My friend Ethan Lowry and his co-developer, Joe Heitzeberg, launched a Kickstarter project for the Poppy, a device that turns your iPhone into a 3D camera. I backed the project at the $39 level and received my Poppy right after Christmas. The concept is reminiscent of the View-Master, which we all have probably played with as children. (The initial fundraising goal for Poppy was $40,000, but the project ultimately raised more than $190,000.) Poppy uses optics to create the 3D effect. You slip your iPhone into the slot and flip the front optics box and start shooting photos or video using the Poppy app. It’s an ingenious and affordable device that I thought would offer us a fun way to collaborate and create.
After Poppy started shipping, Ethan and Joe sent an email to all the Kickstarter backers inviting them to submit Poppy photos and videos for a chance to win another device. I had just purchased the Animation Studio kit, a box that transforms into a miniature set for a stop-motion movie, as a project for the kids. I thought it might be fun to use the Poppy to make a 3D stop-motion movie. Meilee and I had made a stop-motion movie in the past using Legos and the Stop Motion Studio iPhone app, but we certainly had not shot anything in 3D.
We decided to create a simple story using two Christmas ornaments and a gingerbread cookie. We shot it using the Poppy and then created the movie with the Stop Motion Studio app. Meilee proudly claims that she did the actual eating of the cookie. I ended up rendering two versions. In the original, the titles are hard to read and the pace is a little too fast. The second version has cleaner titles and a slightly slower pace. You can watch them as is to get a sense of the plot, but it’s best viewed through a Poppy, of course.
On New Year’s Day, we went to the beach near our house and shot this short movie about beach combing.
I got the best Christmas gift ever from my kids. Meilee encouraged Shen to attempt to ride his bike without training wheels. (We took the training wheels off earlier this summer and promptly had to re-install them.) He agreed. And what happened over the course of three days was not just a lesson in physics (Shen fell many times), but the realization of many of the “good-human” qualities I have tried to instill in my children: teamwork, supportiveness, persistence, love, joy, and an understanding of the reward of having accomplished something.
(Author note: I had started this post in October, but didn’t finish until now. Life got busy.)
Back in August 2013, I signed up to run my first 5K. I had not been a runner and walked on a treadmill to get exercise. One day, my legs wanted to go faster, so I started running. Once I was able to run one mile without stopping, my goal was to run a daily mile and see how long I could maintain a streak. About three days before I signed up for the 5K, I ran two miles straight. This was a first and came after six months of discipline and hard work that resulted in my losing 30 pounds. I celebrated this achievement in a Facebook post and a friend suggested I register for an upcoming 5K. So I did.
But, I had only just run two miles straight and all my running had been on a treadmill. Running 5K (3.1 miles) on pavement is a completely different experience from running indoors on a treadmill. I had 25 days to train outdoors and build my endurance. Of course, I saw this as an opportunity to collaborate with my kids: For each of 25 days as I trained for my race, Meilee would have to spend 20 minutes practicing her drawing and Shen would have to practice writing his name.
At 4 and 7 years of age, my kids don’t have a concept of time; 25 days is abstract to them. What I hoped to demonstrate by example and practice was what they could accomplish as the result of consistency and discipline. Just as there were days when I had to push myself to run, there were many 20 minutes that seemed like an eternity to the kids – and me, because I had to make sure they completed each day’s work.
I asked Meilee what she learned from doing the 25-Day Project. “I learned that drawing helps keep me calm when I’m mad,” she said. “It makes me have good thoughts. And doing the 25-Day Project with all those pictures made me feel really good.”
Shen is in preschool and will head to kindergarten in the fall. Developmentally, he has been slower than Meilee was at his age to articulate himself in every way. He struggled with holding his pen, sitting for 20 minutes, staying on task, and sometimes even remembering the letters in his name or the order of the letters. While my goal for Meilee was to practice her technique and explore her creativity, my goal for Shen was more straightforward and, frankly, utilitarian. Worst case, if he ever got lost, he should at least know his first and last names and be able to spell them.
I now have a file folder of a stack of papers containing 25 days of letters and drawings. And a race bib from the 5K.
