Archive for July, 2010

From Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line blog, “Witness For Wildlife Trip Produces Photo of First Live Ocelot In Arizona.”

The ocelot recently photographed in Cochise County, Arizona. Photo: ©2009 Sky Island Alliance.

Ocelots are tropical cats, and they’ve been known to range into Northern Mexico and Texas.  This article tells of the first known Ocelot seen in Arizona; the photo was taken by Michael Quigley in November of 2009 with a camera set up with a motion sensor.  This is significant for a number of reasons, and the article above mentions the importance of wildlife corridors in protecting sensitive and endangered species.

I just finished Doug Chadwick’s book, The Wolverine Way, which chronicles his work as a volunteer on the Glacier Wolverine Project. More to follow on that in a future post.  But one of the things he hammers home on is this idea of natural corridors to connect wilderness areas.  That’s one of the things that can help the chances of the wolverine (or the ocelot).  Small population sizes and slow reproductive rates can translate to slim margins for error when it comes to survival of certain species.  Protected areas like Glacier National Park are great, but for a wide-ranging predator like the wolverine, safe havens free from development and trapping pressures can be separated by hundreds of miles, and those protected areas are essentially islands.  It’s difficult to survive on islands.  Your food runs out, disease hits, your habitat is destroyed, predators increase, etc, you’re pretty much stuck.  For that reason, islands generally support less biodiversity than mainland habitats (proportional to their size).  For more on that and the trophic cascades that can result from disturbances, see David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions.

These organizations are doing good work in support of wildlife corridors in North America:

Witness for Wildlife

Freedom to Roam

Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative


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Brown Pelicans, covered in oil from BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, huddle together in a cage at the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Buras, Louisiana June 6, 2010. (REUTERS/Lee Celano)

I’m hesitant to say anything positive about the recent developments in the Gulf.  I wouldn’t take BP’s word on anything, and it’s about time that they’ve made some progress in stopping the flow.  An article in today’s NY Times “With Well Shut for 2 Days, BP Sees No Signs of Damage” by Henry Fountain seems cautiously optimistic.

But the most significant thing in Fountain’s article, I think, is this [my emphasis]:

With the valves closed, oil has stopped gushing into the gulf for the first time since the disaster began with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20.

Also from the article, “The flow rate is estimated at 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day,” which is mind-numbing.

Yesterday’s “After Much Bad News, Wary Acceptance of Good” by Susan Saulny seems more in line with my attitude.

These aerial photos from the TED Blog were taken a whole month ago, and it was depressing enough then.  More recently, some folks put together an independently organized TED event, TedxOilSpill, which brought together experts in policy, ecology, economics to discuss the problem along with possible solutions.

The ecological effects of this catastrophe will be felt for years to come, and the toll so far has been staggering.  Lynn Hermann from Digital Journal also reports that estimates of oil-covered birds may be much larger than reported totals. The particular example from the article points to a colony of Brown pelicans nesting on Raccoon Island off the coast of Louisiana.  For more information, see this collection of photos and article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “Louisiana Report: Oiled Mangroves and the Birds Within,” by Hugh Powell.

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The Paperless Classroom

I’m not the first to write about it, and I certainly won’t be the last — recent posts at the “Teach Paperless” and “Adventures in Pencil Integration” blogs come to mind as right on-point and more in-depth than this one — but I’ve been giving a lot more thought to this idea of the Paperless Classroom.  The biggest shift in my thinking (over the past 2-3 years or so) has been realizing that it’s not actually about the paper (in fact, Shelly Blake-Plock makes this very point at the Teach Paperless post above). I think that’s where it started, though, with the paper part of it. 

“Let’s use less paper” is a commendable and an achievable goal (and also a predictable one for a science department, especially for teachers of environmental science).  So we’ve moved towards handing in documents electronically, having students attach homework assignments to emails, post work and PowerPoints to Shared folders on the school server, reading current events articles and blogs online, even taking tests during class on laptops.  This is good.  But this move to electronic documents doesn’t necessarily change the way assignments are completed, doesn’t really change the assignments themselves.  (A mindless and pedantic homework assignment done electronically is still mindless and pedantic.  See Dan Meyer’s TED talk on “paint-by-numbers classwork,” which definitely doesn’t just apply to math.)

What “going paperless” really does — what it has the potential to do —  is to open up a whole new tool set; it should force us to rethink the types of assignments we give.  Are we just having kids type instead of hand-write assignments?  Does that really improve learning?  How can using technology improve learning?

A colleague and I presented last winter at a CAIS conference on 21st Century Skills.  Here’s my post about our presentation. Ours was one of the least technologically involved presentations at the conference (which wasn’t about technology as much as skills that will be useful in any field as our students move into a world that is more connected than ours, and will be different in ways that we can’t yet predict: communication, collaboration, empathy, problem-solving, etc).  We didn’t use any high-tech devices or any expensive software.  The most high-tech aspect of our project (on a fairly old-school project involving debating other students, in person), was having partners share information on Google Docs. What we found was that this tool changed how kids shared information.  It helped them organize their research, it facilitated documentation of sources, and it kept partners accountable for pulling their weight (an unintended yet positive effect!).

