Archive for October, 2010

Story Time

My first job out of undergrad was teaching high school math and physics at a New York City public school. It was a crazy and truly unforgettable experience. One of the craziest things I had to do was come up with physics labs in a school that had no equipment to speak of and a laughable budget. “Teacher’s Choice” was the term for the check we got at the beginning of the year to pay for supplies. When I was a teacher it was about $200. This wasn’t that long ago; it’s not like $5000 in 2010 dollars or anything like that. In fact, teachers in NY get even less now than they did when I was in the classroom.

I blew a big chunk of that just on Halloween, because if doing math and science with M&Ms on Halloween is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Beyond that and some paltry other supplies (graph paper, colored chalk), any sort of project I wanted to do with my students was funded out of my pockets. As you can imagine, first year teachers in NYC aren’t exactly living high off the hog. There were a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. There was definitely a “physics of water balloons” lab. I think I did a pretty good job nonetheless. Once I demonstrated Newton’s second law by having students pull me–on rollerblades!–down the hallway keeping constant force on the spring scale between us. It was a pretty visceral way to experience acceleration–for me especially. Still, with a little more money, the kinds of things my students could have done. I could have had my math students build brilliant polyhedral sculptures with Zome Tools. I could have had my physics students making circuits that actually did things. The money just wasn’t there.

The point of this reverie is that microtransactions exist now, and you can make a difference for science teachers and students. Much as I hate to admit it, tossing a water balloon and measuring the distance to the splat isn’t likely to get a kid to pursue a career in physics. There are projects that will, and these projects need funding. Please consider giving a few dollars to Donors Choose. Don’t forget, there are prizes to be won!

Here’s a photo of a bunch of us from my cohort of math teachers in the New York City Teaching Fellows, mere weeks before heading into the classroom for the first time. The youthful idealism, it overwhelms me.

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A moment of silence

Paul the Prognosticating Octopus has died. He had a good life. I really like the tribute Justina Kochansky did on Articulate Matter

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What to do, what to do. Why not be your favorite mollusk? Do you have lots of metro cards hanging around your house? I know I do.

Coney Island - 2007 Mermaid Parade - Metrocard
(photo: wally g, hat: andygpadre8)

What about an old sweatshirt you don’t need?

Here’s the instructable for this costume.

Are you really crafty, or perhaps have a crafty friend?

Nora Renick-Rinehart made this costume for Lucy Knisley.

I’m sure you’ll come up with something…

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Molluscan street art

I had a little hiatus there while I was doing some working and traveling, but I’m back! I’ve seen a couple of really interesting street art pieces lately. The first is a mural I walk by in the Barrio. All four buildings on one particular corner are painted in this trompe-l’œil mosaic style, that’s all very Día De Los Muertos-y. How multiligual was that sentence? Phew! Anyway, I love this snail.

Also, last weekend I found myself in Poughkeepsie, New York, on the Walkway over the Hudson, which is a very cool project not unlike the High Line here in the city, in which an unused elevated rail line is commandeered as public space. This trestle is really high over the Hudson, enough to give one the oolies. It was also a glorious fall day with beautiful foliage and all that good stuff. Very cool. Too bad my photos are junky. Here’s one from from lulun & kame that captures the height well.
Walkway Over the Hudson

The overflow parking area was next to this building with the most puzzling mural I’ve ever seen. A realistic octopus, a stylized and rather bovine octopus, and a submersible that looks like an anglerfish, all in the same underwater scene. What exactly were the artists going for here? In any case, I think it’s pretty awesome.

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Squid Day!

Do you read Articulate Matter by Justina Kochansky? You should. Great squid content. I particularly like this one, called Knittin’.


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Here’s a list the prizes being offered for donating some money to Donors Choose. Please consider funding these awesome projects, and help students in need learn about marine science!

Just forward your receipts to me at shellandmantleATgmailDOTcom, and you’ll be entered to win extremely awesome prizes. They include:

1. A book from the personal library of Kevin at Deep Sea News.
2. A song written about your favorite marine organism by Kevin at Deep Sea News.
3. A hand knit or crocheted mollusk of choice (read this post for a few of the possibilities), made by yours truly.
4. A styrofoam shrunken head crushed by the awesome pressure of deep sea, from Rick at Deep Sea News.
5. Dr. Al Dove will offer this class a guided behind-the-scenes tour at Georgia Aquarium (equivalent to about $300 for a school class of 25) if their project is fully funded (which it is!!!). But wait, there’s more! He will also give a BTS tour to the two biggest donors who identify themselves as DTF readers, plus one guest, when next they are in our fair city of Atlanta. Details here.
6. Mexican Squid memorabilia from Dana Staaf at the always awesome Squid A Day!

More to come! You can give as little as five bucks, or fully fund a project or two. Let’s raise some money and help some students!

