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The Emergence of Life, St. Andrews, UK

“Nanoscience: A New Aspect of God’s Creation,” Farnborough, UK

Science and Faith Conference, Middleton, WI

“Faith and Wisdom in Science,” Bristol, UK

“What Can We Do about Fossil Fuel Carbon Dioxide?” Wheaton, IL

CWIS: Christian Women in Science
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The Age of the Earth and Evidence of Human Occupation

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, September 26, 2015


 77,000 year python carved into the side of a mountain in Botswana

The Age of the Earth and the Evidence of Human Occupation

Alice C. Linsley

Students often ask questions that pertain to things they have heard about the Bible or read in the Bible. Over the years I have collected commonly asked questions and provided answers from the perspective of Biblical Anthropology. 

In this article, I focus on three questions: the age of the Earth, the time that humans have been on Earth, and how we are to understand the biblical figure of Adam.


Read it all here.


70,000 year old python stone carved into the side of a mountain in Botswana. The stone has over 300 indentations made by humans to give it the shape of a python.
70,000 year old python stone carved into the side of a mountain in Botswana. The stone has over 300 indentations made by humans to give it the shape of a python.
70,000 year old python stone carved into the side of a mountain in Botswana. The stone has over 300 indentations made by humans to give it the shape of a python.

Tags:  Alice C. Linsley  Biblical Anthropology 

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Ms. Frizzle on vultures and Ara macao

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, September 8, 2015


a group of Coragyps atratus 

Karen McReynolds

On Isla Coiba: in pursuit of Ara macao

One of the conclusions the head of the Scarlet Macaw project on Isla Coiba reached by the end of his time there was that no one knows anything about the Scarlet Macaws on the island.  They only know that they are indeed present, because they can sometimes be seen at certain locations. This is both a bad thing and a good thing.  It is a bad thing because it makes research very difficult; there is nothing to start with or to go on in making decisions about how to allocate time, effort, and money (all of which are very limited).  It is a good thing because anything learned is publishable.  It is all new.

In studying the logistics of the island, it isn’t hard to understand why no one has studied the macaws present until now.  Coiba is not perforated with roads.  Even if it were, there are no vehicles on the island.  Access therefore occurs by boating to various beaches and rivers and proceeding inland from there, whether up waterways or by hiking on the few existing trails.   There are no docks on the island either.  This means that Feliciano the boat captain steers his panga as close as he can reasonably get to the destination on shore, and everyone hops out of the boat into the surf, carrying any gear, lunches, snake boots, etc. that they may need.  My time on Coiba gave me firsthand knowledge of what the term “inaccessible” really means. 

Isla Coiba contains minimal accommodations for its human visitors, but we remain very grateful for those that do exist. Now a Panamanian national park, park headquarters on the northern end of the island include a few simple dormitory-style rooms with tile floors and, thankfully, attached bathrooms. To my happy surprise, they also have air conditioners which come on every evening when the electricity for the whole place is turned on.  This made for far better accommodations overall than we were expecting.  This cheery discovery was dampened somewhat by the fact that dozens of black vultures (Coragyps atratus) of all ages are permanent residents of the far end of the residential complex. They lurk about in the trees near the kitchen area, quarreling over leftover scraps and roosting en masse at night, with young birds acting helpless and begging their parents for food (vulture regurgitant, yum yum) in the universal manner of juvenile birds.  But we bird lovers mustn’t be biased, or at least not too much.  Vultures fill a valid niche also.  The student of vulture lore would be elated.

Each morning we departed from our lodging at park headquarters courtesy of Feliciano and his panga.  Our first sighting of Ara macao occurred at what turned out to be the best and most reliable place to see them throughout our time on the island.  This was the Rio San Juan, a wide and winding river with its mouth on the southeast side of the island.  Tides on the Pacific side of Panama are significant and were always taken into account on our boat excursions.  Rio San Juan was only safely accessible as the tide was entering the river, raising water levels throughout, so the timing of our excursions upriver varied considerably.  But almost every time we visited there we discovered some screeching macaws.  Finding them amid the dense vegetation was difficult, especially toward the evening when they would find a roosting branch and settle down there.  But they remained noisy enough most of the time so that we would eventually be rewarded with a glimpse of color and an alert eye, well aware of our presence. 

