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It’s always good to get outside. And having the Long Island Sound 15 minutes away makes partnering with the Maritime Aquarium a great fit. Their new research vessel RV Spirit of the Sound is gorgeous. A plankton survey, benthic bio dredge, and otter trawl gave us plenty to measure and discuss. Students and teachers alike were happy to be out and getting their hands dirty!



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Thursday 11/12/15 brain dump

8:30 General session panel – teachers, science & societal controversy

Ken Miller on teaching evolution. 

Watch “Judgement Day” documentary on intelligent design (Nova). Read: Alan Leshner – “Bridging the opinion gap” (Science).

Bombarding people with facts doesn’t work. Information is not the key, in fact it may harden views. The problem is “cultural cognition” an unwillingness of people to identify with the scientific community because of a number of ingrained beliefs/practices (Dan Kahan).

– cultural connections to science matter.

– Is there hope? When you look at an age related breakdown, there IS. Young people are much more accepting of evolution.

Jacquelyne Gill – paleoecology at University of Maine

How did ecosystems respond to climate change in the past, and how can that inform what may happen in the future. (Forensics for the environment)

Communication requires an empathic connection. As scientists, we’re trained in factual defense, and this isn’t really the best way to go about it. Many people tend to reject the Consensus Model (statements like “97% scientists agree”). It’s not going to convince anyone. In fact, it’s important to recognize that many ideological differences are really about government and how much regulation we’re comfortable with.

In talking with people, “make an incremental push in the realm of trust.” This was a terrific talk.

Seth Mnookin – on vaccination – Putting his book “The Panic Virus” onto the stack

Do you make decisions based on emotions or truth? Both. First, find out the truth, the reality (as a journalist)

Emotions run the opposition. And the way to counter that is not by attacking it, but by an empathic connection. You can’t convince the conspiracy theorists. This connects with what Jacquelyn said. Make “I” statements about what works for you based on research.

I’m going to read this book.

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Great Grey Owl, Lamar Valley, YNP. Photo by Morgan Nichols.

Great Grey Owl, Lamar Valley, YNP. Photo by Morgan Nichols.

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Happy Birthday Gregor Mendel (and to my sister Rebekah! Sorry that Google didn't work up that sketch I sent them for you)

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"The Wolverine Way" Douglas Chadwick. Patagonia Books 2010

I mentioned this book, “The Wolverine Way” by Douglas Chadwick, back in July after posting about the Ocelot sighting in Arizona, and I’ve been meaning to write a full review since finishing it.  (Yes, I know it’s been a while.  Other half-written posts since then have included Experiments in Pickling, How to Build a Cold Smoker, and several food-related summer ideas that could possibly end up at some point in the future as a collaborative food blog.  More on that later if it comes to fruition.)

I first read about Chadwick’s book in an essay of the same title “The Wolverine Way” in a Patagonia catalog, which described the project and the book, and it contains longer excerpts than included here.  It’s what got me hooked on the book.

This book is fascinating, and a must-read for any outdoor enthusiast or armchair biologist.  Chadwick describes his experience on the Glacier Wolverine Project, and he introduces you to this incredible dynamo of an animal with first-hand accounts of his work tracking and tagging wolverines in Montana.  He also brings you into the circle of the dedicated leaders and volunteers who carried out the study; these are people I’d love to sit around a campfire with.  (I was a seasonal wildlife intern for a few years before I started teaching, studying birds, and this is a project I wish I had known about back then, because I’d have been happy to switch over to mammals for a while.  Plus, let’s be honest, who else would you rather sit around a campfire with?  Field biologists, quirky as they are, make for great conversation.)

In the grand scheme of things, for a North American mammal in the 21st century, we don’t know a ton about wolverines.  Their scientific name, Gulo gulo, literally means “glutton glutton.”  Although they consume what they must (when they can) in a quite unforgiving habitat, they have largely been vilified over the course of history through myth, misunderstanding, and hyperbole.  Chadwick provides some insight into their natural history, including new information on its territorial ranges, metabolism, diet, and social structure within family groups.  He also describes the selective forces that have served to shape the wolverine over thousands of years into the creature that it is today, one built for the brutal cold, for survival on ice-covered peaks, where it has a distinct advantage over just about anything.

“…the list of adaptations that allow wolverines to make an ally of winter is impressive.  Yet until scientists started to focus on climate change, no one gave much thought to how creatures with built-in snowshoes, a super-cozy fur coat, smoldering metabolism, and food cached in nature’s refrigerators are supposed to handle swimsuit weather in our ever-toastier Age of Industrial Exhaust.”

I also appreciate that Chadwick is working to bring wider attention to the Freedom to Roam initiative (along with Patagonia), an effort to to connect large areas of wilderness with migratory corridors for animals. He describes wolverines as basically “badass, but vulnerable,” and he explains why in another Patagonia Environmentalism Essay called “The One Thing Wolverines Can’t Take On.”  All are worth reading.

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I wrote last fall about Timothy Egan’s book, “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America,” which I enjoyed.  (This book falls into that category of “enjoyed” that includes remarkable descriptions of tragedy such as Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, or Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, works that hit you in the gut and are hard to put down.)  Egan writes for the NY Times Opinionator section, and his piece “In Fire Country” (August 4, 2010) is worth checking out.  This month marks the 100 yr anniversary of the Big Burn in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana and Idaho.  You can see Egan discuss The Big Burn here, where he provides a nice background on the book and the birth of conservation in the US.

In Fire Country. Timothy Egan, The New York Times, August 4, 2010

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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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