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Curiosity

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The ever-curious Sherry Seethaler explains how she went from worrying about her pet toad causing warts, to understanding how people learn science.

It all started with a toad. He was a run-of-the-mill toad, happily doing what toads do, until a little girl abducted him for a pet. The toad did not mind the little girl, but when she brought him into the house to show her parents, they shrieked. "Take that outside. You are going to get warts."

The little girl granted the deeply offended toad his liberty, and then got to worrying about warts. The days and weeks and months passed, and when the little girl did not get even the tiniest wart, it occurred to her that grown ups do not know everything about the world.

So like an old-time natural historian, the girl began to study the world around her. She watched ants marching in lines more orderly than cars on a highway, except when one ant would reach out with feelers to touch another in the oncoming lane. She watched bees collect pollen, butterflies drink nectar, birds build nests, and spiders spin their webs and wrap their prey. She stared up at the clouds, marveled over minute fossils in pieces of gravel, and wondered why snow tastes different than ice cubes. She did not eat yellow snow.

At a local pond she watched frogs, sticklebacks, water striders, damselflies and dragonflies. She collected earthworms from her grandfather's worm bin, and he took her fishing. He identified the different types of fish, taught her which were "good eatin'," and consoled her when she cried over the big one that got away. He took her on nature walks, identified trees, sometimes tugging out a small sassafras sapling to let her savor the root-beer-flavored root.

School opened up a whole new world, a world that could not be seen with the naked eye. The girl loved peering through the microscope to see organisms in pond water or the cells in a sliver of onion. What she loved best was when the teacher gave the class free microscope time to examine whatever they wanted—a bit of thread, the bulb of a hair, the inside of a broken baby tooth, and even a boogey provided by her lab partner. Inquiring minds want to know.

For every teacher who dulled her mind with rote learning and infamous "the-blank-in-the-blank-blank-of-the-blank-was-blank" fill-in-the-blank science exercises, she was fortunate to have another who encouraged students to think and explore, or explained friction by jumping in a garbage can. College professors also ran the gamut from sleep-inducing to awe-inspiring.

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