SDEV Disc 3; Fish Story
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Discussion: A Fish Story
One September morning, on their first day of college, two dozen first year students made their way into the biology laboratory. They sat down six at a lab table and glanced about for the professor. Because this was their first college class, most of the students were a bit nervous. A few introduced themselves. Others kept checking their watches.
At exactly nine o’clock, the professor, wearing a crisply pressed white lab coat, entered the room. “Good morning,” he said. He set a white plate in the middle of each table. On each plate lay a small fish.
Please observe the fish,” the professor said. “Then write down your observations.” He turned and left the room. The students looked at each other, puzzled. This was strange! Oh, well. They took out scrap paper and wrote notes such as, “I see a small fish.” One student added, “It’s on a white plate.”
Satisfied, they set their pens down and waited. And waited. For the entire class period, they waited. A couple of students whispered that it was a trick. They said the professor was probably testing them to see if they’d do something wrong. Time crawled by. Still they waited, trying to do nothing that would get them in trouble. Finally, one student mumbled that she was going to be late for her next class. She picked up her books and stood. She paused. Others rose as well and began filing out of the room. Some looked cautiously over their shoulders as they left.
When the students entered the biology lab for their second class, they found the same white plates with the same small fish already waiting on their laboratory tables. At exactly nine o’clock, the professor entered the room. “Good morning. Please take out your observations of the fish,” he said. Students dug into their notebooks or book bags. Many could not find their notes. Those few who could held them up for the professor to see as he walked from table to table.
After visiting each student, the professor said, “Please observe the fish. Write down all of your observations.” Then he left, closing the door behind him. The students looked at one another, more puzzled. They peered at the fish. Those few who had found their notes glanced from the fish to their notes and back again. Was the professor crazy? What else were they supposed to notice? It was only a stupid fish.
About then, one student spied a book on the professor’s desk. It was a book for identifying fish, and she snatched it up. Using the book, she quickly discovered what kind of fish was lying on her plate. She read eagerly, recording in her notes all the facts she found about her fish. Others saw her and asked to use the book, too. She passed the book to other tables, and her classmates soon found descriptions of their fish. After about fifteen minutes the students sat back, very pleased with themselves. Chatter died down. They waited. But the professor didn’t return. As the period ended, all the students carefully put their notes away.
The same fish on the same white plate greeted each student in the third class. The professor entered at nine o’clock. “Good morning,” he said. “Please hold up your observations.” All of the students held up their notes immediately. They looked at each other, smiling, as the professor walked from table to table, looking at their work. Once again, he walked toward the door. “Please. . . observe the fish. Write down all of your observations,” he said. And then he left. The students couldn’t believe it. They grumbled and complained. This guy is nuts. When is he going to teach us something? What are we paying tuition for, anyway? Students at one table, however, began observing their fish more closely. Other tables followed their example. The first thing all of the students noticed was the biting odor of aging fish. A few students recorded details about the fish’s color that they had failed to observe in the previous two classes.
They wondered if the colors had been there originally or if the colors had appeared as the fish aged. Each group measured its fish. They poked it and described its texture. One student looked in its mouth and found that he could see light through its gills. Another student found a small balance beam, and each group weighed its fish. They passed around someone’s pocket knife. With it, they sliced open the fish and examined its insides. In the stomach of one fish they found a smaller fish. They wrote quickly, and their notes soon overflowed onto three and four sheets of paper. Finally someone shouted, “Hey, class was over ten minutes ago.” They carefully placed their notes in three- ring binders. They said good-bye to their fish, wondering if their finny friends would be there on Monday.
They were, and a vile smell filled the laboratory. The professor strode into the room at exactly nine o’clock. The students immediately thrust their notes in the air. “Good morning,” the professor said cheerfully, making his way from student to student. He took longer than ever to examine their notes. The students shifted anxiously in their chairs as the professor edged ever closer to the door. How could they endure the smell for another class period? At the door, the professor turned to the students.
“All right,” he said. “Perhaps now we can begin.”
If you had been in this biology lab class, what lessons about college and life would you have learned from the experience?
— Inspired by Samuel J. Scudder, “Take This Fish and Look at It” (1874)
Source: On Course, 9th Edition, by Skip Downing, 2020
What to do?
The purpose of this story is to encourage critical thinking skills and a growth mindset to practice extracting valuable lessons from every experiences, thus developing into effective lifelong learners.
After reading the story, answer the following questions:
- What is the most important lesson that you drew from the experience in the biology lab?
- What is the life lesson for you?
- After you post your response, look at your classmates’ responses. Do you agree or disagree with anything they thought? Why?