Walking back to our campsite, I came across this beautiful garter snake. It was willing to sit still while I took a portrait photograph.
Some of the sixth graders at Ferry Beach RE Week learned a game today in ecology, and I promised them I would post the rules to the game online.
I got the game from a book by Ernest Thompson Seton. He says it was a game played by the Plains Indians. Here are his rules for Spot-the-Rabbit
“Make two two-inch squares of white card, with the same drawing of a Rabbit on each. One person takes six spots of black, about 3/16 of an inch across, and sticks them on one of the Rabbits, scattering the spots anyway they like, then sets it up a hundred yards off. Another person takes same number of spots and the other Rabbit, and walks up till they can see well enough to put the spots in the same place. If the second person can do this at 75 feet, they’re a ‘swell’; if they can do it at 60 feet they’re ‘away up’; but less than 50 feet is no good. I’ve seen players have lots of fun out of this game. They try to fool each other every way, putting one spot right next to another one, or leaving one spot off.”
We played the game a little differently. Instead of making six little tiny spots of black, here’s what you can do:
Print out a sheet of Spot-the-Rabbit cards on heavy paper or card stock, then cut them into squares, each square with a Rabbit on it. Then one person uses a pencil to color in six spots (make sure the spots are the correct size). The other person playing the game takes one of the cards and a pencil, and draws in the spots where they think they see them. Here’s a PDF with Rabbits on it that you can print out:
One thing to remember — this game is as much about concentration as it is about how good your eyes are. If you have good eyes, but poor concentration, you won’t do well!
If you’re at Ferry Beach and you start at the ocean, then walk inland, first you pass up over a sand dune covered with dune grass. Once past the primary dune, you pass over secondary dunes, with low-growing pines and various grasses and forbs growing in sandy soil. From the secondary dune, you pass down into lower ground, generally swampy and poorly drained and sometimes with open water, generally wooded with mixed hardwoods and conifers. If you keep walking inland, the ground gradually gets higher and drier, but the slope is gradual enough that where there are low places you’ll often find swampy areas.
Below is the sketch I made to show the kids in the ecology class how this all looks. And then we walked from the ocean inland, so that we could see it in real life.
Ferry Beach State Park, Saco Bay, Maine — Eagle Island in the distance.
A short drive today, so by three o’clock I had set up my tent, and started walking up the beach. Very light rain fell off and on, but that didn’t reduce the number of people on the beach by very much. In the short stretch of beach between Ferry Beach Camp and Conference Center, and the entrance to Ferry Beach State Park, I passed a dozen families set up with towels, three different guys casting bait in hopes of a striper coming by, a dozen people walking up or down the beach, and half a dozen people tossing a frisbee around.
As soon as I got away from the beach, and onto the trails in the woods of Ferry Beach State Park, I didn’t see another human being. Probably the mosquitoes kept them away. There is plenty of open water in the woods behind the dunes this year, plenty of places for mosquitoes to breed. And then I heard a Veery singing, that strange downward spiraling song that is one of the most haunting and beautiful bird songs I have ever heard: a bird song worth driving three thousand miles to hear.
Moonrise over Camp Ellis, Maine
Dear Ms. M.,
Saw the moon come up over Saco Bay tonight. Sat on the beach and ate fried clams from Huot’s, and watched the moon change from pink to pale orange to gold.
Wish you were here,
I was coming back from a long walk down the beach to see if there were any Piping Plovers nesting at Goosefare Brook, looking down at my feet in the fading light to see if there were any interesting shells or stones worth picking up. Ahead of me, a man was aiming a camera with a large telephoto lens on a tripod at something. I looked in the direction his camera was pointed, and there was the moon rising up out of the Atlantic Ocean. If the moon is about 30 arcminutes wide, it was about 90 arcminutes above the surface of the ocean when I first looked. It was pink and a little brighter than the medium blue sky; it hung just above a distant line of darker blue clouds tipped with pink along their tops.
The moon sat in the sky above the gap between Eagle Island and Wood Island. As I walked on down the beach, past the man struggling to aim his camera, the moon appeared to move towards Wood Island, until it stood over the eastern end of the island. The last light of the sun lit up the distant white tower of Wood Island lighthouse; a long shimmering reflection of the moon shone in the waters of the bay.
