Urdaibai Bird Center

The Urdaibai Bird Center is a nature museum for enjoying the world of birds. It offers a unique observatory of marshland in the heart of Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve in Euskadi in northern Spain.

The Center is called a “living” museum because what it has to show depends on the life of the marshland and the birds who choose to visit. You can see some of that in the webcam below.

As the Northern Hemisphere winter approaches, food supplies for birds dwindle and most begin to migrate south. Coming from as far west as Greenland and as far east as Russia, they head towards western Europe, then down towards the border between France and Spain. With the Pyrenees blocking their path to the east and the Bay of Biscay a barrier to the west, they funnel through a narrow path that takes them through Euskadi, the Basque country of Spain.

Education programs linking children throughout the world

Education programs linking children throughout the world

This is the East Atlantic Flyway, a bird migration system linking breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra with wintering grounds in Mauritania, and stretching from northern Russia to southern Africa.

The Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve preserves an age-old oasis for these birds. From here, they head south through Spain, many going to the Doñana National Park in Andalusia, across the Mediterranean to Morocco, then down the west coast of Africa to wintering grounds in the Senegal and Niger deltas, with some going as far as South Africa.

The constructed marshland

The constructed marshland

The Urdaibai Bird Center has exhibits, AV shows, interpreters, and more to explain all of this. In addition, they have observatories from which you can see the birds who are there on a given day (as in the webcam).

The birds are wonderful to see and their stories are often amazing. The migration routes sometimes extend thousands of miles. One especially interesting case is the red-backed shrike.

Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio)

Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio)

Like other birds this shrike heads south from northern Europe, stops over at Urdaibai, and then goes to southern Spain. But instead of heading directly south to the west coast of Africa, it turns east to Italy, or even Greece, then turns south through central Africa. Further breaking the mold, it returns by a different route. It goes further east, through the horn of Africa, Arabia, and Turkey, before turning west.

After exploring a bit in some ornithology journals, I learned that individual red-backed shrikes break the pattern even more, often following idiosyncratic paths and ending up hundreds of miles apart in South Africa.

It’s behavior like this that makes the work of a bird center like Urdaibai both challenging and wonderful.

The Children’s Room

Cape Cod Modern, by Peter McMahon & Christine Cipriani

Cape Cod Modern, by Peter McMahon & Christine Cipriani

Each age tries to form its own conception of the past. Each age writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time. –Frederick Jackson Turner, “The significance of history”, 1893

Tiny Wellfleet has been a significant home for histories of all stripes. These include psychohistory (Robert Jay Lifton, Erik Erikson, etc.), history employed to support social justice and civil rights (Howard Zinn, William McFeely, etc.), histories of colonial settlements, pirates, and whaling, and accounts of the daily lives of artists, shellfishers, and innumerable interesting characters. Wellfleet historical writing has for a long time been a vital participant in the story of Wellfleet, not simply a spectator.

A recent example is the winner of the 2015 Historic New England Book Prize, co-authored by Peter McMahon and Christine Cipriani: Cape Cod Modern: Mid-century Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape.The book uses architectural and personal photos, and interviews with designers, their families, and their clients to document the experimental homes designed by a cosmopolitan group of designers who settled in Wellfleet and Truro in the mid-20th century. The book has stimulated renewed interest in Bauhaus, in the so-called modernist houses, and in the community around them.

Preparatory drawing for playroom mural in Kepes House, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Julia Kepes

Preparatory drawing for playroom mural in Kepes House, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Julia Kepes

A complementary project can now be seen with the summer opening of the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum today. The Children’s Room, Art and Design of Wellfleet’s Mid-century Children’s Books is a collaboration of WHSM with the Cape Cod Modern House Trust and the Wellfleet Public Library. Here’s a description from the WHSM site:

During the 1930s Wellfleet’s population was just barely 800 people, and yet over 1,000 books have been published by, or about, the town’s mid-century denizens, around 200 being inventive books for children. Many of these books were designed and illustrated by some of the most acclaimed graphic artists of the era. This exhibit includes a selection of books, artifacts and original artwork.

