The Suitcase Lady


July 27, 2010, 10:37 pm

Understanding the big picture is more important than knowing the details. Delightful as they may be, details should be the dessert.

That sums up my teaching philosophy of the last forty-nine years. Whether I am teaching art or natural science, I stick to the creed of large to small.

“Plan the entire picture first,” I remind the kids in my art classes. Or, “learn about the animal’s habitat, then see how that animal adapts to its environment”. In other words, make the connections.

Which brings us to lobsters and their friends. I loved biology and lapped up information on scores of species. But throughout grade school, high school and college, no teacher ever taught me the word “arthropod”. Many years later I was in a big Canadian natural history museum which had a banner extolling “The Wonderful World of Arthropods”.

“What’s an arthropod?” I asked my husband. But his teachers had not answered that question either. To this day, grade schools mostly ignore the large arthropod group and zoom in on the insect class.

The museum clearly presented us with the big picture in brilliant ways. Arthropods are a large phylum of animals with many jointed legs, segmented bodies, an outer shell and no backbone. Then the exhibits introduced the classes of animals with these features.

All of a sudden I saw lobsters in a whole new way. The curtain had fallen from my eyes. Lobsters look just like gigantic bugs or bugs just look like itty-bitty lobsters. These guys are all cousins along with other crustaceans, centipedes, millipedes, spiders and insects.

Arthropods are a big deal. They are the most numerous animals on earth. When we mammals mess up the planet beyond repair for our survival, the arthropods will probably continue on their merry way as they have for eons. Kids should definitely learn the big picture.

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