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 January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Tweeting as Literature

April 9, 2012

“Not far from the Surulere workshop where spray-painter Alawiye worked, a policeman fired into the air. Gravity did the rest.”

Teju Cole (2012) NPR.

Teju Cole reinterprets news articles into tweets. The brevity of the tweets intensifies their emotional impact. The story NPR.

He’s currently going though the New York newspapers of 100 years ago.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Tweeting as Literature, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Police Composite

February 19, 2012

Brian Joseph Davis creates composite sketches of literary characters using the same software used by the police, and the descriptions of the characters in the books.

Composite sketch of Tess from Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Image by Brian Joseph Davis.

She was a fine and handsome girl—not handsomer than some others, possibly—but her mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to colour and shape… The pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was native had hardly as yet settled into its definite shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one upward, when they closed together after a word…Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along to-day, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes…a thick cable of twisted dark hair hanging straight down her back to her waist.

— description by Thomas Hardy, excerpted by Davis (2010): The Composites.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Police Composite, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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How do Writers get Symbolism into their Writing?

December 8, 2011

A “symbol” grows in its own way, out of the facts

— Saul Bellow (1963). (via Butler, 2011 in The Paris Review).

Bruce McAllister wrote 150 authors asking if they intentionally put symbolism in their writing. The year was 1963 and McAllister was 16 at the time. Sarah Butler has posted some of the 75 responses McAllister received.

The responses are quite facinating and quite diverse. One common theme, though, was well expressed in the answers to the question, “Do you feel you consciously plan and place symbolism in your writing?”

  • Ralph Ellison:
    • “Symbolism arises out of action and functions best in fiction when it does so. Once a writer is conscious of the implicit symbolisms which arise in the course of a narrative, he may take advantage of them and manipulate them consciously as a further resource of his art. Symbols which are imposed upon fiction from the outside tend to leave the reader dissatisfied by making him aware that something extraneous has been added.”

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. How do Writers get Symbolism into their Writing?, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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1984 or A Brave New World

November 28, 2011

The future according to Orwell vs. Huxley. Image from

World-shaker tries to draw the modern parallels to 1984 and Brave New World in graphic form.

Orwell’s (1948) distopian view of the future in 1984, warned against the government developing the ability to exert constant, repressive monitoring of everyone, controlling the means of communication and, perhaps more importantly, the use of language. Huxley’s (1932) Brave New World, on the other hand, saw a mass media using your apparent predilection for trivialities to distract you from the important things. These two books are staples of secondary school literature, and it’s easy to see modern parallels; “kinetic military action” is currently my favorite Orwellian term.

Unfortunately, drawing modern parallels to historic literature is fraught with difficulty because it’s so easy: the human brain is predisposed to seeing patterns. World-shaker’s attempt is interesting, but flawed. One of his commenter points out that he compares the entertainment website TMZ to’s news site, which only gets half as many visitors. However, the New York Times’ site gets three times as many visits as TMZ so perhaps he’s fudging the statistics a little to show the trend toward frivolous media.

There are other examples, but the graphic makes does provide a basis for an interesting conversation. The most interesting aspect is that it shows the U.S.A trending more toward Huxley, while repressive Middle-Eastern regimes seem to be trying to make Orwell’s vision more of a reality.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. 1984 or A Brave New World, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Serialized Canticle

August 8, 2011

The science fiction classic,A Canticle for Leibowitz, is available in the public domain as an adapted audio serial from Old Time Radio via the Internet Archive.

Inspired by the author’s participation in the Allied bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino during World War II, the novel is considered a masterpiece by literary critics. It has been compared favorably with the works of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Walker Percy, and its themes of religion, recurrence, and church versus state have generated a significant body of scholarly research.

Internet Archive

You can play it here.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Serialized Canticle, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Origin of life lab

August 5, 2010

ENSI has a set of great labs that can be used all the way from the middle school to the university level. They deal with the nature of science, the origin of life, evolution and genetics/DNA. (Thanks again Anna Clarke for the link.)

Amoeba (image from Wikipedia). This image is part of a neat video of amoeba movement.

I’m thinking that the Creating Coacervates lab, the only one on the origin of life section, might fit into my orientation cycle plans. Coacervates are small, microscopic blobs of fat (lipids) that look like, and have many of the same properties as cells, amoebas in particular. They can be produced with simple chemicals. One of the key things I’d like to start the year with, is the idea that:

complex life-like cell-like structures can be produced naturally from simple materials with simple changes. Flammer, 1999.

These abiotic blobs can be compared to the protozoans in a water droplet sample while we learn how to use the microscopes. It also ties into the Miller–Urey experiments that produced amino acids using electricity and simple compounds: water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen gas. The Miller-Urey experiments will pop up later when we read Frankenstein.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Origin of life lab, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Montessori Science Fiction

July 11, 2010

Mirable by Janet Kagan

One of my favorite books that ties in with the study of the life sciences is Janet Kagan’s Mirable. It’s a series of stories about colonists trying establish themselves on a new world. Because of an accident on the trip over from Earth, the plants and animals they try bring with them (or propagate from their recorded DNA sequences) tend to randomly, and all too frequently, produce offspring that are hybrids of all sorts of phylogenetically unrelated organisms. The hybrids then produce other hybrids until, eventually, they produce another “Earth-authentic” species. This was supposed to be a feature to add redundancy to their gene banks. The impetus for the stories comes from the fact that some of the hybrids are unexpected and quite interesting, like the kangaroo-rex.

M. A. Buss' model of the kangaroo-rex. Note the sharp pointy teeth and claws.

Kagan writes a good story, entertaining, light hearted and easily accessible to early adolescents, but I particularly like her model of education on the new world. Since they need as much genetic diversity as possible, even people who don’t want to raise children need to have them. So kids are sent to live at a boarding school that’s really a hotel, which they run. Sounds a lot like Montessori’s Erdkinder.

The kids get training and regular visits from experts in a variety of fields. They get to help of the protagonist with her projects by tracking animals in the field and running genetic sequences through their equivalent of GenBank.

The best science fiction provides interesting models of society. Mirable, I believe, is a model of a society designed around the ideas of Peace Education. The Montessori spirit runs throughout the stories not just in the education system, but in the way characters interact one another, even in times of conflict.

I’m an unabashed advocate for using science fiction in the classroom because it delves into such wide ranging parts of the curriculum, Natural World, Social World, Language and, in this case, Peace Education. Of course the stories have to be chosen well. Mirable is one of perhaps only two books (the other is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham) that I use when we study the life sciences.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Montessori Science Fiction, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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