Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator

Visit to Saltillo Elementary

4th grader looks at wolfsnailI spent two days last week at Saltillo Elementary School, visiting with all 4th grade students and leading a professional development session for teachers grades 3-5.

Everyone was very friendly and helped me work through a few technical glitches. Thank you, Maggie Dickson, fourth grade project director; Faye Bruce, librarian; Gena Yarbrough, district art specialist; Belinda McKinion, assistant principal; and Coke Magee, principal.

The students asked great questions, and were wonderful guides through the school as I made my way from classroom to classroom to sign books.

Once again, I brought along a wolfsnail and some prey snails. I also debuted the wolfsnail app in its trial format. The kids loved seeing the snail video.

Several teachers took the pictures I am posting here. Thank you.

Sarah reading Wolfsnail
students using private eyes
girl looking at rock
girl looks at wolfsnail
sarah campbell showing wolfsnails to saltillo students
students looking at wolfsnail app
teaching professional development
principal makes a book
teacher makes a book

Madison Avenue Upper Elementary Visit

I had a lovely time on Friday at Madison Avenue Upper Elementary School, visiting with third and fourth graders. The star of the show was the wolfsnail I brought along. A few dozen students would have taken it home in a heartbeat.

Sarah with MAUE studentsAnsleigh Thornhill, the MAUE media specialist, took the photographs for this post. Thank you for inviting me, Ansleigh.

in libraryhand uphand up 2wolfsnail

Putting Plans Into Action

I mentioned last week that I’m working with the Mississippi Museum of Art and Davis Magnet School to develop a lesson plan that will get students engaged in science, writing, photography, and art. I’ve been working with Elizabeth Williams, curator of education at the museum; Jalisha Cross and Jordan Gunther, the two fourth grader teachers at Davis; and Beth West, the IB Coordinator at Davis.planning curriculumPhotographs of planning meetings are never very exciting, but we did good work that day. We made books, practiced nature journaling, set up dates for further contact sessions with students. These include times when I will guide the students in photographing the museum’s garden and when Ginger Williams Cook, the museum’s master teaching artist, will guide two sessions on creating watercolors from sketches in their nature journals.



During the final week before the break, I visited both fourth grade classes to introduce the lesson and to talk about my book, Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator.

sarah talking about storyboarding

sarah with wolfsnail book

Prey Snail Photo

Here’s my favorite of the photographs we took while we were doing video. This is a garden snail I found under the leaf litter in my butterfly garden. It was just after cold weather had zapped my busy lizzies (impatiens) and the snails were all tucked in around the slimy stems.

garden snail watermark

Today I want to take video of a wolfsnail settled into a cool spot (on a brick). I filled a plastic container with bricks and I am hoping it will find a cool brick the best surface to settle onto. We’ll see.

You can see from the above photograph that I have decided I should be watermarking the photographs I post on the blog. Adobe Lightroom makes it very easy to watermark photographs during the Export process. One of my goals this coming year is to take more advantage of the organizational tools in Lightroom. As you might imagine from the number of photographs I share on the blog, we take and store a ton of photographs. We need to do a better job of clearing off the ones we’ll never use. I am going back through about 6 years worth of images stored on my external hard drive array and deleting anything that is clearly unusable (out of focus, awful exposure, etc.) As I do this, I am tagging the photographs with names, events, etc. Ultimately I hope it will make it easier to find photographs.

I’m planning to share some of the photographs I uncover as I go through.

douglas jumping in pool

douglas holding Fa

Wolfsnail cooperates!

We had a much better day of shooting video today.

We got the wolfsnail emerging, gliding along leaf matter, and EATING! I am very excited about the eating footage. It will have to be edited — heavily.
It turns out it takes the wolfsnail longer to eat a half-inch prey snail than it takes for our family to eat supper. Gosh! (The photo to the upper left is an old one, but it looks pretty much like what we spent the day watching.)

As fun as this video stuff is …

I also want to talk about two exciting new projects I’ll be doing with third and fourth graders in January and February. I am working with Davis Magnet Elementary School and the Mississippi Museum of Art to pilot a bookmaking project with topics inspired by the MMA Art Garden. My working title is: “Urban Ecosystems: Field Guides to the MMA Art Garden.”

The project with third graders is also a pilot project, in which students will use digital photography to illustrate math stories. Beth West, the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at Davis, and I will be presenting a workshop teaching this new unit at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention in Philadelphia in April.

Both groups of students will be using a bookmaking form from Esther K. Smith’s beautiful and inspiring book, How to Make Books. Smith calls it the Instant Book. Here’s the page from Smith’s book that illustrates the steps to make an Instant Book:

how to instant
Read more about Smith’s work here. I made my Dad’s Christmas present based on the Accordion Postcard Album from Smith’s book.

Dad's accordion book

I will be posting in coming weeks about our plans and I’ll be documenting the process as we go along. I look forward to learning a lot!

Not a smooth day for snail footage

After previewing some of the video from yesterday, we decided to go outside for a few shots. There seemed to be too much noise in the shot of the snail emerging from the shell. We took the camera outside, arranged a nice bed of leaves, and then, I went back inside to retrieve the Wolfsnail. I found an empty plastic container. An escape! I sounded the alarm and Richard and I examined each of the leaves on the plants, the stems, the fallen leaves, the crevices in the bricks, the space under the background paper. The humor was seeping out of me. Wolfsnails are not easily found — especially after the cold weather sets in. Then, when I lifted the third of four sheets of background paper on the last side of the tub, there it was, attached to the side of the plastic plant container. Phew!

