Bringing Science Class to Life


Monterey Bay Aquarium co-founder Nancy Burnett turns her groundbreaking PBS series into a classroom tool.

By L. Clark Tate

Feb. 24, 2014—Observing the schools of tots swirling through the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it’s easy to see that those wild little creatures are part of the animal kingdom. Thrilled by their marine counterparts, these youngsters are amped and ready to learn …science.

Unfortunately, America’s youth doesn’t seem to hold on to the thrill of scientific discovery in the classroom or, later on, career choice.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment, the U.S. ranked 23rd in science scores in a 2012 survey of 65 nations. About average, and definitely not an A. So how do you convince a kid that following in the footsteps of Jacques-Yves Cousteau is way cooler, and more feasible, than growing up to be, say, Batman?

If only there were an aquarium in every classroom. Imagine hopeful little faces enthralled by an octopus’ seamlessly shifting texture and color-changing skin cells, which help it blend into new surroundings, or by the dramatic scene of anemones fleeing the predatory advances of a sea star. And right there, a crack team of scientists to interpret the action.

Maybe that science team could travel the world’s oceans to track down elusive sea creatures, interview other intriguing scientists and share their findings. Perhaps they could even package the breathtaking footage to tell the entire story of the animal kingdom.

Well, all of that has already happened.

The Shape of Life, From TV to Web

The Shape of Life is an award-winning video series co-produced in 2001 for PBS by Monterey-based Sea Studios Foundation in conjunction with National Geographic Television. The series depicts the evolution of the animal kingdom in eight one-hour episodes, each covering a major phylum. (In case you’ve forgotten, “phylum” is the major subdivision of the plant and animal “kingdoms” into categories. Class, repeat: “kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.”)

The documentary is incredible. It includes mind-blowing high-definition underwater footage of colorful sea creatures using ingenious methods, many of them violent, in the struggle to survive. Combined with computer animation, The Shape of Life tells the evolutionary story of how these creatures developed new body plans that allowed them to move around, protect themselves and hunt. It shows that human beings owe a debt to our evolutionary predecessors.

The production team worked with the late diver and marine biologist Don Wobber, who captured the first-ever time-lapse footage of sea stars “bouting” for dominance—a kind of jousting Wobber discovered as a graduate student. They also hid a tiny camera inside a mussel to capture the amazing spectacle of a sea star prying it open, then deploying its external stomach to devour the still-alive mollusk (not as gross as it sounds).

Text continues below video.

John Pearse Don Wobber, Biologists: Sea Star Behavior from Shape of Life on Vimeo.

After its release in 2001, The Shape of Life received international acclaim. And then, as even the best TV documentary will, it kind of vanished. But beginning this week, The Shape of Life is evolving. What was born as a TV series with deep connections to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is being reimagined as a science-teaching tool and repackaged for the classroom.

All of the content from the series will now be available to educators everywhere on the worldwide web, thanks to Nancy Burnett, who co-produced The Shape of Life, co-founded the Monterey Bay Aquarium and is herself a Stanford-trained marine biologist.

The result: nearly 100 videos, two to 15 minutes long, available to download for free (or as a DVD set—$5 for shipping).

Evolution of a Dream

Around the time Burnett and her siblings were finishing up their university studies, she recalls, they had a conversation with folks from the Packard Family Foundation—the philanthropic organization established by Nancy's father, Silicon Valley icon David Packard, and her mom, Lucille. “Do you guys have any projects you’re interested in?” The response: “We’ve got an idea.”

“So we got the Aquarium going,” she says matter-of-factly, “because we loved the kelp forest off Hopkins” (Stanford’s marine institute on Monterey’s Cannery Row). “We wanted to share that with everybody.”

The idea to convert an abandoned cannery into an aquarium started small, Burnett says. “When my dad got involved, he loved all of the mechanics of it, and the engineering, and things just kept getting a little bit bigger. It all worked out.”

But despite the Aquarium’s obvious success, Burnett, who has a contagious passion for science, was not 100 percent satisfied.

“For us scientists it was very frustrating,” she says, “because we wanted more science.” To appeal to the Aquarium’s broad audience, including tiny children, she says, “You had to keep things really simple.”

A side project videotaping the Aquarium’s animals opened an avenue. To capture some of the animals' more intriguing behaviors, Burnett says, "You have to have a video of it because they don’t do it often enough." So that’s what she did, with the help of some good friends.

“But the Aquarium can only show so many videos,” she says. So the filming team, Sea Studios Foundation, created the film series that became The Shape of Life.