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Well, I’m posting during the day, but here’s a photo I took of a chambered nautilus at the New York Aquarium earlier this summer. They have them in a darkened tank with this red lighting, so photography was difficult for my feeble skills. What I came away with is like this nautilus’ indie synth pop album cover.

Now, for the links!

1. The big thing this week is definitely the Census of Marine Life. There’s a lot to dig into on their site, but I started with the incredible image gallery, and I loved the slide show in the Times. My favorite new-to-me creature is the Flamingo Tongue Snail.

(photo: Nick Hobgood)

2. This news blip cracked me up. I’m not sure why it’s newsworthy that a church blesses animals, but I do find the image of dogs, cats, and a snail “lining up” to be really funny. Here in NYC, the snail would have been totally cut in line by all the other animals for being too slow, and probably would gotten a lot of nasty insults slung its way.

3. Yucatan Octopus get its own origin seal. It’s like champagne, but for octopuses.

4. Expose a baby snail to platinum and it won’t grow an external shell (sometimes, under certain concentrations). This study has implications in how slugs may have evolved from their externally shelled ancestors.

5. Fossilized mollusk trafficking! Serious business.

6. I have a momentous birthday coming up next week. If you’re wondering what to get me, this porthole with pink tentacle is still in stock!

7. An octopus in captivity lays eggs! I sure hope they are successful in hatching them. What a treat for visitors at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre!

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Happy Cephalopod Awareness Days! For more about the history, see this post on the Cephalopodiatrist. Today is Octopus Day. For today I wrote a teensy poem and I’ll share this photo of a North Pacific Giant Octopus I saw at the Seattle Aquarium. I don’t know if it’s the geometry of the enclosure or if that octopus was just in a particularly feisty mood, but it was by far the most active octopus I’ve ever seen in captivity.


And now, my Octopoem

The tips of the tentacle could define
the vertices of a cube
a fleeting octagon
an umbrella that furls and unfurls,
furls and unfurls.

These teardrops are salt but not sorrow.
I can’t say who this flesh belongs to.

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While I don’t blog exclusively about marine mollusks, I’m teaming up with the ocean blogosphere to raise money for students in need. Please join us and support ocean and environmental education in the United States. Every year science bloggers unite to raise thousands of dollars and impact thousands of students. You can make a difference and make a donation (tax-deductible!) of as little as $5 and as much as you like through Donors Choose. You can choose from the various projects we’ve highlited in which teachers need supplies to teach their students about marine science.

Sadly I can’t post the widget (WordPress doesn’t do javascript) but here’s the link again!

You may be pleased to know there’s more in it for you than just warm fuzzy feelings. If you donate, email your receipt to me at shellandmantleATgmailDOTcom, and you’ll be entered into a raffle for fabulous prizes! Prizes will be announced over time, but there are already some really great ones: Kevin over at the ever awesome Deep Sea News will be giving away a book from his personal library as well as writing a song about a winner’s favorite organism! Amazing. What rhymes with nudibranch?

My contribution to the raffle? I will knit or crochet the mollusk of choice for a winner. If you ask really nicely, I might consider making a non-molluscan marine organism, provided there’s a pattern. But don’t you want a mollusk? There’s conchs! Nudibranchs! How about this octopus? Not this particular one, made by my friend WonderMike, but one just like it!

Mrs. Octopus Dines On Starfish

I’ll be continuing to promote this cause for the duration of the drive, until November 9. So donate, let me know, and win something!

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How badly do I want to go to the Sydney Aquarium? Really badly. Sure, it’s one of the few places in the world with dugongs in captivity. Yeah, it’s got platypuses. But you know what else it has? Giant nudibranchs!

Wait, what? I don’t know how this whole project had escaped my attention. The Future Is Wild is a whole big speculative biology project that includes classroom curriculum, a forthcoming feature movie, and this augmented reality exhibition at the Sydney Aquarium. I’m so curious about this. As someone who has spent much of her career dealing with informal education–in my case, in museums and video games–there’s an interesting line to skirt between being fun and delivering meaningful content, and I would love to see how this plays with that tension. I obviously don’t think those two things, fun and content, are mutually exclusive; I get kicks out of a good wikipedia fugue for pete’s sake. It is about getting an audience who is not preternaturally inclined towards this stuff to give it a try with the hopes of lots of outcomes. For biology related things, I think an important outcome is instilling a conservation ethic. For all sciences, it can be about fostering curiosity in general, or exposing young people to something they could make a career out of, etc. The multitudes of goals and angles of attack are why I tend to enjoy informal education more than the classroom stuff.

Also, what exactly does the augmented reality thing mean? Is it like I hold my iPhone up to a real life nudibranch and I get the blorpy version on the screen? So curious.

Also, this is a serious nod to the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, is it not? Megasquid!

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