New technology pieces can be unhelpful (see Death By PowerPoint), and they can sometimes be fancier ways of doing the same old thing (a Smart Board can really just be a brighter chalk board if you want it to be that).  But they can also improve what we do — using Jing to give feedback to students, using Twitter as a way of watching news unfold in real-time (we searched the hashtag #oilspill in my seventh grade class back in May, then created our own Twitter feed of useful links as we read about the mess in the gulf), using Glogster in the classroom, or having students blog, etc, etc.

When we start using technological tools that change the way we teach for the better, to change the way kids learn, that’s when it gets interesting.  The fact that it happens to use less paper in the process is nice, too.

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What to read next?

Dan Coleman at Open Culture put up a post a few weeks ago alerting folks to Flavorwire’s List of Summer Reading Lists.  This meta list compiles literary suggestions from the New York Times, NPR, Details, Arts Beat, Mother Jones, and a few others.  There’s a lot to choose from there.  On the teaching and pedagogy side of things, there’s also the Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Reading Recommendations.  Not too many beach reads in there, but who reads pedagogy on the beach anyway?

So, not to be outdone, here’s my list, what I’m planning to read, with some recommendations:

– – – – – – – –

Planning to Read (I probably won’t get through all, but these are on my shelf, or at least on my radar):

The Soul of Baseball (Joe Posnanski)

They Marched Into Sunlight (David Maraniss)

Crow Planet (Lyanda Lynn Haupt)

True North (Jim Harrison)

The Wolverine Way (Douglas Chadwick)

Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

– – – – – – –


A Soldier of the Great War (Mark Helprin).  I’ll recommend this every summer, actually.  An epic story that spans most of the 20th Century, told by the protagonist as an old man looking back on his life.  Helprin writes brilliant sentences, and he creates heroic characters that survive trial-by-fire of some sort.  In this case the crucible that he survives is the first World War.  It’s long, but one of my favorite books, period.  Even better than Winter’s Tale, which I also loved.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank (Thad Carhart).  This is definitely a music nerd book, likable especially if you’ve ever played piano, whether you continued with it or not.  You might like the book even if you haven’t played, because it’s a well told story about the author’s rediscovery of that interest/hobby.  There’s a lot of music history and some detailed explanations of the mechanism/workings/action of the piano, which are interesting to me, but might not be for all.  It’s a quick read, with interesting characters (the owner of the piano shop, a piano tuner fond of his red wine, past music instructors).  I really enjoyed it.

Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the making of Blood on the Tracks (Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard).  Bob recorded Blood on the Tracks in September of ’74 in New York.  He went back to Minnesota over the holidays, and he decided that he didn’t like how a bunch of tracks turned out, so he rerecorded them with some local musicians in Minnesota.  The album notes didn’t ever credit these guys.  Really interesting story.  The “lost” NY sessions (the scrapped ones) are out there on the interweb if you look hard enough, and it’s fascinating to hear what was originally recorded but put aside.  The MN tracks include Tangled up in Blue, Idiot Wind, and a couple more.  Fascinating, especially if you know and love the record.

The Lost City of Z (David Grann).  This book describes real adventure and Indiana-Jones-type exploring in the modern era.  It also reflects back a century to the imperialist age of planting flags, “conquering” and “discovering” lands for the home country.  It reminded me in parts (and it falls into the same category) of River of Doubt (Millard), which I thought was a terrific telling of Roosevelt’s nearly fatal expedition to find the head of said uncharted river.  Both chronicle explorations into the Amazon in the early 20th Century, with varying degrees of tragedy and/or misfortune (the expeditions, not the books, which were both successful).

Manhood For Amateurs (Michael Chabon).  Chabon writes beautifully; he is my favorite author since Helprin.  They both construct intricate and incredible sentences that demand to be read again (both to savor and to fully understand, in some cases).  This book is Chabon’s second work of non-fiction (after Maps and Legends, where he writes about fiction), and it’s a raw, brutally honest, revealing look at his life and relationships as father, son, brother, and husband.  It’s deep and it’s quirky, as Chabon seems to be himself.  Parts are hilarious, and parts are heartbreaking, especially where he describes the mistakes and regrets of current and past relationships.  What comes through loud and clear is his love for his family, and I feel that this book represents a kind of window into his life that I felt privileged to look through for a while.  Chabon was on NPR’s All Things Considered in October of ’09 to talk about the book.

– – – – – – – – – –

I was happy to hear that Ruhlman is working on a follow-up to Charcuterie.  I’ve been cooking my way through that (my recent 4th-of-July experiment to make his Chicago-Style All Beef Hot Dogs was a big success — a ton of work, but really tasty, tasty work).  And I’m putting out a request, if anyone has any literary connections with these authors or their agents, that I’d like some new non-fiction by David Quammen (who sounds like he’s working on a new book on zoonitic diseases, according to this Tree Hugger interview); or a new novel from Mark Helprin (who has been writing about digital copyright law and Air Force fighter planes, but not fiction, as far as I can tell).  I’ll be happy when their next books are finished.

I’m always looking for suggestions.  Thanks to my friends Will and Dalton for several of the recommendations above.  So what are you reading?  What am I missing?

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