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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Scientific Stuff

It's been a week full of technical difficulties (home computer on the fritz -- sigh) so while there's been lots to post about, I've not been able to get online to do it. So I'll be trying to play catch up, in between getting everything ready for the holidays and my family coming to town on Monday. Wish me luck!

Big news from the past week is that BJ did his first science project for kindergarten. Fish dissection!

The black bass that gave up its life to further my son's passion for marine biology.
Thanks, wee fishie.

You might be asking -- how did our kindergarten kid end up doing this sort of scientific stuff?

(Caution for the squeamish: this post will discuss fish guts, with accompanying pictures. You've been warned.)

When we'd met with BJ's kindergarten teacher for parent-teacher conferences, she asked us if we'd be interested in doing some enrichment activities with BJ -- of course we said yes! After all, this is the kid who tells us daily (sometimes multiple times a day): "Mom and Dad, I want to do something scientific!"

BJ and I met with his teacher A after the Thanksgiving break to talk about what sorts of scientific things BJ might want to do first. His list (in his exact words; I was taking notes):

marine biology

He would have given us more, but we decided to stop there and see what we could come up with. The kinder curriculum starts out by following letter pairs -- the kids are currently on "f" and "v" the "lip coolers" -- and A suggested that we find science activities that would correspond with the letters being worked with in class. BJ immediately latched on to the idea of F for Fish!

A talked about the scientific method with us -- Question, Hypothesis, Experiment, Results, and Conclusion -- and BJ was thoroughly engaged. He's come across these ideas before in library books that I've brought home for him (How to Think Like a Scientist, among others) and I think he was really excited to hear his teacher talking about this sort of thing. Ever since starting kindergarten, he's been wondering when the really scientific stuff would begin!

A wondered what sort of question BJ might have about a fish. BJ said, "What's inside a fish?"

And thus an experiment was born. His hypothesis: Inside a fish is organs and bone. So we needed to test this out. On a real, whole fish.

Now I have to admit that I didn't anticipate that finding a fish with guts intact might be a challenge. I'd figured I could go to our local fish market and pick one up, no problem. But all their fish arrive eviscerated. It was suggested that we go to the pet store and pick a live fish, but I couldn't bring myself to do that. The division between "pet" and "potential food" might be somewhat artificial, especially for marine life, but even so I drew the line at going to Pet Smart for a specimen. So we ended up going to the asian market, where they sell live fish, to ask the fishmonger which type of fish they'd recommend for a dissection. Thankfully, the good-natured guy behind the counter was very helpful. He suggested a black bass, since the organs would be more visible.

So we watched as the fish was netted. Dead fish swimming, I thought with a wry smile. "Do you want me to kill it?" asked the fishmonger. "Yes please," I replied. What was the alternative -- bring it home flopping around in a bag? No need to make the creature suffer. Two whacks of a mallet and it was over. BJ proudly carried his bagged fish to the cashier, paid for it with $7 that I'd given him, and asked if he could hold it in his lap the whole ride home. (I said no; it lay on the floorboard of the front passenger seat.)

When we got home, BJ could hardly wait to get going on the scientific stuff. Having procured the fish, I was perfectly fine with letting S take the lead for the dissection. (Granted, I have had my fair share of such activities from my days as a biology major -- fish, crayfish, frogs, even an opossum -- but S is no slouch about these things either, so I shared what little expertise I recalled while taking pictures. Plus, we googled "black bass fish dissection" before starting and found this hugely helpful video. The Internet is Awesome when it works like it's supposed to!)
BJ watched the video with us -- so he knew we'd be cutting along the fish's belly to start the dissection. I have to say, I'm always astonished by how thoroughly un-squeamish my kids are. Here he is examining one of the fish's gills which S had removed.
In addition to the gills, we found and identified the heart, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, egg sacs, and air bladder. BJ was especially fascinated by the air bladder -- we could still see the air contained inside like a balloon. Here's BJ examining it.

BB was really interested, too. She's seeing what the liver feels like.

BJ was thrilled to have so visibly proven part of his hypothesis. Are there organs inside a fish? You betcha! But the bones were harder to find in all the muscle tissue. So after we had cut everything up, I put the remains in a pot of boiling water to try to isolate the spine. Here's the result, which satisfied BJ enormously:
I confess that if I were a more confident cook where fish are concerned, and if S had better butchering skills, I would have considered cooking the fish for dinner. But I'd decided early on that I was going to take a pass on that one and toss the fish remains when we were done with the experiment. (Besides, it was a little fish, so it's not like we would have made an entire meal out of it anyway. And I know that's rationalizing the waste a bit, but I'm OK with that.)

With a little help from us, BJ recorded everything in his Scientific Journal. Then we put together a poster, including some of the pictures we had taken and the following information (which was in BJ's words):
Question: What is inside a fish?
Hypothesis: Organs and bone
Experiment: Fish dissection!
Results: I saw organs and bone.
Conclusion: My hypothesis was correct!

And he drew two thumbs up next to the conclusion, orange marker scribbles that make me smile as I think about them.

When we met, A had asked BJ if he would be interested in sharing his experiments with the class, and he immediately said, "Yes!" Words can't fully capture how thrilled he was about all of this. When we left the meeting with A, I asked BJ how he thought it went. He replied: "It was really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really FUN!" With probably a few more "really's" in there for good measure.

So on Thursday, BJ brought in his poster and a baggie containing the fish spine and did a little presentation for his class. S was working in the classroom that morning, and he said that BJ did a fine job of it -- and his classmates were riveted. Several of the other kids had questions, and afterwards many (especially some very sweet girls in the class) came up to him and said they really enjoyed hearing about his project.

It will be interesting to see what the next project will be. BJ is making noises about V for Volcano. BJ had mentioned this when we met with A, informing her that he and his dad had just finished reading The Twenty-One Balloons for his bedtime book. Really, he would love to somehow do an experiment about Krakatoa. (He keeps asking us to look it up on Google maps so he can zoom in on the satellite view and see the volcano's crater.) A smiled hearing his enthusiasm for the book. "Yes! Krakatoa, East of Java," she said, and before she could finish, BJ said, "West of Sumatra." At which point A laughed and I did too.

Golly but I love my little scientist.

And I love his teacher too. I love how much joy she has for her work, how much she is willing to do to encourage and nurture each of the kids under her care. We are so very, very lucky to be in her class!

I had meant to get a picture of BJ's poster, but it's still in the classroom and will stay there over the Christmas holiday. (Hope the fish skeleton in its baggie is well sealed up!) A shared with us that she had been talking with one of the other teachers about BJ's presentation, and that teacher said, "Oh! He should have kept that for the science fair!" At which point, A told us, she smiled and said, "Knowing him, by the time the science fair comes around he will have LOTS of different projects to pick from, and he can choose his favorite." So stay tuned for more fun scientific stuff from our resident kindergarten kid.

1 comment:

cath c said...

that is fascinating, even if i wasn't an initial fan of the fish guts.

future ichthyologist!!

(i've known a few and it's a favorite word.)