Dwellers of the Tundra, by Aylette Jenness & Jonathan Jenness

Dwellers of the Tundra, by Aylette Jenness & Jonathan Jenness

Many of the artists and authors of the children’s books were connected with Bauhaus, and its emphasis on learning, science, experimentalism, and progressive politics. That can be seen in the wide variety of nature topics and in sympathetic depictions of diverse cultures.

As with Bauhaus, the exhibit invites participation. Visitors can observe blown-up versions of artwork from the children’s books, and peruse the books themselves. There are specially designed benches on which to sit or to spread out the objects. There are also crayons and paper to create your own artworks.

I like the fact that the museum is opening just after the summer solstice (a special one at that, coinciding with a strawberry moon). Bauhaus was very aware of new technologies, materials, and scientific discoveries. A love of nature and its meanings for humans was evident throughout its history. Wellfleetian Ati Gropius, who was the daughter of founder Walter, would gather people in late June and ask “What does the summer solstice mean to you?” Several of the Bauhaus-connected houses took advantage of solar or lunar movements in their design. So, it’s appropriate that this wonderful new exhibit welcome the summer season.

Fidelia, by Ruth Adams & Ati Forberg (Gropius)

Fidelia, by Ruth Adams & Ati Forberg (Gropius)

The new Children’s Room is filled with wonderful individual items. There are Caldecott award winners and artworks that are surprisingly fresh and striking a half century or more after they were created. But the exhibit as a whole brings the items together in a provocative way, adding new meaning to the specific items and to our understanding of that mid-century era.

As I think about how our history-making enriches life in Wellfleet, I’m reminded of William James’s comment about teaching:

You can give humanistic value to almost anything by teaching it historically. Geology, economics, mechanics, are humanities when taught with reference to the successive achievements of the geniuses to which these sciences owe their being. Not taught thus literature remains grammar, art a catalogue, history a list of dates, and natural science a sheet of formulas and weights and measures. –William James, “The social value of the college-bred,” 1907

 

A conference in Taipei

The conference in Taipei a little over a week ago was really two-in-one. It combined “Museums in Everyday Life” with “Educational and Communication Technology Transforms the Future.” The museum part meant that we had tours of several local museums as part of the conference activities, rather than requiring one to skip sessions.

At the end, there was a wonderful dinner with Taiwanese specialities at Qingtian 76 (also see), a Japanese-styled building that had once been the residence for National Taiwan University professors and is now an excellent and charming restaurant.

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Journal series on progressive education

The International Journal of Progressive Education (IJPE) has now published a series of three special issues on “Progressive Education: Past, Present and Future”:

  1. Progressive Education: Antecedents of Educating for Democracy (IJPE 9.1, February 2013)
  2. Progressive Education: Educating for Democracy and the Process of Authority (IJPE 9.2, June 2013)
  3. What’s Next?: The Future of Progressivism as an “Infinite Succession of Presents” (IJPE 9.3, October 2013)

I worked on these journal issues with John Pecore, Brian Drayton, and Maureen Hogan, as well as article contributors from around the world. We’re now exploring options for developing some of the articles along with some additional material into a handbook. The series is timely given current debates about the purpose and form of education in an era of rapid technological change, globalization, demographic and political shifts, and growing economic inequities. It asks, “What have we learned about pedagogy that can support democratic, humanistic, and morally responsible development for individuals and societies?”

Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that emphasizes aspects such as learning by doing, student-centered learning, valuing diversity, integrated curriculum, problem solvingcritical thinking, collaborative learning, education for social responsibility, and lifelong learning. It situates learning within social, community, and political contexts. It was promoted by the Progressive Education Association in the US from 1919 to 1955, and reflected in the educational philosophy of John Dewey.

But as an approach to pedagogy, progressive education is in no way limited to the US or the past century. In France, the Ecole Moderne, developed from the work of Célestin Freinet, emphasizes the social activism side of progressive education. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education demonstrates the importance of art in learning, a key element of the holistic approach in progressive education. Paulo Freire’s work in Brazil on critical literacy, highlights the link between politics and pedagogy. Similarly, influenced by his experiences in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of basic education resonates with progressive ideals of learning generated within everyday life, cooperation, and educating the whole person, including moral development.

