Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Childhood Curiosity Leads to Becoming an "Ist"

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: Childhood Curiosity Leads to Becoming an "Ist"

Article excerpt

I decided the session had been a success when I heard one fourth- grader say to another, "I want to be an 'ist' of some sort when I grow up." His friend replied, "So do I. That's what I'm going to do in college."

A dozen students had just left the third session of a science club at a local elementary school. I had agreed to be an adviser, which really means being an after-hours teacher. The experience has been simultaneously challenging and most gratifying. Second-, third- and fourth-graders make ideal students. They don't yet have in- depth knowledge about any topic, including science, which means they have nothing to unlearn. What they do have in abundance are curiosity and unfettered imaginations, which lead to open-minded thinking well outside any proverbial box.

This particular day was rainy and cold. I had wanted to take the science club outside to see what living plants or animals we could find associated with trees in the schoolyard. Fortunately, I had taken the previous day's weather forecast seriously and prepared for an indoor exercise. I had gone into my backyard and a nearby wooded area and within minutes picked up 20 small limbs. Each one had lichens growing on it. Although lichens look like a single organism, they actually represent a complex relationship between fungi and algae.

Lichens became the science topic for the day. I asked the students if they knew what a scientist who studies lichens is called. Up went a third-grader's hand. "A lichenologist." I was a bit surprised and asked how he knew that. "I didn't really know," he said. "I just guessed. Someone who studies science is a scientist, and someone who studies biology is a biologist."

I asked the class about various other groups of organisms. Most of them quickly concluded that mammalogists study mammals and that parasitologists study parasites. I did not expect them to know that a person who studies butterflies and moths is a lepidopterist or that someone who focuses on mussels, clams and other molluscs is a malacologist. But they all got the point that when speaking about science, "ist" refers to a person who does something related to a group of organisms or a field of study. …

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