project groups today.  I hope time will allow all seven groups to present.  If not, we’ll complete the presentations on Monday.”

        “Your assignment was to research something mysterious.  You all had free reign to investigate anything mysteriously questionable or intriguing to you.  I hope you’ve kept your project subjects confidential to each of your groups.  You’ve not discussed them with me, so this assignment is one huge mystery for all of us!”
        Several students look around at their classmates and grin—some wink at each other.

        This will be a treat
muses Mrs. Hurst.
“Which group wishes to go first?”
A freckled-face boy with blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses enthusiastically raises his hand—practically before Mrs. Hurst enunciates the last word of her question.
“Okay, Tyler.  Why don’t you and your group come up and get us started.”
Tyler quickly exits his desk, and three other students join him—Maddie, Sara and Teddy.  Sara heads toward the projector, while Maddie approaches the laptop and inserts a memory stick into the USB port.
“We sorta did our project based on the time of year,” relates Tyler.
“We were sitting on Teddy’s deck a couple weeks ago, and Sara couldn’t believe the unbelievable colors of the trees in Teddy’s backyard.  That’s when Maddie said, ‘Isn’t it mysterious how leaves change color?  How do they do that?  Why are some leaves red and others are orange?’ ”
“And that’s how our project idea came about,” interjects Maddie.
On the screen appears the project title, “Mysterious Mother Nature,” captioned above a photo of a large tree with leaves of brilliant hues—red, orange, yellow, purple.
Tyler begins.  He references 3 x 5 index cards.

        “Leaves are nature’s food factories.  They absorb sunlight, carbon dioxide and water and turn them into a kind of sugar called glucose.”
“That process is called photosynthesis,” comments Teddy.  “A chemical called chlorophyll helps make photosynthesis happen.  Chlorophyll is what gives plants their green color.”
Sara proceeds.  “As summer ends and days get shorter, trees begin to shut down their food-making factories.”
A photo splashes on the screen, showing a sunset over a ridge of trees, still green.
Teddy continues and also refers to notes written on 3 x 5 index cards. 

        “The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves.  Actually, small amounts of color have been in the trees’ leaves throughout the summer.  We just can’t see them because they’re covered by the green.”
Maddie states, “The really bright reds, oranges and even purples we see in leaves are from the glucose getting trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops.  Sunlight and cool weather in the fall cause the leaves to turn the glucose into these colors.”

        Teddy goes on to say, “We’re really lucky to live in Pennsylvania, because the best place in the world for viewing fall colors is the Eastern United States.”
Another image appears on the screen, showing a mountain of trees clothed in dazzling shades of primary colors.  The caption above reads, “Pocono, Pennsylvania.”
The four youths continue their interesting audio and visual production for another five minutes.  They conclude with Sara asking if there are any questions.  There are none.  The students’ peer bombards them with applause—a few whistle to show their appreciation of the presentation.

        Mrs. Hurst heartily congratulates the youngsters on their originality, creativity, knowledge of the subject, and the vivid PowerPoint presentation.
        “Thank you for enlightening us about one of nature’s many wonders,” expresses Mrs. Hurst in an admiring tone.
        “Well, that’s one mystery put to bed.  Who’s next?” asks Mrs. Hurst.
        Stephen, a slight boy with shoulder-length dark hair raises his hand.
        “Okay, Stephen, come on up with your group and tell us about the mysterious topic you’ve chosen.”
        Stephen and his group of four methodically march toward the front of the classroom, one behind the other, in and out of the rows of desks.  They end their trek in a straight line at the front of the classroom.  Stephen announces his group’s project—“The Mysterious Life of Ants.”
        Mrs. Hurst and the entire class burst into laughter.  As this next group begins its presentation, Mrs. Hurst slightly shakes her head, smiles and reflects—These kids are great!


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