Beauty in the CommonplaceAnne Sacks remembers childhood curiosity's value, as it enriches adult life and learning.
The Journey to Adulthood
I laughed hysterically as I opened the dinosaur kit, using a golden shovel to uncover hidden fossil skeletons in the sand. As my peers presented their 4th Grade Science Kits, acting out the role of a 4th grade teacher giving a lesson to a classroom of eager Huang Fellows, the world around me disappeared into thin air. I truly felt like a kid. As a nineteen-year-old adult, I thought to myself, at what point in one’s life does someone graduate from adolescence and get promoted to the realm that is adulthood?
Immersed in my dinosaur kit, I was suddenly taken aback when the “4th grade teacher” started to ask us to compare the skeletons to dinosaur pictures. In that moment, I realized that the process of climbing the ladder to adulthood was about learning how to think for yourself. The journey to adulthood was about learning how to formulate your own perception of reality and understand perceptions that differ from your own.
As 4th grade students, we were asked to imagine an Earth filled with ancient creatures that roamed all the crevices of the planet searching for food, a world very different from the wooden chairs we sat on in the air-conditioned room of a school building. We were asked to formulate our own opinions on whether the skeletons were accurate depictions of dinosaurs that once lived in our past.
Teaching is a delicate balance
I realized that as a teacher, the most engaging activities encourage students to question the world around them, allowing students to develop a sense of awareness about their own thoughts as well as the thoughts of others. Most importantly, whether it’s digging for bones or throwing paper airplanes across a room, the most memorable lessons foster a sense of curiosity in students, leaving students excited about the process of learning.
As a 4th grade science teacher for a day, I’ve come to appreciate that teaching is not only about having a mastery over the content but a deep understanding of how to express knowledge. Every learner has different needs in a classroom, and a teacher must strike the delicate balance of catering to students that are building their academic foundation and other students who are seeking a challenge. Teachers must also find a happy medium between motivating students to find solutions independently and providing hands-on support to facilitate learning. Teaching is not only fundamentally about communication, but it is also about being able to take the perspective of a learner.
The Power of Curiosity
As I look back on my excursion with the golden shovel, I marvel at how simple things have the power to be very beautiful. As an adult, it is easy to grow accustomed to the world around me, focused on the tasks that lie ahead, leaving little time to stop and marvel at the commonplace. After all, I know what a dinosaur looks like, at least I thought I did until I learned about the Longisquama dinosaur.
I’ve discovered that while adults may have their own sense of self, an awareness that is still developing in the minds of students, adults never truly lose their childhood curiosity. Sometimes, that curiosity lays dormant inside of us. It was only as I was hunting for the dinosaur skeletons that I unlocked my own childhood curiosity.
So the next time that I go outside and roam the Earth, I won’t forget to spend time marveling at
overgrown bushes and squirrels that quickly scurry up a tree, hiding from predators that don’t exist in the peacefulness that is Duke’s West Campus. I will continue to ask questions, whether that be investigating the trends of data in my research or contemplating the ethics of new technologies in science. I will continue to be curious about the commonplace, as there are still many things hidden in the sand, just waiting to be discovered.
Anne Sacks, Huang Fellow ’26
Anne is a first-year student from the Washington D.C. area pursuing a major in chemistry and a minor in biology on the pre-med track.