Saturday, April 20, 2013

Science—Absolutely FASCINATING, or creepy—or BOTH!

Another chapter in The Raptor in My Prius series.

Every other week, bloggers write for the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival. This round we discussed how education ought to be about a life well-lived. I like how the hostess of this week's carnival added a nugget to the principle "Education is a life"—"Homeschooling for life and not a lifestyle." Another shared, "Being the living, breathing example we wish our kids to follow is one powerful way to educate them. Allowing them to see us being self-disciplined, kind, interested in the world, curious, loving, humble, happy, thankful, careful—just letting them see good things in us—is one-third of a Charlotte Mason style education."

That got me to thinking about our weekly walks...

Amy Tuttle, organizer of the carnival and homeschooler in the mission fields of Peru, also got me thinking about those walks: "What about the bits that LOTS of people, including myself in my youth, have had a mind to think are unbearably boring and void of living matter, like Math? And Science? There's so much memorization of Latin names and body parts and tables and elements and formulae and hypotheses and lab book entries... We might admit, if it weren't for such an immense body of facts, it would be absolutely FASCINATING."

Is your study of science absolutely FASCINATING?

Ours is. The Friday feast at Santee National Wildlife Refuge is one reason why. Every week, something new captures our attention and thoughts and ideas begin to sprout in our minds. Last Friday, we came across an oak gall. We noticed caterpillary things crawling out of it, which didn't make sense for wasps pupate in galls (we know that from reading these wonderful nature readers). At first we were absolutely fascinated and wondered what these "caterpillars" could be. We saw some here.

We saw some there, clinging to moist spots on tree trunks. We even found a "tree of life"—a term coined by one of our young naturalists—a spider, slug, and caterpillars all in one crook.

As we walked, we began to notice more of these things, writhing on tree trunks. Hundreds of them. The hair began to creep up on the back of my neck. Or was that one of those, um, THINGS?

Then, we began to see thousands of them. It seemed like millions of them: wriggling and writhing. We started to feel a bit horrified, as in Alfred Hitchcock movies. While I felt like fleeing from the woods screaming, never to return again, the Mrs. Frizzle in me calmed down and took pictures. "I can't wait to post these on Facebook!" However creepy they are, they are part of nature. God created these things for some reason.

Then, we came to the gauntlet—branch hanging over the path. And, I know you can guess what was crawling all over that too-low-for-comfort branch. THOSE THINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Somehow, we kept our composure and managed to stifle our discomfort into small shudders. I admit to ruffling my hair and shirt just to make sure no unwanted visitors had hitched a ride. And, what was the reaction on Facebook from friends whom I know to be avid enthusiasts of nature? "EWWWWWWWWW!" "Oh, and what is this?" "nononononono" "Oh! I was about to say how beautiful the design on that tree was. Didn't realize they were alive! lol!" "Bleh!" "That is weird." Nobody seem to know what they were, so I posted a spotting at Project Noah (hat tip: Jennifer Gagnon). As much as I adore BAMONA, my intuition said that these things were not going to transform into lovely moths and butterflies.

The folks over at Project Noah identified them as MILLIPEDES! Their reaction was a bit warmer. "These are definitely millipedes—I can see two sets of legs per segment. I've never seen so many together before! Neat Find Tammy." "Interesting! This is awesome Tammy." "It is probably also a group of young millipedes that are about to leave the home site." "Here's another millipede aggregation of a different species. It looks like it happens every once in a while! Lucky you! :)"


I've always wanted to see MILLIONS of MILLIPEDES! I can take that off my bucket list now. Did we go back the following week? Of course! We had to know if they were still haunting the trails of Santee.

An idea struck me. All of our students are still in elementary school and preschool. They are a few years, or more, away from all that memorization often required in high school biology. When they reach the study of myriapods, they will remember when they saw millions of them leaving their home site.

These children will not have to memorize the difference between toads, frogs, and tree frogs. Just yesterday, they caught a southern toad eating a worm. They are raising southern leopard frogs from egg to frog. They know where green tree frogs hang out on sunny mornings (in the swamp grass).

