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As I mentioned in my last post, this week is National Primary Science Week, intended to provide science-focused professional development for primary school teachers and competitions, activities,and resources to support science teaching. I’d been asked if I’d contribute to the local program in Hamilton, & so today I trotted off to Berkeley Intermediate Normal School with a small selection of skull casts clutched in my arms (I discovered a few years back that this habit had earned me the moniker of “the Skull Lady”!). I’d been asked to run an activity on teaching about evolution: the best way to do this, to me, has always been to model it, & the hominin skulls were there to give us a bunch of talking points.

So there I was, with a room full of eager youngsters, their teachers, the bones and a whiteboard. The time flew by – in fact, we went well over time, talking for nearly 2 hours rather than the scheduled one. The students were great – attentive, courteous, curious, enthusiastic, & deep-thinking, and the questions they asked were at times really challenging. We talked about common descent; relatedness; common ancestry (& why the common ancestor of humans & chimps would look different from both); why infant chimps and humans look more similar than the adults; natural selection; mutations; human migration patterns; why carnivores have bigger brains than herbivores; how scientists actually ‘do’ science and why their ideas on an issue might change; what the two words in a binomial name tell us; radiometric dating; how to tell the age of an individual at death; how to tell the gender of a set of human remains; why Neanderthals became extinct… and along the way we somehow got onto anencephaly, & ethics!

I think we all enjoyed it, and everyone gained some new knowledge. Personally I found those two hours great fun, but also challenging and, well, quite tiring! I don’t know that I could manage to be a primary school teacher, actually :-)

One of the key things I got out of today, actually, was a reminder of the huge enthusiasm that young students have for science. The desire for knowledge, and the thinking skills, that I saw today were truly inspiring. But that keen scientific curiosity is also something that we need to feed, and support, and encourage. Primary school teachers, in particular, need all the help they can get in this area. So next year, if you’re asked to contribute to National Primary Science Week – say ‘yes”! In fact, why wait until then? I rather think your local primary school might be glad to hear from you now :-)