Burnett found herself fulfilling a longtime dream in the process: seeing a nautilus in the wild. “I just sat there on the edge of the reef and watched it swimming around,” she recalls, enchanted by the memory.

Even then, Burnett had an idea that this project would wind up in classrooms. “I knew at the time that it was wonderful educational material,” she says. Unfortunately, unlike television, “You can’t get money to spend millions of dollars on educational footage.”

Seizing An Opportunity

Burnett decided to expand The Shape of Life’s educational potential around 2010, when the program’s patent expired, says Natasha Fraley, Burnett’s longtime friend and co-worker.

“She really jumped on the opportunity to make all that information available,” Fraley recalls.

Burnett, Fraley and Robyn Hutman, a Monterey-based film editor, sat down and “cut all the videos up into little pieces so teachers can use them in the classroom,” Burnett recalls.

“We spent long hours chopping and dicing," says Fraley. "It was really challenging. Chocolate was involved.” So were children. “We did it at Robyn’s house—she has three kids,” Fraley says. “It wasn’t dry work in any way. It was rich, with a lot of personal interaction.”

Text continues below video.

Nematocyst Animation: Fighting Tentacles from Shape of Life on Vimeo.

“For me, that was fun because I was a little bit more in control,” Burnett says of the editing process. “I’m not a consumer-driven person. I’m not going to give somebody what they want—I’m going to give somebody what I want them to have.” That would be science.

Shape of Life has been soliciting direct teacher feedback from the beginning. After the first rough cuts, a group of teachers attending a workshop at the Aquarium were solicited for comments. “We got a lot of good feedback,” Fraley says. The workshop helped to define Shape of Life’s vision, shorten video lengths and add vocabulary lists.

This real-world interaction continues. “The goal is to offer a turn-key perspective to teachers that includes lesson plans, complementary partners, resources and direct feedback from teachers," says Denise Ryan, who is helping spread the word about Shape of Life, and who (full disclosure) sits on Hilltromper’s board of advisors. “We’re trying to build it to be more of a dialogue than a monologue.”

With this in mind, the videos are organized by topic. Burnett and Fraley paired them with appropriate educational standards, both California’s own Common Core State Standards and the new, national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Peggy Lubchenco, a lecturer at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, was tapped to create lesson plans around the films that align with both Common Core and Next Generation standards. Teacher candidates and master teachers will test the material and provide feedback.

Educational Raves

These plans are available on the Shape of Life website, as well as Share my Lesson, a free online platform for teachers. Shape of Life’s lofty goal: to create a lesson plan for each and every video.

Kelly Booz, Share My Lesson’s director of partnerships, is working to grow the site’s science resources. She believes the Shape of Life series will be key.

“We’re just really, really thrilled to be working with a group that has such quality resources to give to our teachers,” Booz says. “We know that this is going to be a really popular resource.”

Shape of Life is also running a pilot program whereby volunteer teachers will test run the videos and create lesson plans tailored to standards in their state.

Diana Cost, a Massachusetts-based National Science Foundation master teacher, is one such volunteer. “It’s a really cool thing because they’re asking educators what they need,” Cost says. “Autonomy in education is huge.”

Cost says Shape of Life allows teachers to offer students a “simulated real-world experience,” which is super-valuable in classrooms because “you can’t take them scuba diving.”

Patricia Griswold, a 7th-grade science teacher in Washington, agrees. “The videos are beautiful,” she says. “Since we live at least two hours from saltwater beaches, this exposed the students to a new experience.”

So what do kids say? “Lots of wows,” says Griswold, who used the material to teach classification. “They were able to see how special each species is, so differentiating between them was easier.

“These kids are digital natives, so they love using these videos."

During a Shape of Life workshop for docents at Santa Cruz’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center—itself an excellent educational resource—Burnett said she hopes that the great storytelling in the videos will turn kids on to biology—just as great teachers in college and grad school turned her on to biology.

“I really believe the more you know about something, the more you’re attached to it,” Burnett says. “I’d like them to say, ‘Oh I didn’t know that! That’s totally cool!’ I want them to be wowed about something—and I also want them to learn something. Not just watch that octopus catch that crab. It’d be nice if it went one step beyond that.”


