“I’m Dr. Karen James, but you can call me Karen”

That’s how Karen James of the MDI Bio Lab introduced herself to the students of the Whiting Village School on May 26th. Principal Scott Johnson had requested a visit so students could hear about Charles Darwin and understand more about natural selection.

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Karen’s objective for the day was to share information about the adventure of the ship Beagle, about Charles Darwin the man and his discovery of natural selection and about the art of careful observation. Karen was able to build on those themes and add to the whole notion of discovery by connecting Darwin’s voyage(s) to space exploration and the fact that she is an astronaut in training!

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Some students had done great pre-visit research and were able to share their impressive knowledge of the Beagle, where Darwin visited, and even some of the animals he studied. All students participated in outdoor observation; they were asked to find a plant or animal outside and describe it through their careful observation.

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Dr. James asked students to write 3 descriptives and draw at least 1 thing by using all senses; and then to go back and look closer to observe even more deeply. She reminded students that in making observations one had to write objectively and precisely – what looks or smells “yucky” to one person may be “awesome” to another, so accuracy and objectivity in description is essential.

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Some things that kids liked best and found through close observation with Karen James – Rocks have spots, they enjoyed observing all of the creatures and plants, and got a better idea of how to use their magnifying glasses.

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They wondered about how long centipedes live, about the whole idea of evolution, and about whether butterflies are flying ‘away’ from something, or ‘to’ something? The older kids were able to make the connection between Darwin and his observations and those made by another prolific writer: Henry Thoreau and a place called Walden Pond – but that’s a whole other IRW visit…….

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