Biomimicry, Sabbatical

Biomimicry: Innovative Imitation

IMG_3543The Kearsarge Cougars STEM Camp is an incredible two-week experience for middle schoolers of the Kearsarge Regional School District.  Participants have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of exemplary educational workshops from computer programming to bridge building to laser cutting and SO much more!  I had the privilege of being a presenter this past Friday – one of the last scheduled events of my sabbatical year.

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When I was asked to be a part of STEM Camp I wanted to make sure that I was taking my sabbatical’s focus, the rocky shore ecosystem, and creating a seminar for students about the benefits of studying biology.  I have always been fascinated with the many mind-boggling characteristics the organisms of the rocky shore display.  They live in a harsh environment, so it is imperative that they have their superhero-like features.  It was when I was studying the blue mussel a few years ago that I came across biomimicry.

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Biomimicry, not yet recognized by Microsoft Word as being a word, is the innovative process of human problems being solved by imitating solutions displayed by nature.  One prime example of biomimicry that many people are aware of is the invention of Velcro.  Human problem: fastening objects quickly and effectively without the use of adhesives.  Nature solution: cockleburs.

When I discovered that blue mussels produce byssal threads that are stronger than our Achilles tendon, can adhere to objects underwater, and are flexible at the same time, my first thought was that humans need to mimic this amazing adaptation.  After a quick Google search I found out that scientists were already on it: a soy-based, waterproof adhesive has already been invented in the process of biomimicry.  Engineers and scientists have yet to determine how to copy a byssal thread’s ability to be simultaneously strong and flexible, however.

So what did our STEM Camp workshop focus on?

  • Defining biomimicry
  • Discovering examples of biomimicry
  • Determining the importance of biomimicry (when confronted with a human problem, ask “Has nature already solved this problem?”)

Students learned about many examples of biomimicry via photos, videos, games and demonstrations:

 

Human Problem

 

Nature Solution

 

No strong, waterproof adhesives Blue Mussel Byssal Threads
Many deaths due to hospital infections Shark Skin
Bullet trains are too loud Kingfisher Beak
Large buildings are difficult to cool Termite Mounds
Fresh water is difficult to find Desert Beetle
It is hard to see proteins in the blood  Fireflly Enzymes
Industrial fans are too loud, expensive Humpback Whale Fins
Birds fly into our windows Spider Webs
Vaccines don’t survive transportation Tardigrades (aka Water Bears)
Adhesives hard to remove, make mess Gecko Anatomy

If you are curious about biomimicry, the problems and solutions mentioned in the table above are extremely brief and uninformative, so I encourage you to do some online investigations of your own.  Feel free to peruse the presentation I created below as well for more detailed facts.

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I cannot conclude this article without profusely thanking Rana Gupta, CEO of Felsuma LLC, as well as University of Massachusetts professors Duncan Irschick and Al Crosby.  Gupta provided me with extremely informative information about GeckSkin™, the technology that was invented by Irschick and Crosby.  I was able to relay this information to the students during my presentation.  The professors and Gupta also provided me with excellent GeckSkin™ products to share with the students that imitate the technology they created in their lab.  Gupta, Irschick and Crosby are not only invested in their impressive invention, but they’re also very invested in education, and I am very appreciative of their assistance and expertise.

STEM

Lastly, I wanted to take the time to acknowledge and applaud the efforts of the many people behind the Kearsarge Cougars STEM Camp (particularly Dom DiDominic and John Corley) for creating a fantastic experience for their campers.  What really makes this STEM Camp extra special is the strong bond of community that resonates from every lesson and activity.  Local businesses, community leaders and educators all play a vital role in the success of this camp and the education and enjoyment it provides.  Well done, Kearsarge!

Rocky Shore Curriculum, Sabbatical

Creating Critters at Andover Elementary

“Imagine visiting the rocky shore off the coast of New Hampshire during low tide and then mysteriously shrinking to a minuscule height of two inches.”

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When posing fantastical situations like this one to a classroom full of third graders, the creative and analytical juices start to flow with incredible force.  Imaginative scenarios can excite and engage students, creating a thirst for knowledge and sparking innovative ideas.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting the third grade classrooms of Andover Elementary Middle School in Andover, New Hampshire.  I presented the storyline above (referencing Ms. Frizzle and her magic bus), and then I posed the following question: What dangers would you face?  The answers that followed either reinforced prior knowledge about the rocky shore, or led to an understanding of the type of chaotic environment rocky shore organisms face every day.