Field Notes

Plant your flag! Upload a photo, video, field note, nature poem or question for our army of (mostly) amateur naturalists.


wow sounds interesting and inspiring..I guess when students will be doing their homeworks they won't be tempted to try to use


Hello I am so delighted I located your blog, I really located you by mistake, while I was watching on google for something else, Anyways I am here now and could just like to say thank for a tremendous post and a all round entertaining website. Please do keep up the great work. obsession phrases


Wow, cool post. I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real hard work to make a great article… but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though. Forever Yours


I discovered your this post while hunting down data about web journal related exploration ... It"s a decent post .. continue posting and upgrading data. Language Of Desire


Keep doing awesome read few posts on this site and I imagine that your online journal is exceptionally fascinating and has sets of phenomenal data. Rental bond cleaning Melbourne


I truly like you"re composing style, awesome data, thankyou for posting. Cheap 55printer


Decent to be going to your web journal once more, it has been months for me. Well this article i've been sat tight for so long. I require this article to finish my task in the school, and it has same theme with your article. Much obliged, awesome offer. Promotional Bluetooth Speaker


Fascinating theme for an online journal. I have been scanning the Internet for the sake of entertainment and happened upon your site. Impressive post. Much appreciated a ton for sharing your insight! It is extraordinary to see that a few individuals still invest an exertion into dealing with their sites. I'll make sure to return again genuine soon. escorts beirut


I am exceptionally delighted in for this web journal. Its an enlightening theme. It help me all that much to take care of a few issues. Its chance are so phenomenal and working style so quick. Criminal Defense Attorney 84111


" – the first C2B Factory-Direct Custom Platform for Promotional Products, Corporate Gifts, Advertising Specialties, Branded Items and Promotional Gift Items in North America, founded by a BC entrepreneur, is challenging the 100-year traditional industry by its innovative online technology and a rebuilt flat supply chain. It removed all middle men and offers Free Shipping and Free Logo Service to help the corporate customers to save 50-60% on marketing budget on Business Promotion marketing.

C2BPromo believes ""Sharing"" is the essence of business model in future. It created a unique and exclusive investment & marketing platform called ( and welcome everyone who want to help business to grow to join and earn returns from his or her 6-level networks without investing money, purchase and membership fee.

C2BPromo carries a huge experience of 22 years in this industry. It has also worked with thousands of customers from one-man business to Fortune 500 like Google, Heineken, Microsoft, Pfizer, Merck, Citibank and much more. Check here to find out why C2BPromo is your best choice of the supplier of Promotional Products, Branded items and Promotional Gift Items: " | Promotional Gift Items


The new way of the science for the other use of the class is also looking nice as we are using it on the places. With the reading of their new article about the new use of the science, we are get useful info.


Learning about science is one of the interesting subject to learning I have passed my secondary education with science subjects. I take help from It resolve my academic problem which I am facing in my study. I am to interested in Science Learning.


This is an excellent post and I proud of students who are hard working in the education and they students do a very amazing practical in Science projects. Thanks, author you share a very interesting article. If any students need a help in any projects so they take a help with Writers of Dubai. They are very helpful for students and they also provide the best assistance.


Hi! Thanks for the great information you havr provided! You have touched on crucuial points! Language of Desire


I just couldn't leave your site before letting you know that I really appreciated the top quality information you present to your guests? Will be back again as often as possible to determine the status of new posts. download garageband for pc


I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article. I am trusting the same best work from you later on also..


This is really the sort of data I have been attempting to discover. Much thanks to you for composing this data. Basement Waterproofing Hoboken NJ


Someone Sometimes with visits your blog regularly and recommended it in my experience to read as well. The way of writing is excellent and also the content is top-notch. Thanks for that insight you provide the readers! Love Commands


i read a lot of stuff and i found that the way of writing to clearifing that exactly want to say was very good so i am impressed and ilike to come again in future.. Love Commands Review


I might want to say this online journal truly persuaded me to do it! Much appreciated, great post. His Secret Obsession


Really great post. I just discovered your web journal and needed to say that I have truly delighted in perusing your blog entries. Any way I'll be subscribing to your food and I trust you post again soon. Huge a debt of gratitude is in order for the helpful data. Hero Instinct


The site is looking piece ostentatious and it gets the guests eyes. Outline is really basic and a decent easy to use interface. Obsession Phrases


This is an awesome moving article.I am essentially satisfied with your great work.You put truly extremely accommodating data. Keep it up. Continue blogging. Hoping to perusing your next post. escort in beirut


I truly adored perusing your online journal. It was exceptionally all around wrote and simple to undertand. Not at all like extra online journals I have perused which are truly not tht great. I likewise discovered your posts extremely fascinating. Truth be told subsequent to understanding, I needed to go demonstrat to it to my companion and he ejoyed it also! more help


