Adaptation

The theme of adaptations has dominated science room projects for the past month. On the walls hang displays of different fungi models made by C Group, dioramas by M Group depicting birds that they have invented, and a colorful array of prehistoric creatures made by the JE kids.  Though each of these focuses on a different group of organisms, they share the concept of demonstrating a specialized fit within a particular environment – one that allows them to survive and succeed as a species.

It is a hot topic not just at Jemicy, but everywhere right now as we try to understand how different species are faring in a rapidly changing climate. The recent article below describes how the Galapagos, the place that sparked our understanding of evolution, faces its own unique challenges of adaptation.

Adaptation can refer to a relationship with – and adjustment to – an immediate environment (like our classroom tortoises’ seasonal behavior changes, likely triggered by the amount of daylight they perceive) or the natural selection of certain traits that aid survival over time (like the formidable jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex). T rex

The 7th graders studying fungi focused on certain mushrooms’ striking appearance. I urged them to delve deeper, to ask questions: “Why is this mushroom blue? Why does that one glow in the dark? What’s up with this one’s weird shape?” While the blue mushroom derives its color from methyl stearate, we discovered, it has no obvious adaptive benefits – or at least none that we have discovered yet. Glowing green mushrooms, on the other hand, may or may not attract nocturnal animals that will eat them and disperse their spores. The lattice fungus has a structure that allows the dispersal of its spores by animals attracted to its powerful odor.

The 4th graders’ mission was to create a bird that would demonstrate adaptation to a particular chosen habitat, including unique ways of getting food, evading predators, and successfully raising a family. To accompany this project, we watched videos of birds with incredible adaptations for displaying, feeding, raising young, and surviving extremes.

Then I decided to share one of my favorite books with them. It features such rarities as the Blue Dart (that pierces its prey in flight with its needle-sharp bill), an owl that roosts upside down like a bat, and a bird that uses its curved bill to swing from tree to tree while calling like a famous vine-swinging human.

After reading several descriptions and receiving only expressions of amazement, I told the class the story of one of my students years ago who fell for an internet hoax about the endangered tree octopus. Slowly, it began to dawn on the kids that the bird field guide was fictional. After all, isn’t the crosscut sawbill’s limb-lopping ability nearly as believable as the pileated woodpecker’s ability to excavate huge holes in tree trunks? They noted ruefully that each “species” could never have survived for more than a single generation with these incredible adaptations.

But who knows – maybe somewhere out in a deep, vast ocean there really does lurk a Yeti bird with a beak adapted into a lengthy snorkel or a purple and blue pelican gliding silently through the bayous.

 

 

Immersed

An afternoon carpool ritual: I walk with a student to her parent’s car, open the door, and call, “It was a good day!” while gesturing toward the child’s muddy shoes and picking a leaf out of her hair. Fortunately, most Jemicy parents will smile and agree wholeheartedly that a day well spent leaves plenty of evidence to clean up later.

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Kids work hard and play hard, and, like many other creatures, are naturally drawn to elements that they can dive into. While most other animals might use these primarily for bathing, there is no doubt that there is a simple delight in feeling completely covered in something other than air. Our classroom chinchilla and button quail love regular dust baths, flipping around in every direction to coat their fur and feathers, while the zebra finches hop into their freshly filled water dishes and splash energetically.  I especially enjoy watching waterfowl, who are meticulous, thorough bathers.

 

Water, dust, mud, snow – all are attractive in their own way, even if not for purposes of cleanliness.

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Kids who play in the woods know the best spots to sink into what they call “quick mud” – irresistibly oozy, sticky mud pits along the stream that have claimed many a boot.

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The puddles that appear on the playground during wet seasons are also magnets for the younger students. Unplanned but highly popular features, they support numerous fun activities, from rock fishing to impromptu water ballet.

Before fall gives way to winter and the delights of snow, we also celebrate one of the briefest, yet crunchiest and most aromatic of immersive experiences: the gift of leaves.

All of these activities are just that – active. Their purpose is to surround oneself with new sensations, to encounter and manage the unknown for pure pleasure – in other words, to play.303047_190595997684573_439728440_n

In Japan, a different kind of outdoor immersive activity has emerged: Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Recent research suggests many positive benefits from this stress-reducing, health-promoting practice of spending time relaxing in a forest setting.

At school, we call this “recess.”