Summer school for me growing up on a lake in a small southwest Michigan town was spending time water skiing, swimming and jumping into muck contests (one with the longest stain on his legs won). Summers at the lake created great childhood memories and like all grandparents, I try to help provide similar opportunities for my grandkids as they grow up.

This summer, I was fortunate to spend a couple weeks at the lake I grew up on with my two grandkids. Fishing and swimming dominated the first week. I had sense enough not to disclose the muck diving location or the contest rules. After a couple of days, kids started to notice that a largemouth bass had started to join a small school of blue gill which greeted the kids close to shore as they walked out on the dock. Grandkids had fished enough to understand that largemouth bass don’t hang out close to shore and will eat small blue gill evidenced by a scenario from last year. Won’t go into the disturbing details but predator and prey survived; pole, line and sinker did not.

Kids became even more curious when the bass hung around near the shore when they were swimming and didn’t dart out into the deep when they got close. They had identified the bass as the same bass which was seen during the morning checks, black markings on the tail. They asked why this bass was acting differently than the other bass in the lake. After having them make some hypotheses, you can guess the kids next “ask.” Can we feed the bass with some worms left over from yesterday’s fishing adventure? It’s not muck diving or getting under a canoe and going out until the oxygen runs out so answer was “yes.”

Figuring the bass would ignore their feeding attempts, dart out to the deep and continue acting like a normal bass, I was preparing to temper the kids’ disappointment with an age-appropriate circle of life parable.

Not only did the bass eat the worms tossed in the lake, he came up and played tug of war with a worm my grandson dangled in the water. It’s official, the bass had become the kids’ summer pet and they named him “Barry.” Kids were very loyal to Barry and he returned their attention by always greeting them in the morning and behaving nonbass like. Without saying a word, Barry changed their behavior, no more fishing because we might accidentally catch Barry and hurt his lips. As we packed the car ready to leave the lake, grandkids made us stop, go back and let them remind the neighbors to feed Barry and not fish for the rest of the summer.

After 42 years as an educator, I sometimes get lulled into thinking I know every theory and settle into role of the wise old sage. Good thing every now and then I get slapped out of it by experiences like Barry the Bass. My summer school lesson was how powerful the role curiosity plays in motivating students to learn.

Schools need to continue and ramp up efforts to tap into student curiosity through inquiry-based learning by developing curriculum and classroom environments (outdoor, indoor and online) which provide opportunities for students to question and explore outliers and discrepant events.

Curiosity was one hypothesis the grandkids came up with explaining Barry’s extraordinary behavior. Reflecting, I think they were right.

Nicholas Clement is a former Flowing Wells superintendent, and currently the NAU Ernest W. McFarland Citizen’s Chair in Education, Northern Arizona University. Contact him at