Fran

After our brief discussion of rocky shore challenges, I read a fabulous book, “Between the Tides” by Fran Hodgkins.  This non-fiction book for children does an excellent job of describing several rocky shore creatures and the many characteristics they have that enable them to survive their ecosystem.  It has beautiful illustrations, fantastic yet simple vocabulary, and its length is perfect to be an entertaining read-aloud book.

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With curiosity sparked and knowledge disseminated via Hodgkins’ story, it was time to guide students in what has become one of my favorite activities for elementary students (Lesson 7 & Lesson 19).  Students are asked to use their prior knowledge and ingenuity to “create a critter” which would be able to survive the rocky shore.  This is a life science meets engineering science lesson that can also double as a formative assessment.  Students are only provided with five index cards, scissors and Scotch tape for their creation.

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It is always a wonder to me to see what young minds can come up with in a short amount of time with short notice of their create-a-critter challenge.  The bright and enthusiastic Andover students came up with a variety of incredible creations including combinations of actual rocky shore animals – and one student had the impressive notion of using the tape as an actual sticking agent to help its critter to hold on tight to the rocks!  Everything the students built, in one way or another, reflected their understanding of both the dangers of the rocky shore, and the adaptations animals need to survive this harsh environment.

THANK YOU Mr. Hubbard and Mrs. Peters allowing me to come and visit your classrooms for an afternoon.  It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to spend time with your awesome and intelligent students!

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New Hampshire Science Education, Sabbatical

New Hampshire Journal of Education Article

After having received an “EDie” because of being this year’s Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical recipient, the New Hampshire Journal of Education contacted me and requested that I write an article on a subject related to my project.

My project this year has been geared toward assisting and encouraging elementary teachers and student teachers to be better prepared to provide effective science instruction for their students.  The topic of my article focuses on providing statistics of NH’s student performances over the last several years, as well as ideas on how we can improve our science instruction (particularly at the elementary and collegiate levels).

I’ll refrain from writing anymore about it and encourage you to read it instead:

How New Hampshire’s Educators Can Stimulate Growth in Science

Curriculum, Sabbatical

Nearing the Finish Line

It is hard to believe that a year ago I was preparing for the end of the school year and getting ready to embark on my sabbatical journey.  Now there are only a couple months left in my sabbatical year and time seems to be washing away faster than the tides!

The Last Month:

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  • April 14th was the “release date” if you will of the marine science unit I created collaboratively with the NH Sea Grant, Seacoast Science Center, illustrator Adam Kelley, Hobblebush Design and the New England Aquarium – located on the homepage of engageyourstudents.org.

Carol Steingart

  • Carol Steingart, a local marine science educator and former Gulf of Maine Marine Education Association (GOMMEA) president, promoted the curriculum at a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference in Los Angeles, California in April.

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  • More recently I had the privilege of promoting this curriculum at the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association (NHSTA) Spring Conference.

 

The Next Two Months:

  • I will be seeking out New Hampshire educators who are willing to pilot this curriculum so that I can take their feedback and build upon and refine the curriculum.

 

  • Next week I will be teaching a couple of lessons from the curriculum to students at the Andover Elementary Middle School.

 

  • I will be traveling with docents from the UNH SeaTrek Programs to schools around the state in order to learn from them and promote the curriculum.

 

  • The Seacoast Science Center (SSC) and I will be collaborating to create a workshop or two centered around the curriculum I am offering, as well as planning ways to promote the curriculum – including having it available on their website.

 

  • I will be teaching a few summer institute classes at New England College and Keene State College in late June.

 

  • The Kearsarge Regional School District’s Middle School has asked me to present at their STEM Camp this July and I was more than willing to participate!

 

  • I will be presenting a workshop at the New England Aquarium on July 30th.

 

I am so grateful for all of the people who have encouraged and supported me throughout this sabbatical.  I know it is not over yet, but as I near the finish line I can’t help but begin to lament how quickly it has passed, and at the same time reflect on how thankful I have been for this amazing opportunity.

 

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Rocky Shore Curriculum, Sabbatical

Three Pivotal Numbers

Good morning!  I am writing a very brief blog post this morning to celebrate three specific numbers associated with my sabbatical project:

1,000 – Engageyourstudents.org, the website I have created to track the progress of my project’s objectives and to be a home to the complete and published rocky shore curriculum has already reached 1,000 hits!

