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October 23, 2011 / jwaxo

The Magic School Bus Explores the Human Body (Being a Know-It-All)

Non-existent classmates that we all had.

In my continued effort to reveal every embarrassing story that I’ve kept hidden away despite the fact that nobody else cares about them, here’s a good one, and kind of a meta-example at that. It involves me being too much of a know-it-all thanks to having read, watched, and played The Magic School Bus.

So, first of all. The Magic School Bus. Originally a series of books that could be found in every classroom, library, and Scholastic Book Club catalog (and sometimes getting their own table at book fairs) it was nearly inevitable that the insanely popular series would get turned into a television show, so that kids could watch the adventures of the blithe Ms. Frizzle and her class of third graders on rainy Thursday afternoons. Whenever our classes watched an episode of The Magic School Bus it was always a special treat, although it was packed with facts and learning next to the goofy adventures (see: Bill Nye the Science Guy and similar awesome educational shows).

I owned three of the books and watched the show every once in a while when it was still on PBS, and I loved everything to do with the series. The books were fun to read and packed with incredible detail, humor that elementary schoolers could get, and more facts and knowledge than I can recount. Through those books I learned about plankton, whales, the digestive tract, neurons, steam vents, the water cycle, fluoride, and a heck of a lot more. And that’s just three books, completely ignoring the show and the eventual games. Like every kid I knew, I wished that I could be in Ms. Frizzle’s class, even if it meant going back a few years.

Worth it.

I learned about the video games from the back page of the Scholastic catalog, and also from Best Friend who (like he always did, the jerk) got one of them before me. It was fun, it was educational, it was addicting finding all of the tiny hidden things through it–I was sold.

I got Explores the Human Body for my birthday.

And, just like the books, I absolutely devoured the content inside that game. And inside Explores the Ocean which I acquired separately. And in the books over-and-over again.

I knew all about how kidneys worked. How lungs absorbed oxygen. I knew everything that scientists (or at least scientists at the time) knew about neurons, how to trigger sneezes, what happens to food after it goes into a stomach, and a thousand other facts and processes.

So it was really exciting when our fifth-grade class got an assignment to design a poster explaining something about the human body. We were supposed to pick a question that kids our age might ask, then find out the answers and related facts, display them on the poster board, and, presumably, get an A.

“Awesome,” says I, “I know all about the human body! I can come up with a really cool question and answer it and show everyone how smart I am!”

I picked a question sure to show off my intellect that was also a completely common question that kids everywhere were asking: “What are villi”?

Finally, this will clear everything up!

Thanks to The Magic School Bus, I knew about villi, finger-like structures that line the intestines and absorb nutrients, and knowing all about them made this assignment even easier. I just needed to draw a cross-section of a villus, label everything in it, write down a bunch more facts about them, and bam. Poster turned in.

There were a few things I did not consider about this ingenious plan to look like a genius:

  • There really isn’t that much to villi. Look at the Wikipedia article: about five nearly-identical pictures and drawings, then maybe two paragraphs total of information.
  • Kids weren’t asking about villi, so my question was completely stupid and nearly off-topic.
  • No one else really cared about them, either.

It’s no big deal if you actually know a lot of facts. It can come in darn useful when playing Jeopardy! or when impressing a girl or in a billion other cases. However, trying too hard to use those facts can backfire pretty poorly. In this case I got off fairly easy, I suppose: a C (my first C, too) for a poorly designed, mostly-empty poster; several laughs, scoffs, and blank stares from my schoolmates; a disappointed talking-to from my teacher and later my parents. These are not that bad of consequences and taught me a valuable lesson.

The problem, clearly, was that educational games were just too darn fun.

Curse you, anthropomorphic bus!


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