Inquiry into the Zen of Wormness

Kaniaulono Meyer
Museum of Natural History & Science
Cincinnati Museum Center
Director of Education
1995 ASTC Annual Conference
San Diego, California
October 15, 1995

"They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught like ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the Earth.

-- Henry Beston

Introduction: Worms make good tools for inquiry --- they are familiar yet still alien enough to invoke interest. Many people have dissected a worm in biology class but that is a far cry from getting to know a living worm up close and personally. As children, as well as adults, get caught up in our increasingly high-tech world, the reality of the world around us threatens to become lost. I think the point of this avenue of inquiry is to get people to appreciate the lives of other living things with which we share this Earth.

Worm Facts (or things to remember when you are about to impale a worm on your fish hook):

Earthworms in general

Nightcrawlers What You Need: Worms --- nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris) are large and easy to observe. Any bait shop will carry them though they may be seasonal so check it out. Or, of course, you can dig them up in your yard if you happen to be in the cooler areas of this country which they have invaded. Invaded! ! ! Yes, they are aliens introduced from Europe probably in the earth surrounding the roots of imported plants. Native worms tend to be smaller but smaller worms are easier to shine light through to see what the "innards" are doing as the animal moves. Worms can be kept alive for long periods. A dozen large L. terrestris are surviving with no apparent ill effects in a large whipped margarine container filled with good potting soil mixed with corn mean, oatmeal and coffee grounds (smells great!). Just keep the soil moist and replenish the food supply once a week.

Procedure: The role of the facilitator is to move the program along without giving direct formulae as to what to do to the participants. That's not easy to do. The purpose of the activity is for people to ask questions, predict what might happen, then test it out. I usually give a brief introduction and a few comments about worms especially reminding them that worms are living creatures and are to be respected and not harmed by any of the activities They are not weapons of terrorist aggression to be dangled in front of someone's f face or put down someone's shirt. They need to be kept moist. They breathe through the surface of the skin and this surface needs to be moist just like the areas of our lungs where gas exchange takes place. Glands in the "different" looking band near the anterior (front) end as well as all over the body secrete mucous to keep the body moist. Thus the worm should be placed on a wet paper towel. Being in a tray is helpful but not mandatory.

It helps for people to work in pairs. This way they can generate more questions and suggestions for testing hypotheses. To get things going, ask each one to introduce themselves to their worm partner. Ask them to think about where they look when they introduce themselves to other humans. They look at the face. Does a worm have a face? Indeed, does a worm have a head? They can begin their investigation into worm ways there. Your role is to circulate and move their inquiry along. When they ask questions try to get them to suggest ways that they could test to learn the answer. If they don't come up with questions, help them along by asking a question and having them testing for answers. Also keep in mind that different worms, like people, respond differently in the same situation. So, if two teams try the same experiment and get differing responses ask them what they would have to do to really verify their results. Lead them to the conclusion that repeatability is essential to making any firm conclusion and many trials need to be run before you can say anything is true with any certainty. Some questions that could come up are:

Wrap-Up: Have each team tell the group as a whole at least one thing they learned about worms as a result of this activity. This usually brings up things to discuss and you can offer more insight into wormness as topics arise.

Barnes, Robert D. 1980. Invertebrate Zoology. Sauders College. Philadelphia, PA.

Holley, Dennis. 1994. Animals Alive! An Ecological Guide to Animal Activities. Roberts Rinehart, NY.

Kneidel, Sally Stenhouse. 1993. Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method. Fulcrum Publ., Golden, CO.

Stevens, William K. 1995. It's Natives vs. Newcomers Down in the Worm World. New York Times, March 28.

Reprinted with permission of the author.

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