Eating Frankenfish

November 27, 2012

Ian Simpson has an interesting article on the movement to reduce the numbers of the invasive snakehead fish more appealing to restaurants and their customers.

[Snakeheads have] dense, meaty, white flesh with a mild taste that is ideal for anything from grilling to sauteing.

[But] the fish are air breathers that can last for days out of water. Even when gutted and with their throats cut, they gape for breath, said John Rorapaugh, director of sustainability and sales at ProFish, a Washington wholesaler.

“Once they get to mature size, they are on top of the food chain and are ravenous,” he said.

Josh Newhard, an expert on the snakehead with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said it was too early to say what the snakehead’s long-term impact would be on its invaded environment. … “The potential is really high for them to impact other fish species. The fact that people want to remove them from the system is really good,” he said.

–Simpson (2012): U.S. chefs’ solution for invading Frankenfish? Eat ’em from Reuters via Yahoo! News.

My middle-school students are reading Janet Kagan’s short story, “The Loch Moose Monster” as part of our discussion about genetics, ecology and educational environments. This article makes a nice complement.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Eating Frankenfish, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Teaching as an Apprenticeship

August 15, 2012

I’ve always favored an apprenticeship (epistemological) model for teaching. Not so much learning facts, but learning how people with long experience in an area approach problems to be solved. So to have students do what scientists do (or historians for that matter), and to model how these experts think.

David Brook’s, The Social Animal, expresses this philosophy in a more narrative form:

Of course, Ms. Taylor wanted to impart knowledge, the sort of stuff that shows up on tests. But within weeks, students forget 90 percent of the knowledge they learn in class anyway. The only point of being a teacher is to do more than impart facts; it’s to shape the way students perceive the world, to help a student absorb the rules of a discipline. …

She didn’t so much teach them as apprentice them. Much unconscious learning is done through immitation. She exhibited ways of thinking through a problem and then hoped her students participated along with her.

She forced them to make mistakes. …

She tried to get students to interrogate their own unconscious opinions. …

She also forced them to work. …

— Brooks, D., 2012: The Social Animal.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Teaching as an Apprenticeship, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

What Causes Autism?

April 18, 2012

Martha Herbert argues that diet and environmental toxins play a significant role in creating autism in an interview with Anne Strainchamps on To the Best Of Our Knowledge.

After much thought, I have come to the formulation that autism may be most comprehensively understood and helped through an inclusive whole-body systems approach, where genes and environment are understood to interplay.

— from Martha Herbert’s Website.

Herbert is the author of The Autism Revolution, and her website also hosts her scientific publications.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. What Causes Autism?, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Foraging for Food

April 15, 2012

The Splendid Table has an enticing interview with Hank Shaw who just wrote a book on foraging for food in the woods and how to cook what you find. The book’s called, “Hunt, Gather, Cook“.

Shaw’s website is full of details about his adventures in foraging, as well as a lot of recipes — including some excellent photographs of the work in progress.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Foraging for Food, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Discovering the Discworld: Where to Start With Terry Pratchett

November 14, 2011

Rowan Kaiser asserts that Mort‘s the best place to start to discover the wonderful novels of Terry Pratchett.

the Discworld books combine silliness, satire, philosophy, and strong characterization to create a unique, often wonderful tone that’s more than capable of supporting a series with so many installments. But the number of installments can seem overwhelming, especially given that while the books have standalone narratives, they also have consistent sets of characters who develop over the course of the series, leading to an apparently complicated web of a few different, occasionally overlapping series-within-a-series.

–Kaiser (2011): Gateways To Geekery: Terry Pratchett novels in The Onion’s A.V. Club.

My recommendation would be one of her runner-up gateways — either Guards! Guards! or Wyrd Sisters — but she makes good points. Her third runner-up, Small Gods, which is one of the stand-alone novels is one of my favorites, and was my first Pratchett book. And it got me hooked.

Pratchett’s work is intelligent fantasy, in that it’s a lot like the hard science fiction I prefer. It sets up the rules of its universe and then follows them to their logical conclusions, no matter how absurd.

I often wonder how these books would appeal to adolescents since there’s a distinct possibility that much of the quite enjoyable satire would pass over their heads. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents won the Carnegie Medal for children/young adults, but while it retains Pratchett’s characteristic style and humor, it was written for a younger demographic, unlike most of his other books. I did get one student to read Small Gods, and her response, with a grimace was, “It made me think“.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Discovering the Discworld: Where to Start With Terry Pratchett, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

The Ingredients of “Character”

September 26, 2011

Some key performance-character strengths:

zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.

— Tough (2011): What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? in The New York Times’ Education Issue

Paul Tough’s thought provoking article is a great overview of some of the recent research on character, and discusses a few attempts to instill character building into school.

Levin [co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools ] noticed that … the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class.

— Tough (2011): What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?

Much of the work on character is based on the universal character characteristics identified in the book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (Peterson and Seligman, 2004) and the research of Angela Duckworth (her research page is a good place to find copies of her publications).

Duckworth’s Grit Scale, seems to be a remarkably good predictor of GPA, and perhaps more interestingly, corresponded inversely to the number of hours of television students watched: “gritter” students did better in school and watched less TV.

Among adolescents, the Grit–S [short Grit Scale] longitudinally predicted GPA and, inversely, hours watching television. Among cadets at the United States Military Academy, West Point, the Grit–S predicted retention.

