They leaned over their desks in groups of four, fumbling around with magnets, bottle caps, containers of water and their all-important dollar bills.
Things looked bleak for these sixth-graders Friday afternoon as Walker Middle School science teacher Jane Gucciardo goaded them on toward their goal of proving U.S. currency bills are magnetic. She dug her heels in after hearing a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Currency and Printing deny the bills had any magnetic qualities.
Assuring students to the contrary, Gucciardo said, "I'm not going to tell you what part is."
The chase was on. Dollars were drenched as students giggled, argued and grew noticeably frustrated at times. Finally, about 15 minutes later, the sky of knowledge began to clear around Jeremy Wiggins and his co-scientists, who benefited from Gucciardo's refolding the bill to expose more of the surface.
The voice of success rose above the din.
"Ms. Gucciardo, we did it!" said Jeremy, 11. "It's on the edges."
Jeremy showed how the bill followed the magnet when he waved the magnet over the ink; but how the bill did not move when he placed it over the white border. Several more groups soon made the same discovery.
The sometimes messy experiment followed a talk by Gucciardo, who led students through a Veterans Day-related tour of America's symbols as represented on the dollar bill. In her hands, the bill became a history lesson and context for the present and future following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After getting the correct answer on who graces the dollar bill (George Washington), she asked the class to name other founding fathers. Out came the names of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin.
Why, Gucciardo asked, is Washington considered a veteran?
"He was a general in the Revolutionary War," said Katie Monsky, 11.
Then Gucciardo had the students flip their dollars on their backs and train little plastic magnifying glasses on the collection of drawings and Latin words that embodied so many of the founding fathers' ideals for the young nation: the unfinished pyramid topped by a providential eye and a undeterred bald eagle clutching 13 arrows in one set of talons and a 13-leaf olive branch in the other.
Guessing correctly, 11-year-old Jack MacLean said the 13-layered pyramid represented a country that was still in formation.
Franklin eventually lost his argument that the national symbol should be a turkey, said Gucciardo, who directs the school's science program. Instead, the eagle was symbolic of a nation that could rise above the storm.
And one of the most famous Latin lines in the American lexicon _ E Pluribus Unum ("We are a nation of many") _ led her to praise America's multiculturalism.
She urged students to share the importance of symbols with their parents.
"Since Sept. 11 we can see that's still true," she told the class. "They wanted to create symbols that would live through time."