We saw both mated pairs and at least one adult with a juvenile.  Juveniles are identified by their short tails.  Although they grow quickly and their bodies are soon the same size as the adults, they just haven’t lived long enough for their distinct central rectrices to reach the length of an adult’s.  In the same way, breeding females can be identified by their ragged and broken tail feathers.  Sitting in that nest cavity wears down their tails. 

As a result of our efforts on Coiba, there is now some fundamental data on the resident macaws.  But far more remains to be discovered. Where are their nest sites? How successful is their reproduction here? Why don’t they appear to feed in the same trees they gorge on in Belize? It seems to me that it would be a lot easier to study vultures.  Well, yes; I’ll grant them that victory. The vultures win the Accessible-and-Ugly-But-Still-Interesting award.  For the Raucous Splendor award, Ara macao wins hands down. 


Related: Ms Frizzle and the Ara macao


Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on life, nature and death)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on Nat. Science Teachers Association conference)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Zacchaeus and the Monkey Swing Tree)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Close Encounter with a Bimac)


Tags:  Karen McReynolds 

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Conversation Between Two ASA Members on Noah

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, September 5, 2015


To date, all the publications of the ASA about Noah have portrayed him as a Mesopotamian. There is much evidence to suggest that Noah was a Proto-Saharan who lived in the region of Lake Chad during the African Humid Period. This conversation presents both views, and the readers of our CWIS blog may find it interesting.

Was Noah Mesopotamian or Proto-Saharan?



Dufuna Canoe was discovered in 1987 by a Fulani cattle herdsman a few kilometers from the village of Dufuna, not far from the Komadugu Gana River in Yobe StateNigeria. Radiocarbon dating of a sample of charcoal found near the site dates the canoe at 8500 to 8000 years [African Humid Period] linking the site to Lake Mega Chad. It is the oldest boat to be discovered in Africa, and the second oldest known worldwide. By comparison, Egypt's oldest boat is only about 5000 years old.

It is a black mahogany dugout found in the region of Lake Chad, in the Land of Noah. The Dufuna dugout was buried at a depth of 16 feet under clays and sands whose alternating sequence showed evidence of deposition in standing and flowing water. The dugout dates to 8000 years before the present. 

What do you think, Ladies?

Alice C. Linsley


Tags:  Alice C. Linsley  Dick Fischer 

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Ms. Frizzle and the Ara Macao

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, August 24, 2015


Karen E. McReynolds and her husband spent some time in tropical Belize.  Part one of this "Ms. Frizzle in the Tropics" series is here. In this account, Ms. Frizzle speaks of a visit to Panama.



On Isla Coiba, and in Belize: Ara macao

Although Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) are present in Panama in only a fraction of their original range, they are prominently present on mugs, t-shirts and other items sold in Panama.  Their portraits are often accompanied by some mention of the tropics.  They do indeed provide a flashy representation of what comes to mind when most of us think of the tropics: bright, beautiful birds, full of color and raucous noise.  

Prior to my visit to Panama’s Isla Coiba earlier this summer, I had seen macaws in the wild only once before.  When we lived in Belize – a fabulous place for any bird lover – my husband decided one year that he would like to chase down some Scarlet Macaws for his birthday. They are present in Belize in limited numbers and in remote locations, so our various birding adventures had not yet yielded any of these signature birds.  He asked around within the birding community and learned that in early June, they could be found in the central Maya Mountains of eastern Belize, a remote region indeed.  So we set off for Las Cuevas, a biological field station operated at that time by the British natural history museum that is located in prime early summer macaw territory.  We enjoyed a few days at the station mingling with staff and scientists and spotting impressive birds, but saw no macaws; we just never were in the right place at the right moment.  Disappointed, but out of time, we prepared for our lengthy drive out away from the station, following a staff member in his vehicle who was departing at the same time.  

