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Child Science Talk - Solving the Mysteries of Heredity 1. Introduction

1. Child Science Talk - Solving the Mysteries of Heredity

Date: January 11 (Sat.), 2003
Venue: Nagayama Chiikichi, former Higashi-Nagayama Elementary School, Tama City
Participants: Fifth-graders (7 boys, 5 girls), fourth-graders (4 girls)
Navigators: Takahiro Miyashita, Professor, Shirayuri Women's College
Juko Ando, Professor, Keio University
Yoshiko Sawai, Director, Child Labo

A demonstration class called "Child Science Talk" was held at CRN's experimental learning space, Nagayama Chiikichi. Serving as navigators, three members of the Child Science Research Society led a group of elementary schoolchildren in a thought-provoking session on the topic "Solving the Mysteries of Heredity."

Initially, we had envisioned a relaxed atmosphere where about eight children could discuss the topic among themselves. After presenting our program to elementary schools in the Tama district, the class attracted 16 participants, a greater number than we had anticipated. As a result, we quickly arranged the chairs classroom-style and the class took on a lecture-type format with the children listening to information presented by the navigators.

The purpose of this class was to encourage children to communicate their understanding of heredity. Rather than explicitly teaching the children about heredity, the navigators aimed to draw out what they knew and then to put together their bits of knowledge to have them think about heredity in a new way.

As moderator, Takahiro Miyashita began the session by showing the children several photographs of famous parents and children and asking them what they thought. The children then talked about whether or not they resembled their parents. As the children became more aware of heredity, the navigator began talking about its scientific basis. A video on experiments with identical twins was shown with an explanation by Juko Ando, a researcher in behavioral genetics. At the end of the session, the children asked questions and gave their impressions.

Photographs of famous parents and children, including Yoko Tadanori, Seiji Ozawa, Tatsuya Nakadai, Gattsu Ishimatsu, were taken from a book of photographs, entitled "Parents and Children," by the photographer Yoshihiro Tatsuki. During the explanation of the scientific mechanisms of heredity, the children were shown sections of a videotaped lecture by Sir John E. Sulston, a British molecular biologist and 2002 Nobel Prize recipient. This was accompanied by a demonstration of the genetic modification using colored glasses. Part of a TV program on twins, the video shown by Juko Ando included experiments on identical twins that verified the effect of the environment on the personality and behavior.

Due to the fact that this was the first session held and more children participated than had been expected, it was unfortunately not possible to realize the relaxed and informal atmosphere that we had initially envisioned for the children's discussion. We had assumed the children would be more at ease if they talked about their families, but perhaps because they did not know one another or were nervous, they seemed inhibited about expressing themselves. They were all familiar with the topic of family resemblances and seemed to be aware of which family member they most resembled. As there were a brother and his sister at the event by chance, we had them point out the resemblances.

However, family resemblances are not anything unusual, and the children did not appear to view this in scientific terms as being the result of heredity. In post-session interviews, some children stated that they "did not see what this had to do with science."

Children showed an interest in the demonstration of cell meiosis and the video on identical twins. They were fascinated to hear that genetic transmission results in common traits as well as differences between parents and children; identical and fraternal twins are not the same kind of twins; and identical twins are actually natural clones. This suggests that children's interest in science is related to a curiosity about the unusual, typified by identical twins and human clones, rather than being directed toward everyday occurrences. We were able to gain insight into how children put together bits of scientific knowledge and what situations encourage its association.
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