I had a lot of fun with my “I’m a Scientist” lesson today. We started out with a discussion of the different things scientists do. I had them talk amongst their lab tables, but it took them a while to warm up to talking. Seems like they prefer talking when they haven’t been told that it’s ok to talk! They did come up with some things that I expected (chemicals, experiments), but they also had some creative answers, too (weather, space). Next, I gave them some clues about my research by showing them a bug net and my waders. I also showed them some pictures of me at work – in the lab, with my boat and truck, and electrofishing.
Up next was their favorite part of the day: live organisms! Each table was given a jar (with a lid) with various aquatic insects and invertebrates in it. I collected and sorted these ahead of time, so each jar had the same number and types of organisms. The students spent some time observing the animals and started counting the different types of animals they saw. After they had some time to look at the jars, we looked at scanned images of mouthparts and talked about what the different invertebrates eat. I was pleased that many of the students were able to use the shape of the mouthparts to determine diet. Last, I passed out handouts that they could use to identify the bugs. The students circled the bugs they saw and wrote in those organisms that weren’t on the “cheat sheet”. We wrapped things up by making a list of everything they saw, reviewing some life history, and briefly talking about how these activities fit into aquatic science.
It seemed like this all had quite an impression on most of the students. Several that usually spent the class time hunched over with their head on the table were up and alert, trying to figure out just what type of organisms they had in their jar. One student even took a picture with her cell phone so she could show her sister! There were some students that had to be told to stop “making tornados”, but most of the students did a good job looking and not shaking. It was interesting to see which students noticed the little stuff that was hiding in the plant material or walking along the bottom, rather than just focusing on the big insect zooming around the water. There was also lots of excitement in the last class when some of the predators ate some of the other bugs. It was interesting to see how they tried to identify some of the organisms. They were able to identify most of them using the handout. However, the dragonfly larvae really threw them for a loop; it was a good example of how we use pre-existing knowledge to learn new material. When they looked at it head-on in the jar it reminded them of a spider (both are predators with big eyes and they hold their legs in a similar fashion). Once they had decided it was a spider, they couldn’t identify it on the handout, because the top-down view on the handout didn’t look nearly as much like a spider. It would be interesting to see if they made the same association after observing the dragonflies in a different type of dish.
It was really also nice to have the connection with the Kansas River; these kids are all from Topeka and at the very least have driven by the river. I showed them some pictures of me working in that very same river and we talked about the types of organisms that live there, which I’m fairly sure most of them hadn’t considered before our discussion. I think one benefit of doing this lesson was getting the students to think about the different things scientists do and to consider that individual scientists might study more than one thing. I spent the first two weeks answering anatomy questions and now here I was talking about catching fish and collecting bugs – crazy!