They have seen parents grow curious about a spider. This arachnid is a wolf spider, but not our state spider (the Carolina wolf spider). This sad little fellow, Schizocosa crassipes does not even have a common name! How tragical is that?

When the time comes to learn about the order Odonata, they will remember the day they had to sit still in the grass and wait for dragonflies to rest on some grass or a leaf. The meadow where eastern pondhawks buzzed overhead like a horde of helicopters, and their littlest sister kept trying to catch them. They will know why dragonflies earned such a name because they saw one carrying around some bug for breakfast. High school biology will be more about memories, rather than memorization, for them.

They will remember how odd we must have looked, sitting on the grass, quietly waiting for the perfect moment to shoot these pictures of predator pondhawks.

They will remember how different seeing a fleeting picture of a horde of pondhawks is from experiencing the real deal. They will appreciate how fewer mosquito bites occur with dragonflies on patrol.

They will know that nature is to be respected. When you kick at an ant hill, you might get bit!

Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun––the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for? Besides, life is so interesting to him, that he has no time for the faults of temper which generally have their source in ennui; there is no reason why he should be peevish or sulky or obstinate when he is always kept well amused. ~ Charlotte Mason

Monday, April 15, 2013

Turtle Release Day

What is an idea? we ask, and find ourselves plunged beyond our depth. A live thing of the mind, seems to be the conclusion of our greatest thinkers from Plato to Bacon, from Bacon to Coleridge. We all know how an idea 'strikes,' 'seizes,' 'catches hold of,' 'impresses' us and at last, if it be big enough, 'possesses' us; in a word, behaves like an entity.

If we enquire into any person's habits of life, mental preoccupation, devotion to a cause or pursuit, he will usually tell us that such and such an idea struck him. This potency of an idea is matter of common recognition. No phrase is more common and more promising than, 'I have an idea'; we rise to such an opening as trout to a well-chosen fly. ~ Charlotte Mason
An idea is a slippery thing. It is not something to capture in a snapshot because an idea is alive. It is hard to recognize until seen in action. Once an idea takes hold, it grows into something beyond the initial inkling. When I first saw a friend post pictures of slider turtle eggs on Facebook in the summer of 2011, I thought it would be neat to study them. She ended up bringing her babies to Pamela's watercolor class. Seeing the turtles swimming made me long to study them more in-depth and attend their release.

Last summer, when my friend posted pictures of the nest, I begged her to let us come over and study them. She graciously obliged us, so Pamela and I saw their nest, peeked at their eggs, and visited them for a well baby check up. Bubbling over with excitement about the turtles, I shared the news with the children in our church afterschool program about nine yellow-bellied slider turtles a friend of mine was raising over the winter. The idea of seeing these little reptiles seized hold of those children. Unfortunately, my friend, a very busy volunteer who gives her time to others in so many ways, could not line up time for the turtles to visit us at church. Nearly every week, the kids would ask, "Mrs. Tammy, when is your friend going to bring the turtles?" Once the idea caught hold of them, they did not let up on begging to see them.

My homeschooling friends were also intrigued at the thought of studying the turtles. I suggested the idea of having a release celebration to the turtle lady, and she thought it would be marvelous to have a send-off for her babies. We timed the party for after our homeschooling gathering, and I invited the children from church, too. It turned out to be a wonderful day. After the initial surge of excitement died down, all my little friends had a chance to study the turtles up close.

Then, my friend dabbed non-toxic paint on the shells. It ended up being a bit messy because the turtles began climbing all over each other, smearing the painted. She placed the turtles in the center of a ring we formed around the turtles. We had a race to see which critter would reach a person first.

After my friend washed the paint off the turtles, we lined them up at the beach and watched them swim away, one by one. Some boldly headed off into the water. Others needed a little more guidance and encouragement from us, as you can see in the video below.

The traveler’s eye picked up a turtle trail,
Between the dotted feet a streak of tail,
And followed it to where he made out vague
But certain signs of buried turtle’s egg;
And probing with one finger not too rough,
He found suspicious sand, and sure enough,
The pocket of a little turtle mine.
If there was one egg in it there were nine,
Torpedo-like, with shell of gritty leather,
All packed in sand to wait the trump together.
~ Robert Frost