Podcasts, Music, Children's Books, and More

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As part of two courses, Ecology, Evolution, and Climates through Time, and Life through Time, students were asked to synthesize and communicate critical events in Earth’s history and new knowledge about the diversity of ancient life.  

In Ecology, Evolution, and Climates through Time these events include: the extinction of most (not all) dinosaurs (also known as the K/T or K/Pg mass extinction); a period of rapid warming known as the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (a.k.a. the PETM) that occurred ~55 million years ago; the expansion of grasslands ~20-5 million years ago; the Great Biotic Interchange – the interchange of plants and animals across the Panamanian land bridge ~3 million years ago; and, the Late Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinction, when numerous large animals went extinct across the globe. As these topics are not typically discussed by the general public, the student's primary objective was to communicate these complex topics to specific audiences (as they defined themselves, ranging from preschoolers to adults). 

In Life through Time students were challenged to take recent "hot of the press" scientific papers about ancient organisms (spanning bacteria to the largest shark that ever lived) and translate those findings into short (~3 minute) podcasts.  Podcasts feature Stromatolites - early engineers, Dunkleosteus - a giant armored fish, Tiktaalik - a true transitional fossil, Magyarosaurus - a dwarf sauropod, Rhodocetus - a whale of a tale, Paraceratherium - the largest land mammal ever, Megalodon - the largest shark that ever lived and shark nurseries, Smilodon - sabertoothed cats biting into flesh, and something to think on regarding brain size and extinction.

Please note that the posted examples are not necessarily 100% accurate, but do largely explain the current state of knowledge regarding the above mentioned topics.  Further, the scientists and characters portrayed are either fictitious or are impersonations of actual scientists.  Additionally, these summaries are written by the students and the work posted is their own and may not be reproduced without explicit permission from the authors.

Have fun and enjoy learning more about Earth’s ancient life!

Major Events in Earth's History (past 65 million years)
What do we know about dinosaur extinctions? 

In this coloring book, each page features a statement that provides information on the K-T extinction and either a related image to color or a related activity. The information in each statement is intended for a student in elementary or middle school to comprehend. At this age, most students are familiar with the extinction of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the media is providing this age group with inaccurate information. We wanted to address this issue. In addition, we wanted to create a fun, engaging way for young students to learn about science. We hope to promote an early interest in earth and environmental sciences.
        We chose a coloring book because we want to present scientific information in a way that doesn’t feel like learning. For example, when students go from coloring dinosaurs, the celebrities of the K-T extinction, to deciphering a maze that leads them to the iridium layer in the crust of the Earth, they might ask “What does this have to do with the dinosaurs?” Questions like this will motivate students to read the information provided on each page.

Dinosaur Extinction - Activity Book.pdf

The Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum - Rapid Warming ~55 million years ago

This 15-minute podcast communicates the main conclusions of scientific papers regarding the PETM. With two group members serving as the host of the “show,” interviews, phone calls, and fake commercials were conducted to creatively discuss the PETM.  An introduction of the PETM and the goals of the podcast are at the beginning of the show to provide a framework of the podcast for the listener. Through segmentation of the show, structure was provided to the program in order to make it easier for the audience to digest the information. Finally, at the end of the show, the importance and relevance of the PETM to today’s world, was discussed. The end product is a show that is designed to keep the listeners engaged through segmentation, fun callers, and commercials - in order to teach the main points of the PETM.

PETM Podcast - two dudes talking about science

This children’s book is short and to the point; something that a K-2nd grader could read easily and then go home and tell his or her parents something about a specific time in Earth’s past, in this case, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.  The focus of this book was simply to show kids that the Earth changes, and with it, the organisms that live on it.  I felt that this is important as we move into in age in which our Earth is changing yet again.

PETM Book - The Big Warmup.pdf

The Expansion of Grasslands - How and when did the world change?

This podcast is intended to make scientific discoveries accessible to the general population. In the way that Serial, the popular podcast from the creators of This American Life, shed light on the criminal justice system, we aim to create a window into the realm of scientific inquiry. Additionally, this podcast is intended to pique the public's interest in the Earth's intricate history. By using layman's terms and applying the various papers' themes to the the Earth's current status, we hope to help people understand the Earth's past and learn from it.

