Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Life in a Leaf Litter

I will never feel quite the same when I walk on a pile of leaves. Today an 8th grade class got to meet Dr. Timothy Pearce, Assistant Curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh PA and head of their Mollusk section. Our students were able to enjoy the view from a front row seat while Dr. Pearce, whose research focuses on terrestrial land snails, sorted a fresh sample of a Pennsylvania forest floor and identified life forms that many people never notice. The students learned a lot about this second largest group in the animal kingdom (only insects are larger). They got to see up close and personal snails, slugs and clams that are all members of this species called mollusks. They had plenty of questions for Dr. Pearce too. What do they eat? How do they mate? This was all part of a Meet the Scientist videoconference program at the Carnegie Museum. Dr. Pearce who besides being a leading expert on the subject of mollusks (He literally co-wrote the book "Mollusks: A Guide to their Study, Collection and Observation") also sees himself as a good will ambassador for getting others to appreciate these "under-appreciated” animals. The students got to see a snail’s beating heart. They also were able to observe through close up cameras the critters that can be found in a fresh leaf sample. Dr. Pearce by using three increasingly fine filters, which looked to me like the flour sifters used in baking, demonstrated how to find life in a leaf litter. Dr. Pearce invited the students to join him in identifying mollusks in the New York City area. Yes, we have nature preserves too. We a’re not all concrete. He e-mailed the students a classification guidebook. The class plans to go on a trip and collect their own leaf samples. One of the interesting things the students learned is how the mollusk habitat is being threatened. In Pennsylvania they are building a road right through a mollusk habitat. When winter comes and the salt spreaders come down the highway the snails habitat will be threatened. And every kid knows what happens when you put salt on snails or slugs. They shrivel up and eventually dry up."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Suburban, urban and rural

One day in mid August I replied to a posting from a school in Texas looking for urban and rural partners for some videoconferences on communities and how they are alike and different. I was confident that I could find third grade classes in our region interested in representing the urban experience. What followed one month later were four delightfully informative vc connections that explored the differences and similarities of these three communities. Prior to the connections the three classes exchanged a list of questions that they had for each other. The students then prepared answers to these questions. Each class also prepared a short Powerpoint presentation that described their school and community.This whole videoconference idea and most of the coordination was the brainchild of Judith Dallinger, the librarian at the Watauga Elementary School in suburban Texas. A "ten gallon hats off" to this brave educator who saw this project through its successful conclusion.

I helped facilitate two of these conferences and I truly loved every minute of them. The first was a meeting between Watauga, Texas (suburban), Ft. Pierce, Colorado (rural) and Queens, New York (urban). Do you hunt? asked a child from Colorado. For chores the children in Colorado round up the cattle. The New York students quickly cleared up the myth that they lived in mansions and saw famous people everyday. They described the apartment buildings they lived in. The students in New York also shared their feelings about not always feeling safe. After the videoconference was over the classes e-mailed each other and agreed to keep in touch this school year. Hopefully to have another vc too.
The next videoconference was between Texas and New York and this time a class in Alaska was the rural partner. This conference was nothing short of awesome. The students in Alaska live in a village divided by a river. Some of the students come to school by boat. When the river freezes, they have to close the school "River Days". While the kids in NY and Texas are close to the local mall. The students in Alaska have to travel 400 miles to the Walmart in Anchorage. The comparison of weather temperatures was striking. Afterschool activities of mushing (dogsled racing), sledding and skating were popular in Alaska. I could go on and on about the wonderful things these students shared and learned about each other. These communities have many things that are different but as always it is what they have in common that seems to bring these students together.