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Farewell Florence: What 'The Brady Bunch' taught me about science

Rest in peace, Florence "Carol Brady" Henderson, and thanks for mothering a generation of TV viewers. Someday we'll tackle that volcano experiment.

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Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

This year has already robbed the world of so many of our greats -- Prince, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie. For it to take the matriarch of the 1970s makes me just want to cram 2016 back into a desk calendar and pretend it never happened.

On Thursday night, just after many Americans had gathered with family and friends for Thanksgiving, we learned we'd lost actress Florence Henderson, who mothered an entire generation as Carol Brady on "The Brady Bunch."

We knew it was real when her TV daughter, Marcia, aka actress Maureen McCormick, bade her farewell online.

Kids of the 2000s may never understand the unending love so many who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s had for "Brady Bunch" reruns.

As a kid, I wished I could change my name to "Cindy" after the third Brady daughter, the "youngest one in curls." As an adult, I made a pilgrimage to the Brady house in Studio City, California. I grew up in a stable, solid family with six siblings of my own, but the way the Bradys, so close in age, interacted with each other was to be envied.

Sure, "The Brady Bunch" could be as corny as Kansas in August, but there was a genuine feel to it. Maybe that was partly because of where the world was in 1969 when the show debuted. Outside the edges of the TV, we were battered by Vietnam and a changing society, but inside, the biggest problem was Bobby opening an umbrella and tearing through the roof of Greg's convertible.

Florence Henderson was a huge part of the show's lasting legacy. On screen and off, she played the mom America needed when we needed her. Like so many we've lost this year, she can't be replaced, only remembered. I'd like to remember her -- and her show -- with five science and technology lessons "The Brady Bunch" taught me.

1. "Mom always said, don't play ball in the house."

If Peter Brady had understood gravity a little better, maybe he wouldn't have tried to intercept Greg's wastebasket free throw when they were upstairs and the bedroom door was open and the open stairway led right to Carol's favorite vase. Balls bounce downwards, Peter. Physics is one thing, but it was maternal psychology where Carol excelled, especially when she let all the other innocent kids confess, then told guilt-ridden Peter his job was to assign them punishments.

2. Volcanoes: Not just for Hawaii any more

The best appearance of science on the show was when Peter made a giant clay volcano out on the patio and used a battery to make it erupt -- all over Marcia's snooty Boosters club. Even in the wake of the mess, Carol kept her cool and didn't erupt at Peter. I'm still hoping my daughter will someday want to make this volcano for a science fair. Seeing it explode over snobby popular kids would only be a bonus.

3. George Glass, what a phone-y

Who could blame middle child Jan for making up boyfriend George Glass to try and look cool? But as this memorable clip reminds us, those were the days when she could use the phone to further her lie, asking the operator to call her number and pretending it was old GG himself. Today, she'd just make him a fake Facebook page.

4. Grand meaning of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon episode contains some outdated Native American stereotypes, but the canyon itself makes for a breathtaking guest star. When Carol tells the kids the Native word for the canyon means "mountains lying down," it seems too perfect to be true. But assuming she's talking about the Kaibab National Forest, she's right on, at least according to Arizona State University, which confirms "Kaibab" as a Paiute term meaning just that.

5. Many hands make light work.

Not sure if this is a science lesson or just common sense, but division of labor is never better demonstrated than in the episode filmed at Kings Island amusement park, where Jan mixes up dad Mike's blueprints with her Yogi Bear poster (don't ask).

When the plans are found, the entire family forms an impromptu relay race, each group legging it out till they find another family member and then passing off the papers. Carol runs the last leg, getting the plans to Mike and his clients just in time. No question, she wouldn't stop running until she found them. It was far from the only time the mom of the Bradys held them all together, and it's part of the reasons Florence Henderson's Carol, with her sanity, her sage advice, and her sweet demeanor, will be so missed.