After about an hour of driving, still immersed in the dense lush greenery of the rainforest, Miguel in front of us stopped suddenly in a clearing, and raced back to gesture to us to get out of our vehicle.  We did, and there they were: four pairs of birds at the top of a tall green tree, dancing in the wind.  Within seconds of our arrival three of the pairs flew off, but one remained, shrieking noisily, flapping brilliant wings and clinging loosely to the leafy branches of the top of the tree where they had been feeding.  After a minute or so these two remaining birds also departed, but they had left their impression: blue sky and green tree interrupted by avian stoplight red plus yellow, blue, green.  Add exuberant motion to the mental picture, with breezy branches blowing and large birds hopping, clinging, fluttering… then throw in the raucous clamor of said birds, matching any jungle soundtrack around. Color, movement and noise combined to leave a deep impression on me, one I turn to when I need a  reminder that there are indeed places and creatures in this world that are wild. The prospect of more encounters with Ara macao drew me to Isla Coiba.

Buying the t-shirt is sure a lot easier.  

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on life, nature and death)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on Nat. Science Teachers Association conference)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Zacchaeus and the Monkey Swing Tree)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Close Encounter with a Bimac)


Tags:  biology  Karen McReynolds 

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Balancing Life and Work

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Thursday, August 6, 2015


Kristin Zietlow | Kristin is a product development engineer at Disher. 

This originally appeared on Disher's blog: Visit and find out more about this work!

My work backpack has a mix of 3D printed parts, baby toys, post-it notes and sketches. It does a good job of summing up my life, which is a gratifying mix of engineering and motherhood. Since becoming a mom, I’ve been faced with a mountain of decisions, all centered on keeping life balanced.Kristin's BackpackMy dad was a surfer. When I was younger, he would take me out on a board in the ocean to that perfect place where the waves rolled in but hadn’t broken yet. He taught me that, although timing a wave was important, having the patience to choose the right wave was the most important choice. It had to be the perfect combination of elements to be right.

That’s what I found through a part-time engineering role at Disher Design. I could tell you about the long journey I took to get here, but would rather focus on the why. The culture allows me to realize my passion of helping others through engineering, and the part-time work hours allows me to focus on motherhood. My manager understands my mission. While I work, my two daughters are taken care of just down the road by my mother-in-law. It is my formula for a perfect wave.

Now, that sounds all dreamy and picture perfect, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

First, finding that perfect wave doesn’t mean you’re a great surfer. It takes work to keep yourself balanced, and I’ve had my share of face plants. See the tips section below; many of these lessons were learned the hard way because I did the opposite.

Secondly, define your own wave. One of my sisters is a full-fledged mother of 5 (not sure if she sleeps, ever), and my other sister started a successful Etsy business (here’s my shameless marketing for her – GREEN DOT DESIGNS) with two little guys at home. My mom worked full-time until her third child was born (she was overcome by my baby cuteness), then switched to part-time. The point is, we all do it differently, but because we all chose a balance that made sense for us, and fits our goals in life, we are happy. Happy wife, happy life. And as my mom says, “If mom’s unhappy, the whole family is unhappy.” Get the picture?

Questions to define your wave formula:

Why do I want to work?

What is my mission in life?

How do I want to spend my time?

What are my financial goals?

How do I want my children to view me?

What outlook do I want my children to have?

How do I want my children taken care of while I’m at work?

Is my manager on board with my goals in life?

What kind of community do I want to be a part of?

20 tips to stay balanced:

1. Set a consistent schedule, and communicate it well, or chaos ensues. Belieeeeve me.
2. Create inspiring goals. “Pay for my children’s education” sounds a lot better than “cover some of our bills.”
3. Be extraordinarily organized. I use One Note obsessively.
4. Prioritize your commitments.
5. Meet your deadlines. This may mean being flexible and working at night when needed.
6. Be exceptional at what you do.
7. Be passionate about what you do, and don’t be a whiner. Even if it isn’t, make it look easy.
8. Keep your manager and husband in the loop. Your workload decisions will affect them both.
9. Mentally scale back from full-time. You can’t fit 40 hours into a 20 hour work week.
10. Wait a day before committing to something new. ‘Yes Man’ is not an inspirational movie for you.
11. Be intentional with your time for work and family. The best show of love is attention.
12. Savor your time with your children and husband. What do you do when you savor food? You focus on the food and eat slowly. Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
13. Be decisive. This goes for the nursery paint color as well as setting the customer meeting time. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” – The Nesting Place.\
14. Schedule downtime for yourself each day. For me, this is reading books like Game of Thrones (dragons are real).
15. Be efficient with your time. Amazon Prime = amazing. Take work calls on the drive to/from work.
16. Avoid the “supermom” mentality. You cannot be the CEO, the full-time incredibly involved mom, the witty house wife that loves to clean, and the super in-shape health queen. Follow your priorities, and let things fall into place.
17. Don’t feel guilty to ask for help at work or at home. My husband does a lot of the grocery runs.
18. Don’t feel guilty about working. Remind yourself of your goals and why you are working.
19. Don’t worry about what others think of you, but instead what your children think of you.
20. Sing Frozen’s “Let it Go” as many times as needed per day to let the little things go.
Although it sometimes feels like I’m on the ragged edge of sanity, I can’t pass up a perfect wave. A big part of my drive to work is to be a role model for my children. Many pivotal decisions I’ve made were greatly influenced by the way I view my mom. I want my kids to grow up thinking they can do anything they want, pave their own paths, and be brave.

