The Journal’s the Thing: Teaching Natural History and Nature Writing in Baja California Sur

John S. Farnsworth and Christopher D. BeattyDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

The skills of making informed observations, synthesizing those observations, and communicating them effectively are central to the naturalist. Developing university courses that optimize instruction in these skills simultaneously can, however, be a challenge. Here we describe a program at Santa Clara University comprised of two integrated co-requisite courses, Writing Natural History (ENVS 142) and The Natural History of Baja (BIOL/ENVS 144). Lectures through the 10-week winter quarter expand students’ knowledge of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the Baja Peninsula and help them to develop descriptive writing skills. The courses culminate in a ten-day expedition to the Baja Peninsula and Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez, where students explore local ecosystems and journal about their experiences. The result is a program in which students expand their skills in natural history and develop their own voices as writers and natural historians. We describe the structure and philosophy of this program and provide details on associated lecture topics, logistics, exercises, and readings. [full article]

Local Species Trading Cards: An Activity to Encourage Scientific Creativity and Ecological Predictions from Species’ Traits

Jay M. FitzsimmonsDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

Species’ traits (e.g., body size, generation time, diet breadth) are being used by biologists with increasing frequency to predict ecological responses to modern environmental threats. Given the importance of traits for ecological research, and the accessibility of traits to learners, it is important to develop effective teaching methods for the relationship between species’ traits and ecological responses. I describe a short (approximately 45 minutes) activity that encourages youth to critically evaluate species’ traits in the context of predicted responses to modern climate change. The activity uses trading cards for local butterfly species akin to sports trading cards, with photographs of the species on the front and their trait statistics on the back. Participants are asked to make trait-based predictions of species’ responses to climate change. I describe my experience leading this activity with a youth naturalist club, and provide supplementary files allowing readers to modify this activity for other taxa, traits, and ecological responses. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

8. Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns

John D. LloydDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

Natural-history writing comes in many flavors. Sometimes it takes the form of a catalog of observations of plants and animals, other times it presents accounts of exploration and adventure in the wild, and sometimes it is as much about the people as the landscape that shapes them. Nonetheless, perhaps because its subjects and themes appear so constant, it has to me a timeless feel. For better or worse, the style of the narrative tends towards the uniform, even as the subjects and themes differ widely. What sets apart Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns, first published in 1935, and what makes it such a unique contribution to this canon, is its blend of modern and classical styles. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

7. John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Stephen C. TrombulakDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

Some relationships are legendary: Laurel and Hardy, Lennon and McCartney, Stanley and Livingstone, Astaire and Rodgers, … Han and Chewbacca. While each person individually showed an impressive level of accomplishment on their own, together they formed a creative, iconic couplet that transcended who they were by themselves. John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts together formed such a pair. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

6. Alexander Skutch’s A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm

John G.T. AndersonDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

Alexander Skutch needs little introduction to any enthusiast of tropical birds. Skutch was born in the United States, but he spent more than sixty years living on a small farm in southern Costa Rica observing and writing about Neotropical ornithology, natural history, and conservation. In A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm (published in 1980), Skutch recounts the pleasures and pains of his years living under what would be for many of us quite primitive conditions on the edge of the jungle while pursuing his Thoreau-esque quest to “live simply in an unspoiled natural setting, while studying nature like a scientist, all without harming the objects of my study, or the other living things around me.” [full article]

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