— Duckworth and Quinn (2009): Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit–S)

The grit survey would probably be a useful addition to the Personal World curriculum.

One interesting application discussed in the article is at the KIPP middle schools in NYC. There they issue a Character Report Card and integrate discussion of character into all the classes: a language class might talk about how much self control the protagonist in a novel has and how that works out for them.

I’d be extremely reluctant to have to grade my students on twenty four character traits. While it might be a useful rubric to have and discuss and build on students’ positive self-conceptions, I fear that it might also significantly reinforce the negative conceptions as well.

Imbuing a language of character as a subtext of the curriculum seems like a great idea however.

Performance vs. Moral Character

One important critique of much of this work is that it focuses on “performance” character, the character traits that predict high achievement, rather than “moral” character which focuses on the ability to work well with others.

These two perspectives on the same character traits need careful attention. From a performance perspective, social intelligence, can be seen as a way of getting ahead – something that is somewhat manipulative, but from a moral perspective, social intelligence is intrinsically beneficial to the person and the society around them.

And perhaps this is the biggest problem with performance-character. It is extrinsically motivated: do this and you will get this reward. The intrinsic nature of moral-character seems much more in line with a progressive approach to teaching. Certainly, much care should be taken in how we think about and include character building in education.

The Character Education Partnership has a number of lesson plans and best practices for all grade levels, that focus more on moral character.

Giving Students the Opportunity to Fail

Finally, Tough talks about the fact that students need the time and space to explore, try difficult things, and to fail, in order to really build character.

The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure, and in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.

— Dominic Randolph (2011) in Tough (2011): What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? in The New York Times’ Education Issue

This is tied into the central theme of the movie Race To Nowhere and the book The Price of Privilege, that argue that, for many affluent students, the stress of excessively high academic expectations are having some seriously negative effects.

People with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. – Joan Didion (1961), via Word on the Street (2010)

(hat tip to Ms. D. for the link to the article)

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. The Ingredients of "Character", Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Adolescents Versus Their Brains

August 15, 2011

The part of the brain responsible for logic and reasoning is slow to develop compared to the rest during our adolescence. As a result, adolescents are driven way too much by their emotions and instincts. This means that a lot of the time someone else, teachers and parents usually, have to provide that rationality for them, and help them develop those thinking skills for themselves.

That, at least, was my take-home message after reading David Walsh’s excellent book Why Do They Act That Way. He does an excellent job explaining how the brain develops during adolescence, how it affects the way teenagers behave, and some of the best approaches to dealing with it.

There are a lot of excellent details about how brain development interacts with hormones to create many of the behaviors we find typical of teenagers. Since puberty proceeds differently for girls and boys, Walsh also highlights the differences in the timing of development, and the contrasting results of the different hormones released.

Yet, he also recognizes that adolescent behavior is not solely the result of biology. The effects of neurological and hormonal changes are amplified in industrial societies where kids spend less time with parents, and more time with peers, than in non-WIERD cultures (see The Myth of Adolescent Angst) which leads into his approach to dealing with teens.

To address this unfortunate combination of nature and culture, Walsh advocates a structured approach to parenting, where rules are clear, reasonable, and enforced. This, however, needs to be balanced with the need to keep lines of communication open, which is not an easy trick. Teenagers will want to push you away, but it’s necessary to keep connected to them anyway.

He also emphasizes the need for mentoring good behavior and rational thinking, because, as we’ve seen before, while the developing pre-frontal cortex provides the capacity for formal thinking, it needs practice and training to work well. And, after all, two of the key things we ultimately look for in adults are self-control and the ability to think rationally.

This book is an extremely useful read for parents and teachers (though the first chapter is a bit slow for the impatient). It does a great job of explaining how biology affects behavior, and how to deal with them. I particularly like fact that Walsh has found that teens find it useful to know all this biology stuff too, and it affects how they behave.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Adolescents Versus Their Brains, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Guide to Using a Microscope

August 11, 2011

Sitting innocuously on the clearance table at a Barnes & Noble (in Cedar Rapid, Iowa actually) was a copy of Georg Stehli’s The Microscope and How to Use It.

At 75% off it was less than $3, which is quite a steal for a guide to what I found to be the most fascinating piece of scientific equipment for my middle schoolers. One of their first natural world lessons was on how to use the microscope. In the classroom there was always one sitting on the shelf, protected by its translucent plastic cover, but easily accessible.

I also took one everywhere, including to the cabins on our immersion trips, which is where they discovered the crystalline structure of salt and sugar grains, and the microfossils at Coon Creek.

And, interestingly enough, my microscopy posts are some of the most popular posts on this blog (the onion cell is regularly in the top ten).

The Microscope and how to use it by Georg Stehli.

Apart from the basics of how to use a microscope, Stehli’s book goes into simple sample preparations and preservation for almost everything you’re likely to encounter in the curriculum, in the classroom, and in the back yard. Though neither crystal structure nor microfossils are covered, the techniques for looking a the hard parts of biological specimens are applicable.

I would have loved to have had a copy of this last year when I was trying to figure out which were the best dyes to use for some of the odder samples my students came up with, and how to make them into permanent slides. It’s not easy to find this kind of broad reference online.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Guide to Using a Microscope, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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