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4 – This morning I “googled” the following words: rocky shore curriculum. Engageyourstudents.org came up fourth in a list of 117,000 results!

fourth

1 – Although not yet complete, the Rocky Shore Marine Science Curriculum for elementary educators has one complete cover page – special thanks to Adam Kelley (illustrator) and Kirsty Walker (designer) for creating this incredible cover!

cover

Although I have many more lessons to write, many more schools to visit, and many more objectives to carry out before my sabbatical is through, I find it extremely important to recognize and be thankful for each accomplishment, big or small.

Collaboration, Sabbatical

Behind-the-Scenes: The Unseen Action

craftsMany of my friends who are not teachers often don’t know how to approach the “how is work going” conversation.  They have no clue what elementary teachers do for the most part, just as I have no idea what many of my friends actually do all day.  Assumptions abound, however, regarding the responsibilities of elementary educators – such as the presumption that we are continuously preparing arts and crafts projects.  And my favorite conversation go-to: “You have a vacation coming up, right?”  Right…

There are NUMEROUS behind-the-scene responsibilities of teachers many are not aware of, and I am hoping some big-wig director decides to create a documentary on the day in the life of a teacher someday to inform the unaware.  Until that day, friends, you’ll just have to believe me – professional educators do A LOT more than you might think.

Now on to the objective of this post – to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of my project that are currently happening:

  • Illustrator Adam Kelley is currently working on the cover page of the rocky shore ecosystem curriculum (the first draft is the featured image of this blog post).
  • Kirsty Walker, president of Hobblebush Design is currently working on formatting the curriculum.
  • Mark Wiley, Assistant Director of Marine Education at UNH is reviewing and revising the curriculum.
  • Kate Leavitt, Director of Mission Initiatives at the Seacoast Science Center and the education team at the SSC is reviewing and revising the curriculum.
  • Corrine Steever, Teacher Services Supervisor at the New England Aquarium is reviewing and revising the curriculum.
  • Pam Castor and Wendy Corbyn, elementary educators from KRES at Bradford, are going to be reviewing and providing feedback on the curriculum.
  • Plymouth State University – I am meeting with student teachers for the third time next week to assist them with science planning and instruction.
  • Keene State College – currently in discussions of how I can assist their student teachers.
  • Franklin Pierce College – currently in discussions of how I can assist their student teachers.
  • New England College – currently preparing a 2017 summer institute course.
  • Hillsboro-Deering School District – in a couple of weeks we are meeting to discuss how I might assist their educators and students.
  • Hopkinton School District – currently in discussions of how I can assist their educators and students.
  • Last but not least…I’m currently working on my twelfth lesson out of twenty-five lessons for the rocky shore ecosystem curriculum I am developing for New Hampshire educators and beyond.

That’s what is currently going on behind-the-scenes with my project, in a “seashell.”

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“The Rocky Seashore” by my son, Gabe
Sabbatical, Serving the Community

The MainStreet Marketplace and Gallery: The Place to Be

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Have you ever discovered an amazing place and you have torn emotions of selfishly wanting to keep it to yourself, yet unselfishly wanting to shout your discovery from the rooftops?  I recently made this type of discovery while searching for a place to work on my sabbatical project.  Despite selfishly desiring to wait until my sabbatical year was over to exclaim my find, I could not in good conscience keep my discovery a secret.

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So far I have managed to work in a hodgepodge of settings, yet one stands out as the premier place to be productive.  The MainStreet Bookends of Warner is a great bookstore…no, a FANTASTIC bookstore.  Katharine Nevins and her family have created an incredible business that has wonderful products, delightful ambience, and without a doubt the friendliest service around.  But there is an out-in-the-open secret that is rarely tapped of its sweet goodness cozied up to the back of this bookstore: The MainStreet Marketplace and Gallery.

The Marketplace and Gallery is an ideal location if you are seeking out a quiet and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.  Here is a list of the many attributes this bookstore hideaway has to offer:

  1. Seating – several beautiful tables and chairs to choose from
  2. Artwork – several local artists’ illustrations and handcrafted items line the walls
  3. Coffee – delicious coffee from the Woodshed Roasting Company along with fresh half & half from the Contoocook Creamery is available with a $2 donation
  4. Quiet – away from noisy traffic and the hustle and bustle of in-and-out customers you will find rare and invaluable tranquility
  5. Wi-Fi – a strong internet connection awaits to provide your connectivity needs
  6. Setting – the lighting and artistic surroundings provide a cozy and peaceful locale
  7. Events – amazing authors and talented musicians visit here often

So…as much as I’d like to keep this place to myself and its loyal guests, you REALLY should visit the MainStreet Marketplace and Gallery if you are seeking a beautiful and serene place to work, read, and write, or a place to relax with a friend.

You will be thrilled if you do!