Thursday, May 17, 2012

If it's worth doing, it's worth

One of the best ways to make work meaningful and authentic to high school students is to have them share their work with an audience. This is a generation that, for better or for worse, posts their every waking move on line. If its important to them, they post it on Facebook or put the video up on YouTube. I began to notice this when we were working on an exciting lesson in class (dissecting sharks, simulating meteor impacts on the moon, racing cockroaches, etc.). Students would ask me if they could take video of the lesson to show their friends. To the typical high school student if it is exciting, it is worth sharing. For them, sharing often makes an experience feel important. By tapping into this, teachers have an opportunity to increase student engagement, and now that anyone can set up a blog in a matter of minutses, it is easier than ever for teachers and students to share student work with the wider world. When I told my students that they would be sharing their projects (podcasts) online, I was amazed to see just how much more important the assignment became to them.

Their assignment was to research the global extinction crisis currently facing amphibians.  With over 1,900 species of amphibians currently facing the threat of extinction, we run the very real risk of loosing 1/3 of all amphibian species in our lifetimes. These alarming statistics helped to grab their attention, but what really inspired them to make a creation worth sharing was simply the fact that I planned to share it with a wide audience.

Recently I found myself with the TED-Ed recording unit that I used to record the narration for this animated video I included my students in the process when I was making the video and I shared the rough draft of the animation with my students before it was released on My students were fascinated with the process of me creating and sharing my own work with the world.  Since I still had the recording equipment that TED had sent me, I decided my students should use it to record their own creations.  This set the stage for them as they began creating their own podcasts. I think they really got a kick out of using the portable sound recording booth (a well designed hood of sound dampening foam).

I asked them to write and record 30-90 second micro-podcasts that would each highlight the plight of one individual amphibian species.  While it might not be a very big step towards world wide amphibian conservation, I hope that it helped my students see that they have the power to create and that it is now easier than ever to share your creations with the world.

Here is what they came up with: It is a blog telling the world about the endangered amphibians that they learned about.  They have been thrilled to see it shared online. For them, and for many high school students, the important things are worth sharing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What I wish for my TED-Ed video.

In a few hours the folks at TED will be launching a new website, TED-Ed.  The site is meant to build on the popularity of the incredibly viral TED talks on the website.  TED talks have become so popular largely because, as the tagline says, they share "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world". However, I think that they have also become so pervasive because of their share-ability.  One click and they are posted on your Facebook wall or attached in an email to a friend.  This has been an extremely powerful tool for spreading ideas.  Indeed the average TED talk is viewed online more than 100,000 times and the most popular talks have been viewed millions of times. The most popular of which is Ken Robinson's talk, Schools Kill Creativity; it has been viewed more than 10 million times. (If you haven't seen it, watch it now!)

With the launch of TED-Ed, they are hoping to take that extremely powerful brand for sharing ideas, and extend it to the world of teaching.  They want to take the best lessons from teachers around the world and help that teaching go viral. To do that they are concentrating on a format that has the best chance of being easily spread online and into classrooms everywhere. They are keeping the videos short (all less than 10 minutes with most at around 5-6 minutes).  They are also pairing teachers with some of the world's best animators to give the lessons visual snap and and an element of surprise that can be tough to do with a straight lecture format.

After being lucky enough to be invited to give a TED talk last month at TED 2012, I am now also lucky to have one of my lessons up on the TED-Ed site for its official launch.  Therefore as TED's new creation is about to be judged by the world at large, so is mine. To be fair, it is not entirely my own creation. I worked with legendary animator Candy Kugel on the project and her work breathed a playful spark into my teaching that I wish could be there everyday. None the less, I do feel very connected to the work and I definitely feel a sense of shared ownership for the project.  As my lesson is about to take its first few steps out into the internet, I find myself reflecting on my hopes for its online future.

My lesson, Sex Determination: More Complicated Than You Thought, is really a 5 minute summary version of 3 of my favorite 45 minute lessons that I teach on sex determination in animals. Over the last seven school years of teaching high school biology, I have seen that these lessons consistently fascinate my students.  When the folks at TED asked me about creating a lesson, sex determination was immediately on my mind as a possible topic.  When they told me that they wanted it to be about 5 minutes long it forced me to stop looking for a way to recreate my best lessons on the topic and instead create a new type of lesson.  A lesson that would distill the essence of those other lessons, but still remain clear and would leave students wanting to know more.  That is indeed my biggest hope for this project; that it will make students want to learn more.