Shen attends preschool at Nature Kids, which is a program operated by the City of Seattle through Discovery Park. It’s a wonderful preschool because the kids go outside every day for a hike rain or shine. Meilee also attended Nature Kids. Shen’s first field trip – he was more excited about riding a yellow school bus – was to a Christmas tree farm. While it was cold, it was a wonderful way to get out into the “country” and for Shen to see what a tree farm is like.
September 8, 2013, was Harbor Seal Day. Seal Sitters got proclamations from the mayor as well as the governor and organized festivities around the official dedication of the “Sentinels of the Sound” harbor seal sculpture on Alki Beach. The sculpture, by artist Georgia Gerber, shows a mama seal and her pup, and it’s located near the Bathhouse. The dedication involved an invocation from Ken Workman, of the Duwamish tribe, who is one of the descendants of Chief Sealth (Seattle’s namesake).
As part of the festivities, Seal Sitters organized an art and story contest for kids. I encouraged Meilee to enter and, at first, she was excited about the prospect. Days passed and she still hadn’t made an effort to sketch an idea for the contest. When she finally did draw a picture of a harbor seal, it was lackluster and showed none of the skill or imagination that she usually effuses. These two drawings are “lazy” compared to what Meilee is capable of drawing.
Lest you think I’m being harsh, here’s a recent drawing Meilee did that does show her abilities. (The snail is a free-hand rendition of a the character from the new book “A Whale Who Dreamt of a Snail” by William Heimbach and illustrated by Angelina Tolentino – the same Gina featured in this previous post.)
No matter how much cheerleading I gave Meilee about the seal art, she just couldn’t find her inspiration. Even after we attended our first seal sitting shift and she got to see a pup on the beach, a drawing did not emerge. I was disappointed, because this was exactly the kind of opportunity that would give her a taste of working toward an artistic goal that had a potential payoff beyond the satisfaction of completing a project: winning the contest. But, I recognized that I needed to let this one go, because I didn’t want Meilee to have negative associations with drawing harbor seals. If she wasn’t inspired, she wasn’t inspired. Shortly after the entry deadline, Seal Sitters announced that the deadline had been extended. I took it as a sign that we should try again.
Again, there was struggle. I put Meilee on a phone call with artist Erica Baugh (read post about Erica) to get some advice on how to deal with artist’s block. Still, she “dialed it in.”
She ultimately decided to write a poem and illustrate it. I was just glad that she completed a drawing before the deadline. She earned an “honorable mention” and “most poetic.”
I hoped this experience would help her begin to understand the consequence of not putting effort into a project and the potential reward and fulfillment of a job well-done.
Meilee’s drawing received honorable mention and “most poetic.”
It’s worth checking out the Sept. 3 special section on science education in The New York Times. Of note, the report on the Institute of Education Sciences, which is:
“…a little-known office in the Education Department (that) is starting to get some real data, using a method that has transformed medicine: the randomized clinical trial, in which groups of subjects are randomly assigned to get either an experimental therapy, the standard therapy, a placebo or nothing.
“The findings could be transformative, researchers say. For example, one conclusion from the new research is that the choice of instructional materials — textbooks, curriculum guides, homework, quizzes — can affect achievement as profoundly as teachers themselves; a poor choice of materials is at least as bad as a terrible teacher, and a good choice can help offset a bad teacher’s deficiencies.” Read the full story here.
There’s also a story about a new version of Scratch, the programming language for kids that was created by the MIT Media Lab, that will be geared toward the younger set. Scratch Jr. is being tested in kindergartens and is expected to be available to the public sometime in 2014. Read that story here.