A couple of hours later, I was on the beach with forty or fifty other people for a bridging ceremony for this year’s high school seniors in the youth program at the Ferry Beach religious education conference; these were youth I had watched grow up summer after summer; one of them was the daughter of someone who had been in my own high school youth group. The moon was high in the sky; a long white reflection of it brightened up the calm bay; it was almost bright enough to read by. The air was cool enough to require a jacket and to keep the mosquitoes away, and two foot waves crashed regularly on the beach below us. What a perfect night, said the person next to me.
Walking down the beach this afternoon, I paused to watch a Herring Gull flying along with something in its mouth. It landed near me, and dropped a good sized crab on the sand. The crab landed on its legs and started to scuttle away, but after fumbling once, the gull expertly flipped the crab on its back. The crab weakly waved its legs in the air while the gull tilted its head on one side so it could look at the crab with one eye.
I walked over so I could better see the crab. The gull kept an eye on me, and when I got within ten feet of it, it flapped its wings, rose in the air, and settled down twenty feet away, screeching at me. The body of the crab was a good four or five inches across — perhaps a foot across with the legs. With the toe of my shoe, I flipped it over to get a better look. The upper side of the carapace was a reddish-brown color, so it was probably Cancer irroratus or Cancer borealis. The crab plowed its head end into the sand and began to move slowly and feebly along. I walked about twenty feet away, and turned to watch.
When I was a safe distance away, the gull flew back in. Again, it expertly flipped the crab onto its back. Then it stabbed sharply into the crab’s vulnerable underside; the crab’s legs waved feebly; the gull stabbed again; and once more, on this last stab bringing a chunk of flesh up. The crab’s legs twitched a little. The gull flipped its head back and swallowed the piece of flesh, then stabbed again and again. The gull was a messy eater, and little chunks of carapace and flesh and bits of leg got scattered around on the sand. The crab had stopped moving by this point. I left the gull to its dinner, and walked on down the beach.
Outline of an informal talk given July 10, 2011, at Ferry Beach Religious Education Week, held at the Universalist conference center in Saco, Maine.
Welcome to this porch chat on neuroscience and religious education. What I’d like to do in this porch chat is this — First, find out what you know about neuroscience as it applies to religious education. Second, to tell you a little bit about what I have been learning about the exciting new developments in this area. And third, to talk about ways we can all continue our own education in this area.
(1) Let’s begin with what you know about neuroscience and religious education. And before you say “nothing,” I suspect at least some of you know something about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. How many of you have run into multiple intelligences work before?
What you may not realize (or may forget) is that Gardner drew upon new scientific insights in the way brain works to develop this theory. According to a paper by the Multiple Intelligences Institute, “to determine and articulate these separate faculties, or intelligences, Gardner turned to the various discrete disciplinary lenses in his initial investigations, including psychology, neurology, biology, sociology, anthropology, and the arts and humanities.” [p. 6] So Gardner represents one attempt to apply scientific insights into the brain to educational practice.
So now let me ask: what (if anything) do you know about neuroscience and religious education?
[summary of some of the responses]
- the brain’s plasticity
- answering the question: is there a genetic quality to empathy?
- the god gene
- how like things like mediation, music, etc., can change the brain
- kids who have deficits with empathy
- you can make new neural pathways
- visualing brain pathways through brain imaging
(2) Now let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve been learning about how to apply scientific understandings of the brain to religious education.
I’d like to begin by reading you a paragraph from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences titled “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School.” (You can download a free PDF of this book here.) I was introduced to this book by Joe Chee, a teacher educator and UU who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in education and technology; Joe recommended this as a great introduction to the topic. And right at the beginning of this book, the authors tell us why we should care about the topic:
The revolution in the study of the mind that has occurred in the last three or four decades has important implications for education. As we illustrate [in this book], a new theory of learning is coming into focus that leads to very different approaches to the design of curriculum, teaching, and assessment than those often found in schools today. Equally important, the growth of interdisciplinary inquiries and new kinds of scientific collaborations have begun to make the path from basic research to educational practice somewhat more visible, if not yet easy to travel. Thirty years ago, educators paid little attention to the work of cognitive scientists, and researchers in the nascent field of cognitive science worked far removed from classrooms. Today, cognitive researchers are spending more time working with teachers, testing and refining their theories in real classrooms where they can see how different settings and classroom interactions influence applications of their theories.