Skokie science volunteer, 91, scores with East Prairie third-graders
Volunteer teacher Fred Mocking of Skokie, 91 then, demonstrated an experiment to third graders Owen Gutierrez and Aliyah Kvamme last October at East Prairie School. | File photo
Updated: November 26, 2012 6:25AM
SKOKIE — Prescribed medicine is one thing, but 91-year-old Fred Mocking knows a more important medicine to keep him going despite his illness.
Mocking gets a weekly dosage of it when he enters Sue Kelly’s East Prairie School third-grade class with another innovative experiment to share.
Mocking, who has cancer in his left lung, becomes energized and reinvigorated as the students become engaged in learning and getting their hands dirty.
“I’m a very sick man, but when I get in here, the adrenaline kicks in and I feel real good,” he said.
Mocking doesn’t have grandchildren, but he says all of these third-graders have become his adopted grandchildren.
“Everything I did in my background was aiming for this specific thing,” he said as he set up an experiment for them. “I spent 31 years as an engineer, and everything I learned there I use here.”
All of Mocking’s experiments use inexpensive materials that can be found around the house.
“Fred doesn’t want kids to think of science as just something for school,” Kelly said. “These experiments can always be done at home for next to nothing.”
So Mocking might bring in a lid from a Haagen Dazs container to teach centrifugal force; or a container of jellied cranberries, which don’t come out easily. He cuts a small hole in the back and blows, catching the full contents in a dish. Each student gets a bite.
“I tell them a famous scientist once said if you eat your experiment, you’ll never forget it,” Mocking said.
Though Mocking has volunteered for 10 years in Kelly’s class, he started engaging with students long before. When he was an engineer at Teletype Corp., which used to be located on the property now occupied by the Village Crossing shopping center, he would visit North Shore schools that requested an engineer to tell kids about his job.
But he would only come if he could bring hands-on projects with him.
“The stuff we do is always real fun,” said Julia Montes, 8. “Mr. Mocking is really nice.”
Ask Samantha Hayes whether she likes the weekly Mr. Mocking sessions, and she can hardly contain herself.
“Yes, I love it,” she gushes. “I love science. Love it. This is awesome. How does he do it?”
Mocking does it by continually thinking of new ideas for the students. He has been known to keep a pad by his bed so when an idea forms, he can quickly jot it down.
“The experiments are really fun,” said Ali Tariq, 8. “I look forward to it every week. Mr. Mocking is really fun. I don’t know how he thinks up all these experiments.”
“You get to do a lot of things with water, and I really like water,” said Max Sensibar, 8.
When students graduate to fourth grade, they always want to know whether Mocking will still teach them.
“I tell them, ‘You guys all passed, but I didn’t pass so I have to stay behind, teaching third grade,’” he joked.
But the students never forget. Mocking turned 90 last year, and all of his current and former students – about 100 of them – held a party in the East Prairie School hallway, giving him cards expressing how much he means or has meant to them. He really doesn’t need cards to tell him that though; the smiles and the exuberance kids display are worth a thousand words.
“It’s like this every week,” Mocking said after the kids file out of the room. “We have a ball in here. You cannot beat teaching third-graders.”