I know that in five minutes I could never thoroughly teach a topic as complex as sex determination throughout the animal kingdom.  I also know that videos, no matter how captivating, will never replace a passionate teacher.  However, I do believe that you can inspire a student's curiosity in a single moment and that curiosity can propel a student to learn for a long time. So that is my hope for this video and I think it is TED-Ed's hope for their new website.  I hope that it will help teachers to generate that spark of curiosity in their own students and become a great tool that is used to support and inspire great teaching as it was meant to be- curiosity driven person to person.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lizard Project Day 14: That's a wrap...for now. Thanks for following along with us.

All good things must come to an end.  We have finished the field work for this spring season of The Lizard Project.  We have nearly all the adult lizards on our study islands marked.  We found out who survived during this past year and who did not.  In the fall we will return to the islands to capture and mark the baby lizards that will be born this summer.  We will then collect DNA from those babies and find out which individual lizards and which traits were successful in yet another generation of lizards on our islands.  We hope to find answers that will tell us how the environments of the islands are shaping the natural selection and evolution of these populations of lizards.  It is our hope that this will help us to better understand how all life on our planet evolves.  I think that I speak for the entire team when I say that we are already looking forward to the next trip down to the islands.

On our final day in Florida, National Geographic Photographer Vincent J. Musi, photographed our lizards.  He brought a real passion and curiosity to our work and I think it shows in his photos. The Lizard Project team has spent countless hours looking closely at lizards, but I know that we have never seen these animals in quite the same way that we saw them through the lens of Vince's camera.  Even though they are small and often overlooked, these little guys really are beautiful animals and we think that Vince's photos will help people to see that side of them.  This little guy is quite the handsome dude. Don't you think so?
That is one good looking lizard. Photo by Vincent J. Musi

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lizard Project Day 12: Almost all the lizards are marked and we're getting ready for a special guest.

Today we were very happy to see that almost all the lizards on our islands have stylish numbers on their sides.  This means that we have already captured and marked them and that means that our work here is almost done for this trip.

We have been having so much fun doing science down here that is seems hard to believe that we only have a couple of days left before we have to head back home.  We will be returning on home with notebooks full of data to analyze and we can't wait to answer some of our many questions. Does the sex ratio effect survival?  Is natural selection working differently on male and female dominated islands? Are growth rates the same on all of our islands? Does the dewlap size really matter when it comes to survival and reproduction? We will soon have answers these questions and more and we are looking forward to that.  

However, we are not quite done yet here and we want to make the most of our last few days. Tomorrow we have a special guests joining us and we are really looking forward to it.

Tomorrow, National Geographic photographer Vincent Musi and his family will be arriving here at the field station.  I met Vincent at the TEDxMidwest conference last year in Chicago. I happened to sit down next to him and his wife Callie (also a profesional photographer) at lunch. We started talking and I told him that I did science with lizards that was supported by National Geographic. He told me that he makes photos for National Geographic.  I asked him how I could take better lizard pictures.  He got so excited about giving me photo advice that about 15 minutes later we were planning his trip to meet up with the lizard project and take pictures of our lizards.  We are thrilled that he is coming down.  Vince is well known for making animal photos and, although he usually works with slightly larger animals, we can't wait to see the pictures he is going to make with our little lizards. Check out some of Vince's latest work with National Geographic if you want to see why we are so excited to have him shoot our lizards. 

He's a bit bigger than our lizards. Photo by Vincent J. Musi in National Geographic.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lizard Project Days 10 & 11: Animals

We have now caught, tagged and released 572 lizards on this trip into the field.  We have already shared with you guys how we search for lizards, how we catch lizards, how we measure lizards and how we learn about evolution by studying lizards.  However, this post is not about lizards.  This post is about all of the other amazing animals that we get to see when we are out working on the islands.

 Manatee. Photo courtesy of
Manatees: This morning while we were paddling out we heard loud snorting and blowing. A huge tail then appeared appeared out of the water and two, thousand pound manatees rolled onto their sides and looked at us. We think that they were in the act of mating. They looked at us and continued swim slowly nearby, while they rubbed against each other.  They stayed close to us for about a minute until a power boat came close to them and scared them off.
The lizard project team gets a close up view of manatee mating on our morning commute.