(Of course, the wolfsnail did not escape from a lidded plastic container. We/I left it out after yesterday’s shooting. Rookie mistake.)

I placed the found snail on the bed of leaves, watered it with rain water, and waited. It emerged — very slowly — but beautifully. Tail first. High fives! Until Richard noticed that he wasn’t actually recording. Errrrrrrgh!

I used my finger to nudge the snail back into its shell, placed it again, and then proceeded to badger Richard with questions about what else could go wrong: Is there enough space on the card? Is the battery fully charged? Um, the battery is about to die.

The wolfsnail is now back it its small plastic tub, lid secured. It is sharing space with a juicy worm that I dug up for a shot near the end of the story. It is our hope the two will get along.

Richard has ordered a second battery. We are about to have a cup of tea, and hope for a better day tomorrow.

Wolfsnail Movie

Here’s the first edited piece from the new shooting.



Studio for Wolfsnail App Project

coverWe’ve been talking for some time about making an iPad app inspired by Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. I started thinking seriously about making an app after attending a session at this year’s National Science Teachers Association Convention. (Read about my time at the NSTA here.) Richard made a start on an app that would run on an iPhone, but we weren’t convinced that it was working. We have had a few conversations with our editors at Boyds Mills Press, both Andy Boyles, editor for science titles, and Mary Alice Moore, editorial director. They had good questions that helped us re-think our approach. Some were: Are we making an app just because we can? or, put another way, Is there something about the platform (iPhone, iPad, or other tablet) that would let us do something different than the book offers? Who will buy the app? Who will use the app? Do you see it as a substitute for the book? If a person owns the book, would they also want to buy the app?

After thinking about these questions, we put the app for the iPhone on hold. We decided we thought the larger format of the iPad (or other tablet) would provide a better tableau for our content. We put the Wolfsnail project on the back burner while we finished the Fibonacci Folding Book Project app. It is a free app that contains a full-fledged lesson plan for a multi-disciplinary unit that works well with our book, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. (Read about that app here.)

About a month ago, Richard hit upon a good idea. We have decided to create entirely new visual content — in video. Rather than try to “animate” the photographs somehow, we are shooting video of every scene and action in the book. Luckily, I found a snail earlier this autumn (October 17 – thanks FB). We figured we’d have to do our video capture indoors so we set about to create a studio that would be appropriate to the task. I did some research into white boxes, but none seemed to be big enough.

white box homemadeWe decided to build our own. Richard put together a frame with pvc pipe. I stitched muslin panels, which would bounce the light. We created a plant box from an under-the-bed storage container. We got a big bag of potting soil, planted the plants, and brought in a bunch of leaves. We’re using water from our rain barrel to keep the plants, leaves, and snails moist.

white box with plastic containerall put together
I’m still a sucker for still shots so I took a few. This whole setup reminded me of the snail playgrounds our son, Nathan, set up when he found the first snails a decade ago. I’ll see if I can scare up a photo of those playgrounds, often made from cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, and empty juice cartons.
snail playground
I took these with a Nikon D700 using a regular lens. Richard is using the Tamron 90 mm macro lens on the Nikon D7000.
closer up snails on leaves

These bottom two photos are from July 2003. The boys were 6 and 4. (It is so nice that digital photographs take the guesswork out of dating images.)
old style snail playground
close up playground

Christmas: Old Photos, New Photo Tools, Handmade Items

Posts always slow around Christmastime because we are working on things we cannot post. Richard and I scanned and restored these photos and put them together in a panel for my sister, Emilye, to recall her days of Little League baseball when she was “the best backcatcher in the state of Mississippi.”

Emilye Baseball

You can see last year’s photo panels here and here. Unfortunately, the USPS, which I was praising to high heaven earlier this holiday season, managed to lose the tube in which this photo panel was sent. I am re-ordering from Deville Camera today and it will go out, again, soon.

Christmas tablecloth

Here’s our Christmas Eve table at Mom and Dad’s. I made the tablecloth for Mom for Christmas. It has two sides: one for Christmas and one for the rest of the year’s parties.
just the laid table

And, for tools, Richard got an LED light shaped like a ring that mounts onto our Tamron 90 mm lens. We’ve embarked on our project to create an app for Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator.
ring light
snail video project

Snail Hunting, Soccer Photographs

Update: I’ll be at the Mississippi Reading Association annual conference on Tuesday, speaking about Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, and contributing to a session on making the most of school visits.

The weather warmed up this weekend. It was beautiful for soccer on Saturday and perfect for snail hunting on Sunday. I have a wolfsnail right now that I’m keeping for some video and school visits so I need to keep it fed. I spent about 20 minutes pulling weeds and dead impatiens from my butterfly garden and I found about 25 garden snails. After I washed the two snail containers with rainwater from my rain barrel, I fed the wolfsnail. It ate a garden snail and a slug. Yum! I wish I had had time for video, but we were also cooking meals for the week.

We took about 840 photographs during three soccer games on Saturday. I went through carefully today and flagged 115. It will take some time to get all those processed, but I am posting a few of my favorites today.

Zach flyingThis is Zach in the midst of a shot.

Jada Jayda in a warm-up boot.
Austin in stepAustin and a defender in step, with Judson behind.
EmilyEmily setting up a shot.