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Child Science Talk - Solving the Mysteries of Heredity 2. Human Beings as Nature: Changing Perception

2. Human Beings as Nature: Changing Perception
Takahiro Miyashita, Professor, Department of Letters, Shirayuri College

"You look just like your mother!" "You run fast just like your father!" Children often hear comments like these when relatives get together. In such conversations, we can assume that they learn something about family resemblances, and they probably wonder why people look alike or different from one another. What do they know about heredity and what sort of questions do they have?

Naturally, children tend to have a limited and very sketchy knowledge of heredity that is based on experience. When encouraging children to approach a given issue with their own questions and frame of reference, it is necessary to provide them with opportunities for relating and associating their knowledge in different contexts and reformulating it in new ways. The materials and questions prepared for the class were intended to do this.

According to the guidelines of new school curriculum, junior-high school science classes teach students about cells and reproduction and also touch on characteristics passed from parent to offspring. High school biology takes up the topic of heredity in a more systematic fashion, introducing such concepts as chromosomes, genes and DNA. Given that the participants were fourth- and fifth-graders, we did not expect them to have this level of knowledge. However, we assumed that they had heard of genes and heredity through various media and understood that resemblances and differences they had noticed were related phenomena.

Unfortunately, we were not able to elicit an understanding in the children that resemblances and differences were the result of heredity that took place through the genes. While it was noted that some natto is made from genetically modified soybeans, the children did not seem to fully associate this food product with how genes work. This may simply be due to the fact they were not familiar with heredity, but it can also be attributed to a lack of understanding and preparation on the part of the navigators.

The main objective of the session was to induce children to approach resemblance and difference as being natural phenomena, that is, the result of heredity and genes. However, it seemed to be difficult for them to understand phenomena encountered in daily life in scientific terms and this seems to impede a consideration of resemblances from a scientific point of view. This difficulty appears to prevent them from taking a step toward a basic understanding of how disposition and personality are also inherited.

In contrast, explanations of mechanisms that result in genetic diversity such as that of genetic modification during meiosis, using Dr. Sulston's glasses and the effects of quantitative genes, using wallets by Dr. Ando seemed to be well understood by the children. This would indicate that using the appropriate metaphors led to this understanding on the part of the children.
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