Eastern Glass Lizard on Little Island.  How many of our lizards has he eaten?
Eastern Glass Lizard: Early in the trip we found an Island Glass Lizard, a seldom seen species of legless lizard swimming in the estuary. We thought we were lucky to see a legless lizard period, but yesterday we found another species of legless lizard on one of our islands (I wonder how many of our study lizards he has eaten?). This one was the Eastern Glass Lizard.  When we were releasing him, we accidentally caused him to eject his tail. We were sad that this happened, because it will probably take this lizard a while to regrow such a big tail.  They have the ability to eject their tail to escape from a predator.  When the tail is detached it wiggles like crazy to keep the predator distracted while the lizard escapes.  We filmed it and you can watch by clicking on the video.

Yellow Rat Snake: We found this critter on the mainland, but we have seen these on our islands before.  Like their name says, they like to eat rats and small mammals.  They also probably like to eat our lizards when they are small.  We have not seen any of these out on our islands this trip, but we have seen evidence that they are there.  We found two large skins that have recently been shed out on island L.  Andrew, the resident snake expert on our team, determined that they were skins from two very large (almost 5 feet long!) yellow rat snakes.  If you are
interested in learning about how Andrew can identify a snake from it's shed skin, read his latest blog post on his blog

Great Blue Heron: These big beautiful birds are really common on the estuary.  Almost every morning when we put the kayaks in the water.  These guys are sitting on the dock with the fisherman.  Watch this short video of one wading along the shore of Island M.

Still can't get enough Lizard Project.  Check out Tim Mitchell's post on about the strange language of lizard catching.

Tim's Fertile Turtles: Lizard Project- Day 10. Lizard Lingo!: We are on the cutting edge of evolutionary biology, but also on the cutting edge of developing new vocabulary.  After spending days and days trying to catch lizards, we have developed some new vocab words. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lizard Project Days 8 and 9: A field day in the life of an evolutionary biologist.

As a biology teacher it seems to me that many kids who would make really great biologists (Maybe you are one of those kids!), don’t become biologists because they don’t  know any biologists personally and can’t picture exactly what it is they would do as a biologist.  Here at WideWorldScience we love what we do and we want to share it with you.  While it is true that there is a lot of time spent back at the lab, analyzing data, teaching classes, planning experiments and preparing for field expeditions, all of us love to get out and do science in the wild.  We really do love working with our friends outside, paddling kayaks, looking for wildlife, climbing trees and chasing lizards. We live for these field trips!  Here is a typical field day in the life of a biologist:

Dan and Andrew with our rental truck and kayak trailer.
6:30 Wake up- Four of us are packed into the tiny bunkhouse room at the Guano Tolomato Matanzas Estuarine Research Reserve.  It is small, but it has air conditioning, running water, electricity and an internet connection, so we are glad to have it.  Many times we camp in tents while we are working in the field.

6:45 Breakfast- cereal, milk and bananas

.7:15 Packing the gear- We pack up all of our gear into the truck for the day.  This includes, lizard nooses, lizard bags, drinking water, dry shoes, sunscreen, cameras, animal coolers, lizard noose repair kit, duct tape (you always need duct tape), life jackets, kayaks, paddles and of course lunch (usually pb&j sandwiches, apples and granola bars).

8:00 Drive 3 miles to the boat launch- This is where we put the kayaks in the water.  There are lots of fisherman that put their boats in the estuary here.  It is a busy place.
The commute to the office.

8:30 Paddle out to the islands- This is one of my favorite parts of the day.  It takes about 10 minutes to paddle to Island M, our closest island, and about 45 minutes to paddle to Island F, the furthest island.  We often have dolphins swim near us while we paddle.

9:00 We land on an island.  This requires us to wade through the shallow water.  Since Tim cut his foot on an oyster shell two days ago, we have to help him keep his feet dry. See this video.

This lizard has already been captured by us.

9:15- 12:15 We hunt for lizards on the island.  We just walk around carefully looking for lizards in the trees.  When we find one we then try to noose it.  We put numbers on those that we have already caught so we don’t catch them again accidentally.

12:15- 12:45 We take a break to eat our lunch.

1:00- 4:00 We move to a second island and catch lizards there.
Looking for lizards in all the wrong places.

4:15 We paddle the kayaks back to the boat launch and load them back up on the trailer to drive back to the field station.

5:00 Cold Showers-  Sometimes we even stop for ice cream on the way home.

