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MAR. 22, 2014

Alternations of Generations

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And The Importance of Asking “Why?”
By Beth Daviess, Female Resident

On a warm day, one of a number of pleasant surprises we’ve had in the past few weeks, science class sat on a trail trying to metaphorically “pull apart”   Lycopodium. Or rather, the mystery of it.

In true OA fashion, as we discussed Lycopodium we happened to be nestled in a Lycopodium patch, surrounded by the miniature trees themselves. Lycopodium, you see, is a type of club moss that has a very special characteristic, brought to my attention by a student. Elsa described to me Lycopodium’s almost unique ability to become sexual or asexual as it saw fit. “Alternation of generations.”  A weighty phrase that could describe quite a few ideas, in this case signifies an organism’s use of multiple reproductive strategies throughout it’s lifecycle.

As we sat in the dirt and played with sticks, the class moved into a discussion of why organisms would evolve to reproduce this way, switching back and forth between methods; if alternation of generations was effective, as it appeared to be given our surroundings, why hadn’t other organisms, ourselves included, evolved similarly adaptable traits. Why, Ted asked, Can’t I grow another Ted out of my toe, and another Ted out of his toe, and so on.

The class launched into a frustrating, exhilarating discussion of why or why not. Why should alternation of generations be better than our reproductive strategy? And if it was, why aren’t we doing it. What could that look like? Why? I was struck, at this moment, by the determination I saw in every student’s eyes. They would not passively accept this brilliant mystery, let such an interesting problem go unaddressed. I could see that Elsa, and Christian and Levi knew that, evolutionarily, there must be a reason we are this way and not that. But again, Why?

This question reverberates on the OA campus. I might even argue it is the most important thing we teach our students. To question, to know a problem and try to solve it, to enjoy the sweet frustration of the unsolvable. That is what we try to instill at The Outdoor Academy.