Remember back in 2008 when news sites spun into a tizzy over the National Debt Clock? The debt had topped $10 trillion and the clock ran out of digits. Bigger debt called for a bigger clock, and the machine was replaced in 2009.
In the 1960s, a guy named Bob Paine picked a small stretch of rocky beach in Washington state and evicted its sea stars, crowbarring them off the rocks and throwing them back into the ocean. Within a year, the beach’s demographics had changed dramatically: barnacles and then mussels replaced algae and limpets. Species richness, or the number of different species present, hadn’t gone down by the number of sea stars–it had halved.
Paine realized the reason behind the shift was that without the sea stars around to eat barnacles and mussels, their populations skyrocketed, and their demand for algae and limpets increased, causing those populations to crash. He called the three-step chain a “trophic cascade”; the sea stars at the top that shaped the chain he called an “apex predator.”
I don’t think I even said this as I considered teaching. It came about more naturally. I was spending all of my “spare” time (who really has spare time in college?) working with kids in schools and after-school programs. I loved the education classes I took, and everyone told me I would be a good teacher. I wasn’t sold, but my government degree made for a lot of vague job possibilities, many of which I had no interest in. Teaching was a “real” job with an income, and it would allow to work for something I cared about, but it wasn’t something I went into with a passion for the profession.Fast forward two years, and I love so much of my job. On a daily basis, I get to think creatively to solve hundreds of problems. I spend my day running around using a variety of skills: constructing posters, facilitating discussions, counseling hormonal teenagers, and manipulating algebra and geometry to make them work for me. I love it.
I’m in this space primarily to write about biology and ecology, but as you may know, I’ve been traveling this past week. The trip gave me a couple ideas for blog posts on those topics, but they need some time to percolate. In the mean time, an earlier love, history, is calling me from a discovery I made on my trip.
The unexpected appearance of an old acquaintance. Photo by me.
John Witherspoon was one of New Jersey’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. He’s a decently big deal there, particularlyin Princeton (he was also president of the University when it was still called the College of New Jersey): my middle school and a main road in town are both named for him. Basically, if you’re in New Jersey and looking to go past the top-tier Founders, he’s the guy you turn to.
But you might not have to turn very far. I’d like to propose a new game: Six Degrees of John Witherspoon.
Two years ago, I started my career as an educator flooded with rumors of what the “Common Core” would do to our classrooms and our schools. What may sound like an ab workout to those outside the education world is ultimately a set of standards encompassing what students should be able to do from kindergarten through high school. Thus far, 45 states and DC have opted to transition to the Common Core State Standards, though some are getting cold feet when faced with daunting obstacles instead of Race to the Top incentives.
There’s been a lot of controversy over whether the transition to the Common Core is a good one, with valid arguments on both sides. With the Common Core in place, it will be infinitely easier for a teacher from Maryland to collaborate with a teacher from Georgia or Oregon. Suddenly we’re working towards the same goals defined in the same language. Continue reading →