I am excited to share that material I’ve been working on with Whale Times, Inc., The Oregon Coast Aquarium, and Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA Fisheries) for The Year of the Vaquita will be available to classroom teachers and other science educators soon. You can see a sneak peek of the material on the Whale Times website.
The Year of the Vaquita is an effort to raise awareness of and take action to help the vaquita, the world’s most endangered whale (Vaquita Fact Sheet). As of this writing there are estimated to by about 30 of these tiny porpoises remaining in the world, down from an estimated 60 individuals last summer. Vaquitas occupy a range about the size of the state of Rhode Island in the northern end of the Gulf of California. The primary threat to the population is entrapment in nets set for other species. Even though strict controls have been enacted for portions of the vaquitas’ home range, illegal fishing, particularly nets set for a fish called the totoaba (Totoaba Fact Sheet), whose swim bladders are highly prized in China, continue to kill vaquita.
Efforts are underway at government and agency levels to save these animals. How can you help? First, you can help raise awareness by spreading the word. Second, and most importantly, you can make sure the seafood you buy is sustainable. This is the single most important thing consumers can do to help not just the vaquita, but ocean ecosystems all over the globe.
What is Sustainable Seafood?
Sustainable seafood is seafood harvested in a way that meets these three criteria:
- Enough individuals are left after harvesting to ensure populations remain healthy and able to reproduce for future harvests.
- Harvesting methods do not damage the habitat of the target species as well as other species in the associated food webs.
- Harvesting methods avoid by-catch. “By-catch” is the capture of non-target species, including turtles, sharks, seabirds, and whales.
Opportunities for Teachers and Science Educators
Whale Times is preparing free curriculum materials for elementary classrooms. As mentioned above, a sample of some of those materials is available. In addition, there are opportunities to participate in the Celebration of Conservation this spring. This celebration includes free classroom materials, and Skype and email contact with scientists. Here is the description from the Whale Times website:
Kids, teachers, and schools become Science Team members for three important research projects. Join WhaleTimes for another exciting Virtual Research Mission with gray whale expert Dr. Dave Weller, vaquita expert Dr. Barbara Taylor, and Dr. Daniel Costa, the Costa Lab Team, and Dr. Patrick W. Robinson UC Año Nuevo Island Reserve Director will share on-going research with the magnificent elephant seal.
Free high school materials are available through the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Oceanscape network.
I hope you and your students will join us on this important exploration.
Appealing illustrations and active, engaging language make Sheri Mabry Bestor’s Good Trick, Walking Stick a fabulous read-aloud text. This picture book follows the life cycle of a walking stick, an unusual insect that disguises itself as a stick to avoid predation. Camouflage is not the only “trick” in the walking stick’s repertoire. Kids will enjoy the repetition of “good trick, walking stick,” every time an interesting adaptation is discussed.
Sidebars are packed with extra facts that kids and adults will enjoy. The book is a perfect addition for K-5 units on life cycles, adaptation, and food webs. I’m also a big advocate for using picture books with older students as well, as I think they can benefit from the straightforward, unintimidating way picture books present sophisticated concepts.
More about Walking Sticks
- “Walking Sticks”–National Wildlife Federation
- “Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides for 80 Years–NPR
- “Stick Insect Helps Scientists Study How Animals Move”—New York Times
Related NGSS Standards
- K-LS1-1: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive.
- K-ESS3-1: Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals and the places they live.
- 1-LS-1: Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive. (See New York Times article listed above.)
- 1-LS3-1: Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents.
- 3-LS4-3: Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
- 3-LS1-1: Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles, but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.
- 4-LS1-1: Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
- 5-PS3-1: Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food was once energy from the sun.
- MS-LS1-4: Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively.
- MS-LS3-2: Develop and use a model to describe why asexual reproduction results in offspring with identical genetic information and sexual reproduction results in offspring with genetic variation.
- HS-LS4-4: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations.
Heather Montgomery’s HOW RUDE! is a gleeful romp through “bad” bug behavior with exactly the right amount of gross to appeal to its audience. The illustrations of anthropomorphized cartoon bugs along with photos of the actual animal strike a good balance between fun and accuracy. Great for preschoolers through elementary.
Books & Such
My favorite genre to write is narrative nonfiction—usually picture books. Typically, these books have some kind of narrative arc throughout, with additional facts and fascinating details in sidebars on each page.
The book I’m highlighting today is just such a book. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle, by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Alan Marks, celebrates an often-overlooked creature with an important job. There is just a hint of poop humor and a big pinch of respect in this lovely book that covers why the dung beetle is a “dung” beetle and how its life cycle works.
Sidebars explore the body parts of a beetle, the different kinds of dung beetles, and even the dung beetle’s honored place in Egyptian culture.
Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle was published by Charlesbridge in 2014.
I Can’t Wait to Read . . .
. . . The Slowest Book Ever, by April Pulley Sayre
April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. If you don’t already know her work, I encourage you to go to the library and check out a stack of her books. I especially love Raindrops Roll and Vulture View.
Sayre’s new book, The Slowest Book Ever is a 176 page middle grade book, which is a departure from her usual picture book format. School Library Journal says, “Science and nature rub shoulders with pop culture and history in Sayre’s ode to slowness . . . The tone is humorous but never silly, and the facts are backed up with sources and more details in the endnotes. The light tone and engaging writing are perfectly complemented by the pen-and-ink drawings that accompany every entry, and the design invites lingering and sharing.”
There is a sloth on the cover, which makes me happy, and Kelly Murphy’s illustrations look great. Definitely looking forward to this one. It releases on April 5, 2016, from Boyd’s Mill Press.