This is a shrewd site. I would not joke about this. You have such a great amount of information about this issue, thus much energy. You additionally know how to make individuals rally behind it, clearly from the reactions. dental implants perth


I don’t think many of websites provide this type of information. Sightseeing Pass Australia


I have been looking at a couple of your stories and i can state really well done. I will bookmark your online journal see it here


The website also provide the means of good marketability and is a deciding factor when there is a financial issues since it is much more affordable yet very efficient than any conventional advertisement. SEO for Business


The site is looking piece ostentatious and it gets the guests eyes. Outline is really basic and a decent easy to use interface. Lean Belly Breakthrough


"With our nontraditional students, gender trends have fluctuated depending on the times," Jorgensen said. "I'm not worried about it. We meet a need in the community, so whoever walks in our door we serve." seo south africa


Thanks for the nice blog. It was very useful for me. I'm happy I found this blog. Thank you for sharing with us,I too always learn something new from your post. dirty questions to ask a guy


through manner of purchasing Instagram likes and fans from ProFollower, you’re lights your account on hearth, all the time changing its destiny. We moreover offer ="hide">outstanding="tipsBox">, pinnacle of 8db290b6e1544acaffefb5f58daa9d83 useful resource via the usage of seasoned specialists. We offer you with assured effects, actual fans and legitimate likes. So what are you looking for? change your account all of the time now! instagram likes kaufen


I'm sorry people today for writing thank you letters! Since yesterday all day, I was dizzy and dizzy so I did not concentrate on writing. Indeed, I am very happy that yesterday I received almost a hundred greetings on facebook and the phone. My friendlist has only 4999 friends so I am happy to read how many unloved, listen to how many good songs. Facebook is awesome! My grandparents and brother also called to greet me so I was happy.


I really venerated examining your online diary. It was especially all around composed and easy to undertand. Not in the least like additional online Cheap Essays diaries I have examined which are really not tht awesome. I similarly found your posts to a great degree entrancing. Honestly consequent to comprehension, I expected to go demonstrat to it to my partner and he ejoyed it moreover!



I wonderment why other professionals don't respond your website overmuch m happy I plant this. adu q


sports gambling tips
sports gambling tips
I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.


it was a brilliant opportunity to visit this sort of site and I am cheerful to know. much obliged to you such a great amount for allowing us to have this open door.. lifestyle pr firms


philipiak opinie
I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!


This is such an awesome asset, to the point that you are giving and you give it away for nothing. I adore seeing sites that comprehend the benefit of giving a quality asset to free. It is the old what circumvents comes around schedule. gutters and downspouts


Ajax Ontario SEO
I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!


manufacturing products always exceed the level set out with customers.
The source of umbrella after each redundant order was liquidated on weekends at the Viet-Japan umbrella factory.
The liquidation price is always 50% cheaper than the market price.
Good quality umbrellas, diverse designs for customers to choose from.
When buying large quantities of Japanese-Japanese umbrellas will be delivered free of charge to customers.
The type of umbrella will be large outdoor umbrella umbrella will receive warranty in Japan workshop.
Cells are designed to catch up with modern trends, designed for convenient use.
Please call our customer service immediately to get a quote.
Some liquidation products
Outer eccentric umbrella, the main outdoor umbrella
The handle is rolled straight
- The product has special polymer additives, so the Far East tile adhesives have high adhesion

- Vien Dong brick adhesive is produced by industrial technology so the quality is always guaranteed, we are committed to the works are durable over time.
- Slip is equal to "0", so it is convenient


Your blogs further more each else volume is so entertaining further serviceable It appoints me befall retreat encore. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.
ac repair boca raton


A debt of gratitude is in order for the significant data and bits of knowledge you have so given here... Costa Calida


It was thinking about whether I could utilize this review on my other site, I will interface it back to your site though.Great Thanks. Criminals


i am continually searching for some free stuffs over the web. there are likewise a few organizations which gives free specimens. affordable business cards print


I’m excited to uncover this page. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you saved to fav to look at new information in your site


i am continually searching for some free stuffs over the web. there are likewise a few organizations which gives free specimens. Cursos AdWords


Truly an extraordinary expansion. I have perused this brilliant post. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing data about it. I truly like that. Much obliged so parcel for your assemble. disegni tattoo


Your site is truly cool and this is an extraordinary rousing article. fifty fiveprinted Discount


I haven't any word to welcome this post.....Really i am inspired from this post....the individual who make this post it was an awesome human..thanks for imparted this to us.