Flowing through these questions and tips is an active, constant part of who I am now. It’s a lot of work to stay balanced, but it’s worth it. And I think the company benefits from this, too. I am motivated to work hard for a company that has worked hard to make a part-time position a reality for me.

Good articles and books to peruse:

MAKE TODAY COUNT” by John C. Maxwell
GO WITH THE SLOW It’s true, I read Costco articles. And this one is great.
LIVING WITH INTENT Looking at the difference between intent and purpose.
THE NESTING PLACE “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” An inspiring book to make you decisive.
ROWE INITIATIVE Results-Oriented Work Environment.
PIONEER WOMAN. Just because she’s awesome.

Tags:  Kristin Zietlow 

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Plant Breeding

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, August 4, 2015


 Ann Marie Thro, Ph. D. in Plant Breeding, 1982, from Iowa State University

Plant breeding:

A career choice for studying nature and making a positive difference in today’s world


Plant breeding allows us to study nature, and to make a positive difference in the world — both things that we believe God wants us to do and, indeed, enjoys doing with us.  As just two examples among many: the work of Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk (pictured), is one of the foundations of scientific plant breeding; and, plant breeding enabled Norman Borlaug and co-workers to save lives and create incentives for peace through the Green Revolution.



Today, plant breeding is one of one of our few approaches for coping with  challenges such as population growth and affordable food; variable and extreme weather and climate; and needs for protecting the environmental and for improving nutrition for health.  Simply defined, plant breeding is the human-aided development of new plant cultivars with needed characteristics. Basic steps involve assembling, testing, and selecting among genetically-different plants.

Today is an exciting time in plant breeding, with many new developments converging.  One of these, molecular genomics, is a valuable new tool that has stimulated interdisciplinary collaboration and development and use of additional new insights, methods, and tools, from remote sensing of field performance to data management, and much more.

Plant characteristics needed from breeding include resistance or tolerance to pests and diseases; better growth and production even in extremes of heat, cold, drought, or flooding; and traits that protect soil and water quality.  Additional breeding objectives include plants that can grow and thrive in complex situations or new production systems, such as in mixtures, or in “precision agriculture”, to help maximize farm production across different soils, water, and other conditions, and reduce pressure wilderness areas.  


Plant breeding for food and societal needs began in pre-history, with early Middle Eastern development of wheat for different uses; and the development of corn by the First Americans.  Contemporary examples include breeding fruits to combine flavor with yield and disease resistance; grains, fruits, and vegetables bred for optimal nutritional values; nutritious animal forages, and plant bred for benefits to pollinators. Plant breeding can improve wood quality, floral characteristics, bio-energy content, and other needed qualities.

Most plant breeders work in private companies, both large and small. Others work in public universities or agencies, on needs and opportunities that don’t lend themselves to a commercial model.  Examples are small–acreage crops, or objectives requiring “long arcs of research” (phrase coined by T. Carter, ARS).  Public-sector positions involve publication in addition to breeding new experimental lines and ready-to-grow varieties.  

Land-grant universities typically integrate plant breeding research with educating the next generation of plant breeders.  A few other universities also educate plant breeders--including a few Christian universities-- especially at the undergraduate level.  Advantages of a university with an active plant breeding program include early coursework in plant breeding and other agricultural sciences; and, student jobs in working in ag research programs.  However, any college with a good general biology program can prepare students for starting graduate studies in plant breeding and other agricultural sciences.  At the graduate level, attending an agricultural university is more important.  A plant breeding student will have classmates from all over the world, both developed and developing.  

