Our high school freshmen and sophomores are a diverse bunch. They come wide-ranging ethnicities ranging from Germans to Mexicans to Native Americans. They live in different households, some wealthy and others at the poverty line. They arrive in the classroom with personalities running from bold and cheerful to quiet and reserved. These diverse students are struck by the loss of biodiversity on planet Earth. They are acutely aware of climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation. These daunting problems in mind, the students yearn to know more about life on Earth. They would like to know more, understand more deeply, and examine up-close the myriad forms of life that exist here. That wonderful curiosity is well exemplified by one of the students who brought a freshwater lamprey to class. He hooked the lamprey while fishing a local river and came to class with a bevy of questions. Like the sea lamprey, do freshwater lampreys parasitize trout? How closely related are freshwater and sea lampreys? Are they a fish or a snake? Questions like these indicate a strong desire to know about the diversity of life on Earth.
How do we know that a marked change in life occurred about 65 million years ago? Biologists can look at foraminiferans, tiny shelled organisms that live in the sea. Before 65 million years ago, the foraminifera were numerous and diverse. After this point in time, nearly all foraminifera died out with only a few surviving species remaining. Students can gain an insight into the diversity and wonder of these organisms by looking at preserved microscope slides.
How do very different organisms from us, like the marine animal Obelia, manage to reproduce?
By looking at a preserved microscope slide, students have the opportunity to actually see the sexual stage (polyp) and asexual stage (medusa). Although students can learn about the life cycle via an Internet website or traditional textbook, it is difficult to replicate the process of examining the actual organism.
Worms parasitize sheep, horses, and cows? An astonishing array of highly adapted worms live in the guts and liver of domesticated animals. Although documentaries and YouTube provide excellent videography, preserved microscope slides of flatworms, flukes, and pinworms offer an authentic perspective on the surprising variation among parasitic worms.
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