As you might imagine, Alex Reynolds, upper school science teacher and Guardian of the Greenhouse, is a big fan of Groot.
The arboreal superhero came up when I asked Mr. Reynolds about his summer. In addition to traveling to Fort St. Joe, FL with his family, getting in a lot of dog walks, and taking care of some home renovations, he got caught up on all the Marvel movies he hadn’t seen.
We chatted at the back of room 320, the marine biology classroom, trying to hear each other through our masks (his was green with tiny white polka-dots) and over the buzz of the fish tank motors.
When I asked Mr. Reynolds what he thought about the science in the Marvel movies, I was surprised by his enthusiastic reply. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been. “Science fiction is meant to test alternative hypotheses and theories,” he said. “Unless you’re spinning multiple hypotheses about how the world works you’re not really thinking about it.”
As for Groot? Mr. Reynolds talked about the wonder of walking outside and knowing that a tree could still be here 500 years from now, long after we’re gone. “I can take a cutting off a branch and clone it in the greenhouse and that DNA lives forever.”
“So Baby Groot makes sense?” I wondered aloud.
“We can’t regrow an arm,” he said. “But with a plant, they essentially have the growth tissue in their ‘arm’ to keep growing.” Mr. Reynolds spoke of indeterminate growth, how plants can continue growing as long as they have what they need to live. His wife, Dr. Jennifer Reynolds, who was sitting at the front of the room, piped up, praising coral and its ability to grow a colony over thousands of years.
In the much shorter term, Mr. Reynolds was getting ready for the start of school when I approached him in the hallway for this interview. He was taking a little break from adding Covid notes to his class expectations on MyLion. (“Cell phones should be in backpacks and turned off in class.”)
I asked him how he felt about teaching virtually in the Spring, and he said he enjoyed the process of distilling the point of what he wanted his students to think about and learn down to the essence. “There was more freedom to focus on the big picture,” he said.
He does worry that his students will lose too much of the hands on learning. With hybrid learning, there might actually be a benefit to working with half the students in the greenhouse at a time. “But if we go fully virtual we’ll lose some of the garden and greenhouse experience,” he said.
Another experience that Lovett students have been missing out on is Siempre Verde. As director of our field station in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, Mr. Reynolds is hoping to get students down there in the spring, especially sophomores and juniors who didn’t get to go due to travel restrictions. For now, they’ve been taking advantage of the opportunity to do some much needed renovations to the lodge which was built in 1996 and has been subjected to the wear and tear of its cloud forest/earthquake prone location.
Obstacles near and far aside, Mr. Reynolds' biggest hope (besides everyone staying healthy) is finding ways, in spite of everything, to do what he loves to do as a teacher, which is inspiring kids to get out and think about the world around them.
His students will no doubt be in good hands. Towards the end of our conversation, he launched into a passionate discourse on the wonders of bats, which are the only mammals that fly. In full teacher mode, he asked me what processes energy in our bodies, and having recently reviewed cellular biology with my son, I proudly declared, “Mitochondria!” Mr. Reynolds then told me about how abundant mitochondria are in bats' muscle tissue in order to provide the energy needed for flight. As a result, their immune system is on constant hyperdrive, which allows them to survive infection more easily than other mammals. This explains why so many novel viruses are found in bats. They evolved to survive them better than we did. As he talked, he searched for a video on Youtube that he said went into more detail on this topic, including how studying bats might help us better understand the body’s problematic response to Covid.
It was nearing 11:00, and Mr. Reynolds had a far simpler problem to solve: hungry ninth graders. He was about to meet his new freshman advisory for the first time during their orientation day.
But before they arrived he had one more challenge: “I need to make sure my projector works.”