Financial aid is often available to plant breeding graduate students. Research assistantships are usually specific to a particular program, and funded by State, Federal (USDA/NIFA), and farmer and commodity groups.  Scholarships and fellowships are often specific to a student’s proposal; sources include Federal (USDA/NIFA; National Science Foundation; Dept. of Education); and private companies partnering with universities.  

Federal plant breeders typically work in USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and a few other agencies.  USDA breeders work across the U.S. on a wide range of plants for food, feed, fiber, timber, energy, conservation, and environmental restoration.  Plant breeding is also conducted by other countries, and by the international research centers that achieved the Green Revolution and continue to address poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and environmental degradation.  Across sectors, project leaders typically have a Ph.D., while technician positions require an M.S. degree or in some cases a B.S.. Technical-level work in plant breeding offers room for ingenuity, and carries considerable responsibility.

There is a need to educate future plant breeders. A recent study by USDA NIFA and Purdue Univ., with Department of Labor data, estimated almost 58,000 skilled job openings in the overall ag sector in 2015, but only enough qualified graduates to fill about 60%.  About a quarter of those openings (+ 6000) are expected in agricultural sciences, including plant breeding.  A recent study asked over two hundred globally-selected public and private-sector experts, “What do today’s plant breeders need to know?”  


Cited as most-needed knowledge areas were:  Basic/classical plant breeding and genetics; selection theory // Crossing methods // Experimental and field plot design and data analysis, statistics  //  Software and computer competence; database management // Quantitative genetics and population genetics // Plant pathology // Knowledge relevant to breed for abiotic stress resistance or tolerance // Molecular selection techniques, molecular genetics  // Biometrics  // and // Professional ethics // Communication skills // Teamwork skills. 

In summary, a career in plant breeding can have an impact through practical solutions to real needs.  At the same time, it allows us to share God’s enjoyment and marvel at the world’s plants and the wonders of variation, genetics, and inheritance.

Plant Breeding as a Career 

Some sources and resources as of 2015  This list is not exhaustive; there are many other sources.

Education in public plant breeding:

State land grant university web sites of most states

Look for the college of agriculture—which may go by different names in different states

Other public universities with agriculture programs

Private universities:   

  • E.g. Huntington Univ., IN (member, Council for Christian Colleges & Univs.(CCCU)

  • Others

Information about careers in plant breeding, and specific job postings:   

Special membership rate for students allows access to jobs posted; also a site for the graduate student working group, and opportunities to visit with private sector liaisons.

  • Crop Science Society of America;

  • American Soc. for Horticultural Sci

Resources for students thinking about the private sector in particular, e.g. for questions about optimal course work, job types, and other information:  

Information about plant genetic resources and related issues:  

Information about the international centers, or “Green Revolution centers”

Information about current demand for agricultural graduates:

Information about plant breeding in USDA:

  • USDA Plant Breeding Roadmap 2015, at


For questions about this 2015 CWIS presentation, contact Ann Marie Thro

Ann Marie Thro, Ph. D. is a national program manager at USDA.  The opinions this essay are her own and do not represent any official statements of the USDA.

Tags:  Ann Marie Thro  plant breeding 

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Teaching undergrads is a great job!

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Thursday, July 30, 2015



Robin Pals Rylaarsdam, PhD
Professor and Chair of Biological Sciences
Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

Long years of training, fairly long work hours during the semester, grading, plenty of students who don't take learning seriously, grading, less time for the fun of research, inefficient committee and department meetings, grading, a recent drop in the public's esteem for the profession, grading, modest middle-class pay, grading . . . why would anyone want to teach undergraduate students as their primary work?

"Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." (Nelson Mandela)

Teaching changes people. An 18-year-old walks into my class on her first day of college, and over the next four years she can be transformed from someone who can learn what she's assigned to memorize into someone who can analyze an argument, a data set, the likelihood of a hypothesis working out once the experiment is done. A nontraditional-aged student begins his journey sitting quietly in the back of the class, unsure about his ability to compete with the teeagers, and develops into the classmate everyone turns to for the hard questions. Even the student who fails can be changed for the better, in finding that failure is not an end, but a nudge toward the vocation that first his unique traits. And the unmotivated student who "figures it out" and becomes the senior student who's eager to learn will always keep me hopeful when facing the student who hasn't yet made that discovery.

