Sunday, April 27, 2014

Scientific concepts for puppet show

As we have watched children engage with the puppet theater in the eco-connectivity exhibition, we realize that these encounters  need to be somewhat more structured in order to be effective learning experiences.  We need a list of core scientific concepts that can be communicated through puppetry.

When a school group enters the gallery, one or two puppet skits need to performed for them, either live or in a video recording they can watch.  Then, if time permits, small groups of children could be given a concept (either orally or in bullet points on an easel) and take on the task of creating and performing puppet skit for fellow children that effectively communicates that idea.

We have plush puppets of a bear, cougar/lynx, and a snail.  Children can make other kinds of animals as paper bag puppets with available material. Perhaps they should be asked to learn  bit of background information for their animal before they perform (what do they eat,  are they herbivores or carnivores, do they travel alone or in groups, and so forth.)

Here is a preliminary list of scientific concepts explored in the exhibition, which we would like to see communicated through puppets shows, or other public programs:

1.  The protected forests of the Cascades “bottleneck” around Snoqualmie Pass. In the past animals that traveled between the Northern and Southern Cascsades had to get across a narrow 15 mile corridor east of the summit, where there were safe, mature forests to travel through.   Since the 1960s this corridor of 15 miles has been blocked by Interstate 90.

2. So animals in the Cascades have been isolated from other members of their species for about fifty years, which is not healthy.  If there are changes in the availability of food sources  (other animals or plants) or the amount of water available. or in area becomes unsafe to live in, animals need to be able to travel to find better places to live.

3. For example:  mule deers are picky eaters and will only eat special leaves and twigs from trees and shrubs.  So if they cannot find their right kind of leaves and twigs they may get weak and die.  If they can cross the highway safely through they  bridge or the underpasses, they will have better chances of living healthy lives and having healthy offspring.

4. A more complex  and mature idea, about genetic connectivity, which may require some discussion of mating and sex:   Healthy animal "sub-populations" of a given species need to be connected to one another.  This is not only because animals need to travel to seek out new food and water sources. If an animal population is too isolated and cannot exchange genetic material with other sub populations, harmful alleles-- genetic characteristics--will be passed down frequently from one generation to another.  This can lead over time to sickness in the population, and deprive the population of traits that might be useful in a changing environment. What example, if there is less snow and rain, the animal population will need to be able to live with less access to water.  Over time, isolated populations can become extinct.)

To put it another way:  What is genetic drift?   Genetic drift is a natural process in which the gene pool changes slightly from one generation to another.  This is not normally a problem for large populations, but can be deadly in small populations.  As the gene pool becomes less diverse, there is a greater chance for negative traits, such as susceptibility to illness.  Genetic drift in a small population can lead to extinction (the loss of an entire species.)

5.  Bears seem happy to go through narrow underpasses.  This may be because they are familiar with caves  But some animals, such as cougars, seem reluctant to use the underpasses that have been made for them.  They may be frightened of anything sneaking up on them. And like many domestic cats, they like to be high up, so they can feel safe and look for prey below.  So DOT is building a big wildlife overpass for them at Price and Noble creeks. 

6. This overpass can’t just be made of concrete like a bridge for humans.  Animals need trees, bushes, grasses, dead logs, soil and boulders and natural-seeming shapes of the earth to feel safe as they cross.  Many animals seem to be frightened by noises, smells and vibrations of motor traffic on the interstate; the new bridge is designed so that motor vehicles go through tunnels and the animals will hardly realize they are crossing over traffic.

7.  Female cougars often spend their lives living and hunting near where they were born. But juvenile male cougars usually leave their mothers’ areas and need to travel long distances, sometimes up to 300 miles, to find a new area to live in.  The junior males are the ones that sometimes rush across a highway and are injured or killed by motor vehicles.

 8.  Smaller animals, such as snails, may need years to cross the highway, so the bridge has to contain a natural-enough environment. including familiar plants and soils,  that they can live within in for a long time as they slowly move across it.

9. A pika is a small animal related to rabbits,  Pikas have thick dense, fur so they don’t migrate: they would get too hot moving long distances in the summer. They live in the shade of talus rock piles or boulders, and disperse slowly between rock piles, trying to avoid being out in the open, where predators might catch and eat them. A pika may not travel more than one hundred feet in its lifetime. It would be more healthy for pika sub populations if they could be lnked, and connected to one another safely across the interstate.  Creating collections of boulders to replicate their natural habitat is required to ensure that pikas will feel safe enough to use wildlife passages, below or above the highway,

10.  Bears need to eat a great deal in the Fall, to get ready to hibernate in the winter.   When they hibernate, their heartbeat and breathing slows down, and they live off of their fat reserves.  Other animals lose muscle strength if they don’t exercise, but bears can recycle their stored proteins while they are hibernate, so their muscles do not “atrophy” (weaken) while they are hibernating. So when they come out of hibernation in the spring, they are just as strong as ever.

11.  Fun question: What should we call this bridge?  Right now, it is called the Price-Noble Crossing Structure, which is kind of boring. The puppets might ask if the audience  could help us come up with a good name for the bridge.

What other concepts should we try to communicate, and what might be good strategies in a  puppet play (or other exercises) to do this?

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