It is worth noting that progressive education invariably seeks to go beyond the classroom walls. Thus, the work of Jane Addams and others at Hull House with immigrants fits, even if it is not situated within a traditional school. Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School focused on social activism with adults, exemplifying the progressive education ideals. So too is the Escuela Nueva in Spain, Colombia, and elsewhere. The informal learning in museums, libraries, community and economic development, and online may express progressive education more fully than what we see in many schools today.

We hope that these issues will prove to be a useful resource for anyone interested improving education for a healthier world.

Photo opportunity

I was recently invited to appear in a book for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. They’re featuring people who played an important role in creating the museum, famous people who enjoyed the museum, and for some reason, me.

This project involved making photos of the people in scenes with museum artifacts. In my case, that was to be antique telescopes. It’s not hard to find antiques, since even the new ones from my day are now over half a century old. The photography was to take place in Austin.

My photo shoot went OK in the end, but was a near disaster in many ways. Skipping over several minor problems, which made me a few minutes late, I arrived at what I thought was the site, the J. J. Pickle Research Campus, only to be told that I had come to the wrong place. Michael O’Brien, the photographer, did not have any office there, but could definitely be found at CMA (?) on the main University of Texas (UT) campus. *All* I had to do was drive down Burnet Rd to 183, take IH 35, get off at 24th St, and find my way to his office. That was a white knuckles drive in the Austin traffic, in an unfamiliar car, especially when I don’t see well while I’m waiting for new contact lenses.

Anyway, I eventually got to the main campus, but at the opposite corner from CMA. I was given a map, but it didn’t show construction. So, I’d drive ten blocks down a narrow street, with cars on both sides, people on bicycles, pedestrians walking haphazardly, while searching for a street sign I could read. Then I’d come to a construction barrier, which meant I had to back up and go a different way. I eventually reached what I thought was CMA.

There were of course no parking spaces, save for one with large signs declaring how your car would be towed within seconds and crushed to a pinpoint of dense matter for use in a cosmology department experiment if you even thought of using it. It was my mother’s car, but she wasn’t there, so, deciding for her, I took the chance. Inside CMA, which by now I’d decided was a top secret agency, known only to a few others with three-letter acronyms, I asked for Michael O’Brien. No one would admit knowing him, and he wasn’t in the directory.

I kept pressing on, meeting people in the special needs communications department (obviously some kind of intelligence agency function), radio-television-film (propaganda department), and eventually journalism. Under relentless pressure, I finally got someone to claim him.

Unidentified But Helpful Person: Would you like his phone number?
Me: Thanks, no, I have that and already called it, leaving a message.
UBHP: He has a cell number.
Me: Oh, can you give me that?
UBHP: No, but I could call it for you.
Me: Please do.

To my surprise, we reached Michael. Almost immediately another call came in, undoubtedly from some little-known war region, so we went on hold, I had to move to another room, needed to, but couldn’t find the other phone, had trouble reconnecting, and so on. Eventually, we were able to talk, most certainly being recorded by CMA operatives. I apologized; he apologized.

Then, I learned where he was, at the J. J. Pickle Campus: “All you need to do is get across the campus, head north on that same IH 35, take 183 north to Burnet Rd. Just come in the main gate [exactly where I’d been before].” We’re in building 6.

So, I retraced my previous harrowing drive, finally making it the photo shoot. I was sweaty, dehydrated, frazzled, rumpled, everything one needs to be ready for an expensive, high-stakes photo op.

Building 6 turned out to be Vertebrate Paleontology. It’s filled with fossils of creatures who blessedly never had to deal with Austin traffic, construction, vicious tow operators (I got away this time), or  gigantic campuses. I wanted to explore the building, but we (the photo crew of three and I) were after all now an hour late.