5:00 to 6:30 Blogging, Tweeting, Cooking Dinner and updates data notebooks

Processing lizards.
Science is fun, but it is hard work. Rest up there are still more lizards out there!
6:30-10:00 Processing Lizards.  This is what we call it when we measure, weigh, mark and take tissue samples from the lizards.

10:30 Sleep time!  We are really tired by this point in the day!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lizard Project 7: Little by little, making progress towards discovery.

Each day that we have been working on The Lizard Project has been different, but what all of the days have in common is that we are making progress towards our goal of gathering enough data to make conclusions on whether or not or hypotheses are supported.  All of our data collection brings us closer to being able to say something, supported by evidence, about how sex ratios effect the evolution of animal populations.

Since we caught so many lizards yesterday (135! Wow!) we had a huge backlog of lizard measuring, weighing and marking to do. To get everything done we split up the team.  Dan stayed back at the field station to do the measuring, while Andrew, Tim and I paddled out to Islands M and K. We worked for 6 hours total, but only caught 47 lizards today.  Many of the lizards we spotted today were already marked.  That is a good sign because it means we are already getting close to having all of the animals captured, marked and measured on a couple of our islands. We also had a great Skype conversation  with Erin Nash's Zoology class. The Benton High School students had great questions for us and the whole thing was a lot of fun.

Oyster beds are sharp - ouch!
While we are down hear working the pace can be grueling at times.  The work on the islands is often very hot and we often work late into the night measuring  lizards.  Crawling around in the trees and bushes chasing after lizards leaves us scratched up and bruised.  Yesterday Tim got even more scratched up while getting back into his kayak.  He accidentally stepped on a razor sharp oyster shell and cut his foot.

Throughout all of the work that we do with the lizards, one of the greatest perks of our job is working in such a beautiful setting with so many cool animals all around us.  The insect communities on the islands are amazing and would be worthy of an entire research project on their own.  Here are some of my favorites:
Bold jumping spider

Regal jumping spider
American grass mantis
Spiny-backed orbweaver spider

Lizard Project Day 6- Lots of Lizards!
(Reposted from

 The cool, rainy day we had yesterday made it slow for both lizards and lizard-catchers alike.  When we awoke this morning to clear skies, we knew that the lizards would be eager to be out.  We visited two islands today, and hunted the lizards like mad.  And we did very well.  We caught 135 lizards today, including this one that was eating a grasshopper!  That is A LOT of lizards.  As our goal is to catch as many of the lizards present on each island as we can, we feel very good about days like this.  What we don't look forward to, is processing 135 lizards tonight.  We "process" lizards, be measuring, weighing, photographing, and marking each lizard back in our field station (aka bunkhouse).  It takes about 3 minutes to process each lizard, so you can do the math (and in case you can't do math, that adds up to about 7 hours of solid processing).

We also noticed this pair of Green Anoles mating as we were searching for our study species, the Brown Anole.  So why did these two end up together?  That is part of the question us biologists are interested in.  The were both able to survive this long, so that is a prerequisite to successful mating.  Did this male have fight off other males to keep a high quality territory? Did he attract this female with a flashy dewlap display?  Was it just a chance encounter, and she would have been willing to mate with any male she crossed paths with?  These are all questions we don't know the answers too, but our work with the brown anoles will give us some insights into at least that species. Notice that he is biting the back of her neck during their mating! Interesting.

On a side note, I had the most terrifying moment of my life yesterday. After the rains, I went for a run and then swim in the ocean.  As I was swimming, I noticed two HUGE shark fins cruising towards me.  I turned and swam/ran/stumbled my way back onto the beach.  They came within 10 meters of me. Their dorsal fins were about 18-24 inches tall, and was about 6 feet in front of their tails, which was also breaking the surface.  This means these sharks were probably about 12 feet long.  I never saw the heads, just the fins and tail, so I don't know what species they were,  but based of their size, I  certainly could have been on the menu. Turns out Florida has had the most shark attacks of any state in history, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History...  I won't be swimming anytime soon.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lizard Project Days 4 & 5: No two days are ever the same in field biology.

We are already into day 5 of The Lizard Project.  Our team is settling in to our daily routine of working in the field, but when it comes to science in the field, nothing is ever really routine.

