Posted by: jwhiff | October 4, 2010

What does it mean to be a Scientist?

This week in the project, the students met mom and scientist, Leigh Scatchard.  Leigh is mom to one of my students and was willing to share some of her insights and enthusiasm for the science of entomology, especially as it applies to forensics.  I had great hopes that she might help us understand the most important jobs that scientists do through the work that she has done over the years.

The whole experience was very formal at the start.  She was prepared with a powerpoint presentation that dealt very specifically with the particulars of scientific capacities, including asking questions, observing, collecting data and sharing knowledge.  However, she quickly progressed to slides of her work exploring patterns of insect development and succession in the decomposition of animal carcasses.  These ideas and images quickly caught the attention of the kids, who immediately began asking her questions about the particulars of the project.  Leigh’s enthusiasm for her science, and love for flies in particular, bubbled over.  It was a great little session, and in the end, the kids had a tidy set of notes on the jobs of a scientist.  They used these (and other notes) to compose a paragraph on what scientists do.  I collected these and gave them some written feedback.

Now, personally, I feel like I might have missed the boat on an important aspect of being a scientist.  The students’ paragraphs were generally well-written and fashioned after the early parts of Leigh’s powerpoint where she explicitly laid out the capacities of a scientist in general.  It was a tidy little activity, but upon reflection, I see that the students missed the most important implicit idea in her presentation: great scientists love what they do.  It was easy for me to see just how much she loved flies.  It was the part I remember the most.  The kids might have noticed this as well, but I focused them too much on the explicit ideas that we had already encountered in other exercises.  You know…the ones where we did not meet a real scientist in the flesh.

If there is one thing that I know well, it is that student enthusiasm is the most powerful tool I can leverage in any project or assignment.  I know that I focussed their attention away from writing about this stand out aspect of her presentation and towards simply composing a paragraph based on a set of generic notes.

Fortunately, I later saw evidence of the connections the students made with her work.  At the end of the day, a group of my kids dragged me outside to see “something that I just had to see”.  I snapped a photo of it, so that Leigh might have a chance to see the real impact that her presentation made.  Look closely.  Can you tell what this is?


  1. Very nice picture of a “flesh fly” (Family Sarcophagidae), Very distinctive with their red eyes and stripes down their backside. Did you know that flesh flies give birth to live maggots (ie skipping the egg stage)? Gives their species a head start on dead things…

    Thanks Jen – pleasure to chat with the class!


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