I also enjoyed reading comments from various leaders in tech, science and education on their thoughts about the state of education. Check out the section online: http://www.nytimes.com/indexes/2013/09/02/science/index.html
The emergency email landed in my queue at 3:30 in the afternoon earlier this week. A baby harbor seal had come ashore and the Seal Sitters needed volunteers to take shifts standing guard around the perimeter. The kids, my mom and I had attended the Seal Sitters orientation in July but we hadn’t had the opportunity yet to seal sit. I quickly called the volunteer coordinator and offered to take the 6-8 p.m. shift. I left work early – luckily, I have the flexibility to be able to adjust my hours – and rushed home to get the kids and my mom to head to West Seattle, where the seal was located. We had to negotiate rush-hour traffic, which more than doubled our drive time to about 45 minutes. (I mention this only because it affected the patience level of my kids and, as parents know, you have a small window before whining and meltdowns begin.)
We weren’t given many details other than the nearest cross streets and ended up having to walk several blocks to get to where first responders from Seal Sitters had already taped off a wide perimeter around the pup. It was our job to warn passers-by that there was a seal pup resting on the walkway below and let them know it was OK to observe from a distance. It was helpful that where the pup was resting was at the base of a ramp that had railings – a good barrier to keep the humans from getting too close and disturbing the pup.
Seal Sitters is an organization that’s a member of NOAA’s Pacific Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network. During seal pup birthing season, mom seals and their pups often “haul out” or come ashore to rest, regulate their body temperature and nurse. The mom may leave her baby on shore while she forages for more food and return later to nurse. Members of the stranding network respond to reports of seal sightings on shore.
In West Seattle, Seal Sitters serve as the first responders as well as “guards” and community educators. It is illegal to go near a marine mammal. Unfortunately, humans are often curious about seals that have hauled out and get too close and end up harming a pup or scaring the mom so much that she abandons her pup. There have been many cases where people have taken seal pups to the vet because they thought it was injured. It’s a traumatizing experience for the pup and, because it’s illegal to touch or transport a marine mammal, the vet can’t accept the seal as a patient.
I wanted Meilee and Shen to become kid ambassadors for Seal Sitters for several reasons:
To learn about volunteerism and giving back to the community.
To expose them to marine biology and the importance of not disturbing natural processes.
To learn to appreciate the beauty of our environment (e.g. being on the water at sunset).
To begin to get a sense about committing to an important task and fulfilling the requirements (seal sitting for an entire two-hour shift and helping to educate others about harbor seals).
To bring life to the book “Leopard & Silkie” which is a true story about a boy who helps protect pups that came ashore in 2007. The book was co-authored by Brenda Peterson (words) and Robin Lindsey (photographs) who are also the co-founded Seal Sitters. Meilee and Shen had received the book as a gift from their grandpa a couple of years ago.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share how our shift actually went. Meilee and Shen were excited to see the seal at first and cooed about how cute it was. But because this was an unplanned event, I didn’t have time to make dinner before rushing out the door. I grabbed some granola bars and a bag of Goldfish crackers, which the kids devoured, but they were still hungry. Remember, they’d already endured the 45-minute drive through rush hour. We also faced the setting sun, which caused the kids to complain about the blinding light.
They bickered about who got which pair of binoculars and who got to sit in the grownup chair and who got to hold the bag of Goldfish. They repeatedly asked whether we would go get some dinner and when it would be time to leave. I’d brought notebooks and markers, but I made the conscious decision to leave the Kindle at home so the kids wouldn’t be staring at a tablet instead of nature.
I interviewed the kids individually about their experience and this is what they said:
MEILEE, Age 6
Q: What did you learn from seal sitting?
Meilee: “Waiting a lot is kinda hard, but seeing the baby seal move is cute. Sometimes you have to wait a long time before you can do something else.”
Q: But what did you learn about the seals?
Meilee: “Harbor seals and other kinds of seals will stay safe when they’re on shore and nobody will disturb them.”
Q: What would you tell your friends about harbor seals?
Meilee: “I would tell them that different seals have different coats. What I mean by coats is spots and patterns. For example, harbor seals have polka dots, dark blue or black spots. And if you see a harbor seal and it’s just resting, laying down somewhere being still and quiet…it’s just resting. When animals are resting, it’s good to let them be. And be quiet. That’s what I would tell my friends.”
SHEN, Age 4:
Q: What did you like about seeing the seal?
Shen: “The seal moves.”
Q: What was the seal doing?
Shen: “The seal rested and mama seal get some lunch.”