Yesterday, was a really full day.  We left at 6:00 am to get our rental pickup truck.  This is great for us, because we can now pull a trailer with all four of our kayaks and carry all of our gear in the back, all in one trip.
Tim caught a bumble bee with a lizard noose.  No way!
We did four Skype video calls with classrooms. The first call was to Adam Taylor's class in Nashville, TN at Overton High School.  They asked lots of great questions and Mr. Taylor even ran a live webcast of our conversation!  We then talked to 3 of Mr. Will Reed's classes at Kelly High School in Chicago.  The first conversation actually took place from the water while we were paddling the kayaks out to the islands!  We had  hot sunny weather and it was a great day for the lizards. We caught 76.  Tim also became a legend among our crew when he caught a bumble-bee out of mid air with his lizard noose.  If you don't understand why that is amazing, check out this quick video of a lizard noose in action. Now picture using that to catch a bumble bee in mid-air.

Threatening Sky
Today mother nature dealt us a completely different day to work with.  We got out to the islands around 9:00am, but it was cool and windy with storm clouds threatening.  We worked at catching lizards for 4 hours total on three different islands and only caught 6 lizards. Lizards are ectothermic or what you might know as cold-blooded. Because they are ecothermic, they can't move very fast when they are cool.  So on days when it is not sunny and hot, they spend most of their time hiding inside of trees or underneath palm fronds.  They are almost impossible to find under these conditions and we only found a few. We decided that any more time spent searching for hidden lizards was not worth it,  the sky grew more threatening and we spotted lightning. That was our cue to head for home.  We hurried to load up our gear in the boats and paddle for the dock.  We  paddled with a huge wind at our backs and loaded the kayaks onto the trailer just as the rain and hail hit.  No we are back at the field station catching up on data processing and waiting out the rain.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lizard Project Day 3: The little things.

One of the best parts about doing research in the field is the little unexpected things that you get to see because you are spending time looking at nature so carefully. Today we got a lot of work done.  We measured dewlaps in the morning for 20 lizards, paddled out to islands M and K where we caught 76 more lizards, took a break for dinner and then measured, weighed and marked our catch.  We did a lot of work, but the things I will remember about today were the little things that happened in between the work.

While paddling between islands in our kayaks, we saw a snake swimming out in the middle of the estuary.  We paddled over to try and catch it.  Once Tim had it in hand, we realized that it wasn't a snake at all.  It was a eastern glass lizard, a species of lizard without legs.  It is a great example of convergent evolution.  They look like snakes, but they evolved this body completely independently.  None of us had ever seen one in real life (aka: the wild) before.

In the middle of working on the islands, we heard loud snorting and slapping noises.  In the estuary, we saw several dolphins swimming in the shallows.  Quite a site to see for us, since we all live in the midwest, nowhere near an ocean.

The other fun part of the day occurred as we chased down a large male anole.  Aaron spotted the anole in the tree, and it was eating the lunch of a fat spider.  Tim then tried to catch the anole with his lizard noose but accidentally caught the spider instead. The seconds later, Dan caught the lizard.

We are looking forward to more of the little things.  -Tim and Aaron

Monday, March 26, 2012

If you want to learn about evolution with lizards, you have to go to where the wild lizards live. Join us as The Lizard Project goes to the islands later this week!

Do you ever wonder how scientists learn about evolution? 
Follow us this week as Dan, Tim, Andrew and I will head down to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and Tomoka State Park in Florida to continue an exciting experiment we began last year.  We are really glad to have you follow along as we do science and we are looking forward to answering your questions on line.  Let me tell you a bit about what we will be doing down there on our islands.  You can also follow on twitter @mr_reedy (#lizardproject) or on 

What questions are you trying to answer with your experiment?
All science starts with a question and the big question we are asking, “Why is there a 50/50 sex ratio in so many animal populations?” If you really think about it, this doesn’t necessarily make the most sense for an animal population.  Since a population can often grow faster with many females and few males, why is it that we so often find males and females in almost equal numbers?

When thinking about this we also wondered, “If the sex ratio, became really biased towards one sex or the other, how quickly would natural selection push things back to 50/50?

And,” In a world that is mostly female, would males have a better chance of surviving and reproducing? What about in a world that is mostly male?

What are your hypotheses?
The leading theory on the 50/50 sex ratio is that when the ratio gets out of balance, natural selection pushes it back towards 50/50.  For example when there are many male lizards all fighting for territory in the trees, you have a better chance of surviving if you are a female.  Therefore in a world with more males, a balance will quickly be restored as many males die before reproducing and many females survive to adulthood.  This is our general hypothesis.

