Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Writing assignment in a natural history museum


     Her trek through the arcane jungles of Invertebratology to the shores
of Dunwoody Pond began when she was given a small card with an odd name on
it: Siphonia tulipa.  Go to wonderland, she was told, and find Siphonia
tulipa.  But when she climbed the shining marble staircase and pushed open
the ancient creaking doors, she found so many elegant items that she forgot
Siphonia tulipa for a time, and became lost among the rock leaves, stared
back at the stone eyes looking up at her from their beds of green felt,
took a trip back four hundred million years, riding there in the frozen
writhing arms of a black star, felt sadness for the crushed flowers that
were not real flowers at all, but sea lilies, from a far off time.
     Around her feet the children played, and ran calling to one another to
come look at all the strange creatures made of rocks and epoxy and
information and the hard work of people who dug into the Earth for evidence
of past worlds.  I must find Siphonia tulipa, Tami thought, eventually, and
when I do, it will be the most beautiful of all these wonders.  She was
wrong.  It was not the most beautiful, nor the most complex of fossils in
the museum, but it was hers, for upon the card she'd been given was not
only a lyrical name, but also an assignment:  write a story, about Siphonia
tulipa, that will make one of these children want to grow up to be just
like me.  She leaned over, then, staring closely through the glass, and
asked her questions of the rock:  What is your secret?  How do I make a
person choose an animal, then because of that choice, choose a life, just
by telling a story?  What kind of a story might this one be? 

If you are a teacher, reading this short excerpt, I hope you are inspired to find a variety of ways to use your local museums as classroom resources. I did it for decades; nobody got hurt; my colleagues generally thought I was out of control for doing it. They were wrong.

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