So, we moved directly into photos. Poor Michael and team must needed to take several hundred, searching for one in which I didn’t look like the after photo from the evil tow company’s crushing operation. Eventually he succeeded.

But I’m almost certain that when he said he’d gotten a good one, that he’d focused on the telescope alone, and I was out of the frame. As Dewey’s idea of end-in-view tells us, standards for success need to accommodate to changing reality. The sharks managed to stay away.

Anyway, we were done. I hope the book is a success in spite of me.

One bonus of the adventure was that I got to meet Wann Langston, a famous UT paleontologist (above left). He’ll be featured in the book because of his research on fossils in Texas, which played an important role in the Museum’s early development, including my own experiences in the “Rocks and Fossils” classes.

Langston shared some of his current work on fossilized giant crocodiles from the Big Bend area. I think they were Deinosuchus. He showed us several models made from creatures with jaws big enough to swallow a man whole, especially one who by then was exhausted from his photo shoot (harder than you may think) and his explorations of the UT campus(es).

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

As a reward for hours spent with packing, house repairs, and financial stuff, my mother and I went to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History yesterday.

We had a good lunch at the Stars Cafe and a fascinating, though all too brief, visit to the exhibits, including interesting talks staff about the Museum’s history. In addition to being our reward, the visit was a commemoration. it was nearly 60 years ago, on George Washington’s birthday, that my parents and I moved to Fort Worth from Houston. On his birthday this year, my mother will be packing her belongings to move to Austin.

Not long after we arrived, she enrolled me in The Frisky and Blossom Club, the first class of the Museum School. So, a return to the Museum marked both her time in Fort Worth and the evolution of the Museum itself, from being a children’s museum in a house to the recently renovated, massive complex of today.

The current Museum is grand and spacious, with atriums and courtyards. But the prior Fort Worth Children’s Museum was a wonderful place in a different way, with a sense of mysteries tucked away in crowded rooms and clubs devoted to astronomy and insects. But it was my first encounter with the Museum at its Summit house location that hooked me on museums:

The museum’s history actually began in 1939 when the local council of Administrative Women in Education began a study of children’s museums, with the idea of starting one in Fort Worth. Two years later the charter was filed, but it would be almost four years before the museum would find a physical home. With the help of the city’s school board, the museum opened in early 1945 in two rooms in De Zavala Elementary School.

In 1947 the museum moved into the large R.E. Harding House at 1306 Summit, where it kept growing in size and popularity. Three years later two significant entities appeared: The Ladies Auxiliary of the Fort Worth Children’s Museum (now the Museum Guild), and “The Frisky and Blossom Club,” the forerunner of Museum School®. Soon it became apparent that a much larger facility was needed to serve the growing needs of the community. Ground was broken for a new facility in 1952. On January 25, 1954, the museum open the building at 1501 Montgomery Street. The following year the Charlie Mary Noble Planetarium, the first public planetarium in the region, opened.

In 1968 the name was changed to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History so that adults even without children could enjoy the Museum. It worked! Today more than half the Museum’s visitors are adults. Much of that is due to the addition of the Omni Theater in 1983. The Omni was the first IMAX® dome theater in the Southwest and continues to be one of the most successful in the world.

Youth Community Informatics Forum

Forum flyer p. 1The goal of the Youth Community Informatics project is to encourage youth to consider careers in library and information science by engaging them in technology-rich activities that benefit their local communities. Youth ages 12-18, along with their adult leaders.

  1. participate in technology-mediated learning modules on a range of information science topics;
  2. work on community informatics projects in collaboration with local community partners and university students from LIS and related fields;
  3. participate in campus events to experience a wide variety of library and information science careers;
  4. Forum flyer p. 2help develop computer technology centers for their own use, and for use by others in their communities.

In the Youth Community Informatics Forum, to be held on June 27-28, 2008 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, groups of youth will investigate information spaces around campus using digital cameras and GPS, along with their own eyes and ears, create Google Maps representations of what they learn, discuss their findings with other groups. They will also learn about LIS careers and about working with their own communities.

The project is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).