We also think that in situations with biased sex ratios, natural selection will favor traits differently. We think that on an island with many males and few females,  the biggest males will be more likely to survive.  However, we think that on an island with few males and many females, the smallest males will have a better chance of survival and reproduction, because it will be easy for nearly all males to find a territory and mate. In this case, the large body size may be a waste of energy and be more noticeable to predators.

How are you testing these ideas?
With an experiment of course! Many people wrongly think that questions about evolution can’t be tested in the wild because evolution is a slow process.  However, evolution can be seen in the wild and measured if we look carefully. 

Since our question is big, so is our lab. Instead of testing animals in laboratory cages, we use entire islands as our animal enclosures for the experiments!

To test our hypotheses, we set up 9 experimental islands that did not have brown anole lizards living on them. On five of the islands we released a 66% male population and on the other four islands we released a 66% female population.  Before we introduced these populations to the islands, we took DNA samples and careful measurements from each of our founder lizards.  Now we will be able to check each year to see which individual lizards were most and least successful at producing baby lizards.  We will also continue to measure the future generations to see how natural selection is working to shape the evolution of these populations on the different islands.  We may be able to see evolution in action…but first we have to catch, measure, and take DNA samples from nearly every lizard on our nine islands.  We are going to be busy!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Announcing the National Geographic supported Lizard Project’s partner educators!

The Lizard Project is thrilled to announce our partner educators who will be working with us to bring evolutionary biology from the field to their classrooms.  They are all outstanding educators who work hard every day to share the wide world of science with their students. We are looking forward to virtually visiting their classrooms through live video chats from the field.  In no particular order they are:

Adam Taylor, John Overton High School, Nashville, TN- We first found out about Mr. Taylor when he was live-casting his evolution lecture to his class over the internet! How cool is that?  He enthusiastically uses technology including twitter in class to get his students excited about learning.  He has also been involved with the National Science Foundation’s GK12 program which brings early career scientists into the classroom to share real science with teachers and kids. You can follow him on twitter @2footgirrafe

Erin Nash, Benton High School, St. Joseph, MO- Erin teaches a very cool zoology course to high schoolers where kids are “exploring the animal kingdom, one phylum at a time” through all sorts of exciting hands on methods. Her students share their experiences in her class with the world at and she blogs about innovative science education at You can follow Erin on twitter @erinlynnnash

Nick Riemann, A. Blair McPherson School, Edmonton, Alberta- “Put simply, Nick Reimann loves school and at times it can be difficult to distinguish between his excitement and passion for learning about science from that of his students.” That’s according to the Government of Alberta, which awarded Nick its highly prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011. It is that passion for science that drives Wide World Science and exactly what we are looking for in a partner educator!  Nick blogs at and you can follow him on twitter @scimann

Alan Goldberg and Will Reed, Kelly High School, Chicago, IL-
 I am lucky enough to work with these guys every day back home in Chicago.  Alan and I have been team teaching inclusion biology classes for the last six years.  Mr. Goldberg works tirelessly for his students, no matter what their needs.  In 2011 he was awarded an Oppenheimer Family Foundation grant to conduct innovative lessons with live animals and last year he was instrumental in running the test program for The Lizard Project’s live communications. Will, who holds a degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago and is currently student at U of C’s Urban Teacher Education Program, is student teaching in my room and is on his way to an outstanding classroom career in the classroom. You can follow Will on twitter @greedotron - Youngzine, an engaging and interactive CNN-like website for kids has quickly become one of the very best online current event resources for classrooms.  We are super excited to have them as partners and we will be posting updates from the field on their site and fielding online questions from kids. I think these kids said it best when talking about Youngzine.
"Wow...... That's just all I can say. Its pretty cool but... Wow"
"Really really really!!!!!!!! awesome! I love animals all together!!! The world is just so amazing! Great article!"
"This is crazy awesome ! One of my favorite Youngzine articles . Made my jaw legit drop."
"Great story for such a young age! Keep writing you have gift and are meant to share it with the world! GREAT JOB!"
Check out Youngzine at: or to learn more about the great team behind Youngzine go to

Gary Morris, Meredith Middle School, Des Moines, IA- Gary has worked with the National Science Foundation and Iowa State University’s Symbi GK12 program for two consecutive years.  Through this he has brought real science to his classroom in a unique way and helped to train two early career scientists in the art of science communication with the general public. We are super excited to have Gary hooked up with us this year!

