Grades 6-8, High School

horse + kangaroo + chameleon + monkey = hippocampus


Among many other ocean- and curricular-crossing career accomplishments, Helen Scales offers this delightful non-fiction,  Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality (Gotham Books, NY, NY, 2009). She opens on page one with a lyrical, witty, under-the-sea ode to cross-curricular integration:

Peer at a seahorse, briefly hold one up to the light, and you will see a most unlikely creature, something that you would hardly believe was real were it not lying there in the palm of your hand, squirming for water. Should we presume these odd-looking creatures were designed by a mischievous god who had some time on her hands? Rummaging through a box labeled ‘spare parts’ she finds a horse’s head and, feeling a desire for experimentation, places it on top of the pouched torso of a kangaroo. This playful god adds a pair of swiveling chameleon eyes and the prehensile tail of a tree-dwelling monkey for embellishment – then she stands back to admire her work. Not bad, but how about a suit of magical color-changing armor, a perfect fit, and a crown borrowed from a fairy princess, shaped as intricately and uniquely as a human fingerprint? Shrink it all down to the size of a chess piece and the new creature is complete.

Her book goes on to explore intricate facets of seahorse biology, economy, ecology and mythology. It’s a testament to the power of integrating vast amounts of information around a unifying theme. So read it.

In the mean time, dive deeper into the excerpt above with your students. They can:

  1. Find images (online, in magazines) of horses, kangaroos, chameleons and monkeys. Cut the images into the parts as proscribed by Scales and create a new seahorse (option: other animal parts can be used if they can be justified by functions real seahorses need and do). Name the new seahorse, its location, some feeding or other habits. Advanced option: use taxonomy to develop a binomial or common name.
  2. Each student collects 4 facts about a real seahorse. Fact categories: biology, geography/marine life, history/economics (human interest/use), mythology/lore (what seahorses ‘can’ do). Create an undersea themed bulletin board so students can post each fact on seahorse-shaped cut outs. Facts should be labeled with the correct seahorse name.
  3. Create a 1-page (written) or 90-second (spoken) myth that features the seahorse created in item #1. Include Poseidon in at least one sentence. Incorporate at least two facts (about real seahorses).
  4. Create a timeline featuring how the created seahorse has been noticed, used, appreciated, or exploited over time. Add a poster to campaign for/against one of the ideals/issues.

Once you do read the full book and/or assign your students to read at least excerpts, you can:

  1. Write interview questions for Helen Scales. Topics: her career choices & adventures; seahorses (what got left out of the book?); what other creatures will she study and why?
  2. Create a mock interview with student(s) answering as Scales.
  3. Craft a tweet to describe a favorite fact about Scales. Ditto for one about seahorses.
  4. Share any of the above with Scales. She can be contacted here.

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