Grassland Expansion Podcast

This children's book explains the changes from forests to grasslands in the Miocene.  I believe that children have a larger aptitude for understanding scientific concepts than we give them credit for.  In this vein, I decided to write this children's book on the Janis et al. 2000 (PNAS) article, and break down the scientific article in terms that I think would be reasonable for younger children to understand.  The illustrations are there to entertain and help clarify scientific concepts.  

Some of the strongest memories from my elementary and middle school education have to do with music and its use in the classroom.  For this reason, I chose to target my final project to early middle-school science students – my goal was to create something that could get stuck in their heads, something that they would enjoy and have fun singing along to, and something that they might catch themselves singing five or six years down the road.  In order to simplify the material for this audience, I first condensed the provided articles into main points – and from this, I then synthesized basic ideas that could be communicated through simple lyrics.  I then set these ideas to the lyrical form of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” and began the creative arrangement her provided.

Miocene Lyrics - Augie Phillips.pdf

Miocene - Music Video

The Great Biotic Interchange - Creating a Biological Highway and Road Block to Land and Marine Organisms ~ 3 million years ago 

Meet G.A.B.I. is a children’s book aimed to communicate the core concepts of the Great American Biotic Interchange to elementary to middle school aged students. More specifically, it is meant to present an opportunity for collaborative learning between groups at different points in their educational careers. This could mean collaboration between an older student and a younger one, a parent and a student, a teacher and student, or a variety of other combinations. In order to facilitate this dual level of learning, the book includes a more scientifically literate summary article, references, and a definitions bank as well as the narrative itself. The goal of this format is to educate not only a young reader through the primary narrative, but anyone else who could help this younger learner on their journey to discovery about this subject.

        To provide an example: Hannah HighSchooler studies the Great American Biotic Interchange in class. She might find the scientific summary article and the further reading suggestions helpful to continue her study. Additionally, she should be able to use Meet G.A.B.I. as a resource to teach this subject to Molly MiddleSchool, who may not be as scientifically versed but can understand the core subjects presented in the primary narrative. Together, Hannah learns teaching and communication skills while Molly gets a head start on an interesting topic of study she might encounter again later in life. Though the topic might seem initially challenging for Molly, it is the goal of this book that it be used as a tool to communicate challenging concepts to those willing to learn. Through this collaborative effort, both Hannah and Molly can grow as thinkers and learners. The mission of meet G.A.B.I.is to help people learn from each other. We should all be students and learners no matter our age, and it is the goal of this book to contribute to that process.

GBI Book - Meet GABI.pdf

The goal of this project was to create a lesson plan for sixth grade science teachers (or more broadly 4-8th grade) to introduce the Great American Biotic Interchange in a relevant understandable way. This topic, which illustrates the importance of fossils, the geological forces of plate tectonics, and the relationship between changes in the environment and its effects on biodiversity, presented in the form of several different interactive activities, will help address the fact that the United States has one of the lowest beliefs in and understandings of the theory of evolution, which is central to a comprehensive science education. This lesson plan follows the standards presented in the Next Generation Science Standards for sixth grade students because it incorporates two of the standards: analyzing and interpreting data from fossils to provide evidence of ancient organisms and their environments, and constructing an argument that in particular environments, some organisms survive well while others do not. The activities presented in this lesson plan include handouts, a video, group discussion, and question and answer portions, all designed to keep sixth grade students engaged.

Great Biotic Interchange Lesson Plan.pdf

I often have to make long car drives home and I find it very entertaining to listen to a podcast named “Stuff You Missed in History Class” which are about thirty minute long podcast with a huge range of topics to choose from. My goal for this project was to create an episode of a podcast just like the ones I listen to but change it from history to biology. Just like the podcasts, my audience is the general public with a high school education. I chose this audience because I feel that this is a good level to reach a wide span of Americans that could be just curious about the topic while on their commute to work or even a high schooler doing research for a school report. My project best accomplishes this by using common science terms that are very common to the public as well as defining new terms and applying those terms to the discussion such as Neotropic and Nearctic. I also mention some academic papers in my podcast that a listener could further read to discover a more in-depth outlook on the topic.  

