Think Around a Problem

When you tutor high school students, you encounter various requests. I am often asked to skip the usual subject, be it math, science, history, or literature, and cover something that is on their minds. I wish I knew in advance as I could prepare material for the tutoring session. Nevertheless, where there is a will, there is a way. Th good old Internet solves any problem. We can look up the information together and decide on the best explanation or answer.

I had a student for a time who would never ask questions. He listened to me and took notes, but really was out in limbo somewhere. I tried to stimulate him with different techniques I have used over the years, but he remained mute. Then one day, he finally opened his mouth. Oddly enough, he wanted to know how reverse osmosis works. What? I was surprised. He explained that his parents had put in a new water filtration system and they didn’t understand it well enough to let him in on the secret of its success. They had bad-tasting water which was no doubt polluted and listened to a neighbor who had just installed a system. The water was completely transformed and everyone was fascinated with the technology. I was too. We looked it up online and found rather lengthy explanations from sites like this one: Some were highly technical and we had to sort them out. This was a good lesson in research skill building. I didn’t regret the time taken away from our usual subject. I love tutoring, especially if I can teach a child something new and valuable.

We discussed the importance of water as the fluid of life and got off on a tangent about how it operates in hydrating the body. This was physiology pure and simple. We then honed in on the membrane action used in reverse osmosis to eliminate chemicals, toxins, pollutants, dirt, or germs of most any type. Iron and manganese are culprits, not to mention lead in some households. We looked up lead pipes and were shocked at the fact that people still have them. It is a major red flag like living with asbestos in your ceiling. Most lead piping is gone, replaced by copper. Galvanized pipe was used for a time and rejected. Wow, from physiology to plumbing.

Finally, we hit the nail on the head with a simple definition. The technology of reverse osmosis used in modern filtration is used to rid water of contaminants by pushing the liquid through a semi-permeable membrane by means of pressure. My student wrote this out all on his own. Out of dozens of descriptions of the process, he found this the best. I think a great lesson was learned on both our parts. He couldn’t stop talking about his research and how it would help his parents and the neighbor understand what they had installed. He was proud as a peacock. Thereafter, it would speak throughout our sessions like a regular magpie.