My current job is at an institution with a long history of serving immigrants and first-generation Americans. The college degree opens socioeconomic opportunities for my students and their families. Graduation days are absolutely as good as Christmas for me. The families are so proud. Grandmothers are so happy, even if they haven't understood a word of the Commencement speaker. When a student graduates from Benedictine, there is often a whole community of people who benefit.

And honestly, the hours in the classroom are absolutely enjoyable. If I lecture, it's telling a page or two of the grand story of God's world and its workings - which never ceases to delight and amaze me. If I flipped the class and the students have listened to an online lecture before we meet, then I get to come alongside them as they work through how we know the textbook facts, or what the data suggests we could explore next. It is like C.S. Lewis's "Aslan's Country" - ever more wonderful "further up and further in", and far more fun to make the journey with my students.

There are practical things, too. It's not at all true that college professors take the summers off, but it would be accurate to say that there are few days I've been required to go to campus during the all-too-short Chicago summers. For being on a 9-month contract, the pay is reasonable. Tight, if you're the only wage-earner, but doable in most locations. The academic schedule has a lot of flexibility built in. While attending my classes is a non-negotiable requirement, I'm the manager of my time for much of the work week. This flexibility has allowed me to show up quite early and leave in time for elementary school dismissal. I'll return to work at my home desk after my son is in bed, so I get significant time with him every day, and the staggered schedule gives my husband significant time with our son in the mornings. This luxury wouldn't have been possible if I had gone into industry or research-intensive academic positions.

Downsides to college teaching other than grading? It's hard to carve out time and find resources to continue to be active in bench work in cell biology research. I don't have a technician or postdoc, so I wear many hats in the lab, from ordering labeling tape and pipet tips to maintaining our cell lines to writing the papers and grant proposals. Conflicts with colleagues and administrators happen on all jobs, but the unique nature of tenure and the stability of the faculty mean that conflicts can fester for a long time. It's also easy too get in a rut. Science changes "rapidly", but foundational introductory biology concepts are pretty much the same now as they were years ago when I started teaching. Finding creative outlets in my teaching has been essential for avoiding boredom for me - and a bored professor makes for a boring course!

In the end though, teaching changes people. It changed me when I was a student, in many important ways. It's been an honor to walk alongside all my students for nearly two decades as they took their journeys of college science education.

And there are ways to make grading less painful. Lots of them! But that's a topic for another essay.

Tags:  Robin Pals Rylaarsdam  science education 

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Ms. Frizzle in the Tropics

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Friday, July 24, 2015


Karen E. McReynolds


On Isla Coiba: the tropics

I was privileged to be part of an exploratory research project this summer that occurred on Panama’s Isla Coiba.  This is the largest island in Pacific Central America, containing about 193 square miles.  (For comparison, Southern California’s popular Catalina Island covers only 74 square miles.) For eighty-five years, Coiba was a prison island much like Alcatraz.  The people who were there did not want to be there, whether they were prisoners or staff, and the sour reputation of the place kept other visitors away.  This resulted in Coiba becoming a significant home for wildlife.  Although there was some abuse of resources carried on by the people who were present – coerced nest robbing, for example, by prisoners who were forced to climb hundred-foot trees to obtain parrot nestlings for guards to sell for personal gain  – the island is large and not easily accessible, permitting wildlife to be mostly overlooked and ignored.   Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) no longer exist in mainland Panama, but there are healthy populations on Coiba.  These are the birds we were there to learn more about.

After a six hour redeye flight to Panama City and an unexpectedly lengthy stay at the office of STRI, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, to confirm research permits and island visitation authorizations, we boarded a bus for the four hour ride to Santiago.  From there it took another couple of hours to reach the trending surf town of Santa Catalina.  This was our departure point for Isla Coiba.  We would arrive on the island after a ninety-minute voyage aboard a small panga, a modest, open, outboard-powered boat owned by a trustworthy local captain named Feliciano.  Joining us on board were Javier, our guide; Melvin, Feliciano’s son and assistant; and Viviana, our cook for the duration of our time on the island.  She was also Feliciano’s daughter.  The family had a good thing going there.