Great Biotic Interchange - Stuff you missed in biology class

Overall, the object of this project was to have an easily approachable introduction to the Great Biotic Interchange, one of the most important events in prehistory and our best data point for large scale migration between two distinct ecosystems. To that end, some information was inevitably streamlined and simplified in the interest of simplicity and concision. Ultimately, the podcast seeks to educate the viewers about the Great Biotic Interchange, and perhaps more relevantly, why these events are important today.

GBI Podcast

The Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinction - What caused the largest animals to go extinct? 

The purpose of this podcast is to address the Late Pleistocene Extinction of the Megafauna in a form that is more accessible to the general public. Included in this podcast are concise snippets and summaries of a few various hypotheses on the megafauna extinction. These hypotheses include: hyper-disease theory, the impact theory, the blitzkrieg theory, and the climate change theory. The podcast is also geared to inform the public about the importance of the Earth’s past in predicting what the future might be like through comparing the causes and effects of major ecological changes in the past with the developing situations that our current environment is starting to see today. 

Pleistocene Podcast

Diversity of Ancient Life Podcasts
Stromatolites - our earliest engineers?  

What if I told you that the first diverse communities in the history of the world to build complex structures weren’t humans? Not a huge surprise, right? What if I told you that it wasn’t even animals? Or even plants? But that is increasingly what scientists are finding to be true.  

Stromatolites - our earliest engineers

Dunkleosteus - an ancient armored fish  

Hello there paleo-people! On today’s podcast, we’ll be taking a dive back into the depths of the Devonian, and look at the bite of the famous bus-sized, marine monster — Dunkleosteus. 

Dunkleosteus - an ancient armored fish

Tiktaalik - a true transitional fossil  

Head, shoulders, knees, and fins. Knees and fins? Have I been singing this wrong since kindergarten? I thought it was knees and toes but scientists have made a recent discovery that makes me question my kindergarten teachings.... there is something fishy going on around here.  

Tiktaalik - a true transition

Magyarosaurus - the dwarf sauropod  

Hey there dinosaur lovers!  You know, I've recently been learning a lot about dinosaurs and I've come to the realization that the big and/or scary looking ones get all of the attention.  Well, I'm hear to tell you about one that was quite the opposite of this - a dwarfed herbivore.

Magyarosaurus - the dwarf sauropod

Rhodocetus - a whale of a tale

Breaking news!  A research team led by Philip Gingerich has made an incredible discovery!  A new species linking modern day whales with there prehistoric relatives has been found hidden among the green shale of Pakistan.  

Rhodocetus - a whale of a tale

Paraceratherium - the largest land mammal

Every year since I was a kid my father has given me and all of my brothers (who are now all in our 20s, mind you) one of those expandable water toys in our stockings for Christmas. You know the ones – what starts off as a tiny giraffe slowly expands over the course of 48 hours to over 20 times its size! Their rapid growth seems limitless, I remember my childlike awe and wondering if it could grow to be as big as me. But what about real animals? How big can they get? What regulates and limits a mammal’s growth? Answers vary over time and with environment, but recent research into the largest known mammal that ever lived can give us some insight. 

Paraceratherium - the largest land mammal

Megalodon - the largest shark that ever lived...and their shark nurseries

I want you to picture Megalodon, the star of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and crowned the largest shark to have ever lived. You probably pictured some scenes that could have been taken straight from jaws, which is fair considering the behemoth’s reputation. But what if I told you that this giant shark in one way could resemble the modern-day soccer mom? 

Megalodon - the largest shark and their nurseries

Smilodon - a story to sink your teeth into

Imagine you are an early human, living a long time ago during the Pleistocene, or the last Ice Age. Everything’s different—the world is unrecognizable to you, but there’s one thing you know for sure—there are some pretty scary predators out there. Which one is most frightening to you? The Pleistocene carnivore that would scare me the most is Smilodon, or the saber-toothed cat.

Smilodon - biting into flesh

Brain Size - something to think on

Hello and welcome to 201.7 radio and science show.  Our top story tonight - Does relative brain size hurt or improve the chances of going extinct in mammals?  

Brain Size - something to think on