Not a partner educator, but still wondering if you or your class can follow our adventures in evolutionary biology online?  You can indeed.  Drop me a line at aaronmreedy@gmail and we can talk about your class following, this blog or following on twitter with: #lizardproject 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Do you want to connect your classroom to the wider world of science? Your class can become a partner classroom with the National Geographic supported lizard project.

This spring the National Geographic supported Lizard Project will be back in the field and we are looking for partner classrooms who want to share in that experience. This project will give students a unique window into evolutionary biology in action. Last year we began an ambitious experiment with the brown anole lizard (Anolis sagrei) to study the effect of a skewed sex ratio on natural selection in a wild setting. We introduced small populations on nine small living laboratory islands within Florida’s Intra Coastal Waterway.  Four of those islands have female biased populations and the remaining five are male biased.  We will be going back to capture all of the lizards again, measure and mark the new hatchlings and check the population survival and growth rates.  We would like to share this process with you and interact with your class.  As we prepare for the field work, your students can get familiar with our work through blog posts and assignments that reinforce the concepts of ecology and evolution that we study.  Later, as we head out into the field, your class can watch our work and ask questions through a live Skype session and through the blog.

If you are interested in having your class partner with The Lizard Project or just want to hear more, drop us a line at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

WideWorldScience is going to TED2012!

I am thrilled to announce that I have been invited to speak at TED2012.  This year at TED there will be a new session called The Classroom that will feature ten talks that teach.  My talk on fascinating experiments in modern evolutionary ecology will be part of that session on the final day of TED2012. The talks from The Classroom may be used in part to launch TED-ED (, TED’s new education based website that will feature talks that teach as well as "a platform where visionary educators, students, and creative professionals can identify, submit & create content for the TED-ED initiative."

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak at TED, to promote the teaching of evolutionary biology as well as to talk with the TED community about the exciting work Dan Warner and I are doing to bring real science to the classroom with the National Geographic and Waitt Foundation supported Lizard Project. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thank you National Geographic and the Waitt Foundation.

Here at WideWorldScience we are proud to announce that the field component of the lizard project is now being supported by a National Geographic Society Waitt Grant.  The generous support from this grant will allow Dr. Dan Warner, me, and our collaborator Alexis Harrison to step up our work in central Florida and reach an even wider audience of students through innovative educational outreach and partnerships with classrooms around the country.  This grant will allow us to:

1) Learn more about evolution by natural selection in the wild.

As the high school students who followed our work in real time last spring already know, we have an ambitious experiment currently underway.  We are attempting to answer the question of “What effect does the sex ratio of a population have on natural selection in that population?”  An animal’s sex (whether it is male or female) is one of its most significant traits that can determine its ability to survive in a particular setting.  For vertebrate animals (like our lizards) in the wild little is known about how the proportion of males to females affects the survival of both sexes.  What does it take to survive in a male dominated world? Is that different in a female dominated world?

To work to answer these questions, we are closely studying small populations on nine living laboratory islands.  Four of the islands have majority female populations and five of the islands have majority male populations.  Each of the founding lizards on these islands has been carefully measured and marked.  We also have taken DNA samples from the founding lizard population on each island and plan to track parentage in each successive generation. We will be looking closely at the sex ratios in each generation, survival rates for individuals and which sets of traits give an animal the best chance of survival in the available environments. In short, this work will give us the chance to answer interesting questions about evolution and sexual selection that have never been answered before.

2) Bring the experience of field work in evolutionary ecology into the classroom.   

At WideWorldScience, we believe that there is too much distance between the science students usually learn in school and cutting edge of research in the field.  With the field component of the Lizard Project, we are trying to bring exciting field work into the classroom.  Students and teachers from partner classrooms will follow our work through this blog as we prepare to go into the field.  This will allow for an inside look into the process of science.  Students will become familiar with our study questions, hypotheses and development of our methods.  Then as we head out to the islands to check on our lizards along Florida’s Intra Coastal Waterway, students will stay engaged through daily Skype chats from the field and frequent blog updates.  This will give students the chance to ask questions live and in real time as they get a window into the process of science as it happens.

If you are a teacher or a student who would like to be a part of the National Geographic supported Lizard Project this spring, please drop us a line at 

Thanks again to the National Geographic Society and the Waitt Foundation for supporting science and our efforts to bring science to the classroom!