It was the very start of the rainy season, when the afternoon clouds were uncertain about their daily growth spurt and still occasionally neglected to convene and conspire to drench us. The green of the tropics, so vivid to anyone from parched California, owes its existence to that cloudy conspiracy but remains brilliant whether the rain falls or not. This vibrant green that is present everywhere you look offered the strongest impression to me about the island.  When I think back on my time there, I think green.  And damp.

When we prepare to visit someplace new we often look up photographs, videos, even movies that feature that place. It seems like a good idea to do our best to understand it as well as we can before we experience it in person.  It is indeed a good idea, I suppose, but visual images fall so far short.  Maybe they are better than nothing, but perhaps not much. Photographic images offer only one thing – a picture – and apply to only one of our senses – vision.  The reality of a place is the sum of its sensual offerings, and that goes far beyond merely what we can see.  I once heard a missionary comment that no news camera’s film images can convey the harshness of a riot, because the acrid smell of burning tires cannot be recorded by a camera.  In the same way, no photograph of Coiba’s lush green hills can signal the humidity of the air that is present.  It fills every pore with moisture and produces that constant trickle of sweat that the visitor or resident alike learns to live with.  Amazingly, the visitor who slowly becomes a resident does get acclimated; the humidity does become easier to cope with.  My previous experience in the tropics taught me this.  The far more brief experience of Isla Coiba that I had early this summer was by no means long enough for that acclimatization to even begin.  It was just green, vibrant, full of life, and full of moisture.


Related reading: 

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on life, nature and death)

More Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on Nat. Science Teachers Association conference)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Zacchaeus and the Monkey Swing Tree)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Close Encounter with a Bimac)


Tags:  Karen McReynolds 

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STEM and the Humanities

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Sunday, July 19, 2015

 Why America's obsession with STEM education is dangerous

The Washington Post

March 26, 2015


If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities. From President Obama on down, public officials have cautioned against pursuing degrees like art history, which are seen as expensive luxuries in today’s world. Republicans want to go several steps further and defund these kinds of majors. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asked Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. “I don’t think so.” America’s last bipartisan cause is this: A liberal education is irrelevant, and technical training is the new path forward. It is the only way, we are told, to ensure that Americans survive in an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition. The stakes could not be higher.

This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.

Read it all here.


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Notes from Ms. Frizzle

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Karen McReynolds

That Poor Crap

I teach science to college students who are not very interested in science. This can be challenging - more so than I would like at times.  Most of the time, students land in my biology or earth science class so they can meet the general education requirements of our liberal arts Christian university and never have to learn anything about living things or the earth again.  While these are not ideal circumstances for teaching science, I do the best I can.  Because of His goodness and His love for the world and its creatures, God blesses my efforts.  He also rewards me with occasional moments of outrageous laughter.

Toward the end of the last semester, when our visit to the Ocean Institute fell through at the last minute, I assigned students to do some internet sleuthing and find three lengthy videos about various aspects of the ocean. They were to watch each of them and evaluate them according to content and educational value.  One student turned in the following paragraph as part of her assignment.  I rewrite it here verbatim.

The second critter of the sea is a creature called the “Manta Shrimp”, these shrimp are bright in color and are extremely powerful for their small size. At one point in the video you see a crap run for cover under a glass, for most creatures this would make the crap safe, however not for the Manta Shrimp. This creature has arms or extensions that come out from the base of his body and have the power to hit something at the same strength as a 22 round bullet. That poor crap didn’t have a chance, not only did the Manta Shrimp break the glass it was able to break the crab’s shell with one swing.

In case you were wondering, I do have the student’s permission to use this. I happened to see her after the semester ended and I pointed out this particular paragraph to her. We both had a good laugh over it; she is a good sport. A better sport than writer, perhaps, but it is undeniable that she learned something about ocean life from this assignment. She also improved her understanding of the complexity and wonder of nature, and genuinely speaks differently now than she did at the start of the semester about the natural world.  If this is the result of my teaching efforts, I guess I can take a little crap along the way.



Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on life, nature and death)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Reflection on Nat. Science Teachers Association conference)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Zacchaeus and the Monkey Swing Tree)

Notes from Ms. Frizzle (Close Encounter with a Bimac)



Tags:  Karen McReynolds 

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