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Maggy Benson

Distance Learning Manager
Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History
Science, Social Studies, Career and Tech Ed :
Smithsonian Staff
Distance Learning Manager

Distance Learning Manager at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and producer of Smithsonian Science How, a live, TV-style show that connects Smithsonian scientists to students through the web, taking their questions and exploring science and research in a fun and informative way.

Maggy Benson's collections


Exploring Biominerals with Collections from the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum

<p>This is a collection created to explore biological minerals, also called biominerals. Biominerals are formed by living organisms by a process called "biomineralization."  Humans create minerals: We build our bones with a mineral called apatite. Mollusks create minerals, too: their shells! Corals create mineral skeletons, which are built up over time to create the marine architecture we call a coral reef.  Corals are composed of small polyps, which build up their hard skeletons out of a mineral called aragonite, which is also called calcium carbonate.  Even some species of algae create a mineral called barite, which is present in their tissue. Bones, shells, and teeth are common examples of biominerals. </p> <p>This collection contains two types of minerals: 1) naturally occurring minerals, minerals created by the Earth's natural processes and 2) biominerals, minerals created by living organisms.   </p> <p>ACTIVITIES to do with this collection: </p> <p>1. Download the Student Worksheet and use this collection to complete it. </p> <p>2. Find the inorganic and biomineral versions of each of the following minerals. Once you have found them, download the "See Think Wonder" worksheet in this collection and fill it out, while comparing the two minerals.  </p> <p>- Aragonite and calcite (look for mollusks, corals, echinoderms)   </p> <p>- Apatite (look for bones, teeth) </p> <p>- Barite (look for algae) </p> <p>- Silica (look for diatoms, sponges, grasses) </p> <p>  </p> <p>3. Learn a little more about each object by clicking on it, then clicking on the "info" button. Where was it found? When was it found? What do you notice about it? What do you wonder about it? </p><p></p> <p><br /></p>
Maggy Benson

How Birds Stay Warm with Ornithologist Sahas Barve

<p>How do birds stay warm, especially in some of the coldest places on Earth, like the Himalayas? Explore the science behind how bird feathers help them conserve body heat with Smithsonian ornithologist (bird nerd) Sahas Barve from the National Museum of Natural History. Sahas will explain the different parts of a feather, and the science behind feathers, and also help students identify patterns in feathers. He will show students how to make predictions, based solely on feathers, on the kind of climate a bird lived in. Students will also learn how birds use metabolic processes to essentially “shiver” to generate body heat when feathers aren’t enough. Sahas studies how birds stay warm across Earth’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas, and will use specimens and examples from his research throughout the program.</p>
Maggy Benson

Exploring Fossil Ammonoids

<p>This collection can be used as a pre- and post-resource to support the free <a href="" target="_blank">Smithsonian Science How webcast, Exploring Fossil Ammonoids with Paleobiologist Lucy Chang</a>. During the 30-minute program, your students will have an opportunity to interact with the scientist through live Q&amp;A and polls. <br /><br /></p><p>This collection contains objects from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Many of the specimens in this collection are fossil ammonoids, but other mollusks are included for comparison. Also included in the collection is a companion worksheet for students (with teacher key) to express their newly gained knowledge about ammonoids.  <br /><br /></p><p>Ammonoids are an extinct group of marine mollusks that belong to the subclass Ammnoidea and the class Cephalopoda. A popular and well-known subgroup of ammonoids are ammonites. The closest living relatives of ammonoids are also cephalopods like squids, octopods, and cuttlefish, while the modern nautilus is more distantly related.   </p><p>Ammonoids had shells made of calcium carbonate just like today’s snails, clams, oysters, and other shelled mollusks. Ammonoid shells varied in shape and size. Some ammonoids had tightly coiled shells (planispiral), while others had uncoiled, irregularly shaped shells (heteromorphs). Regardless of shape or size, the shell provided the ammonoid with protection and possibly camouflage. </p><p><br />Ammonoid shells had interior walls (septa) that created chambers inside of the shell. These chambers were connected by a narrow tube structure called a siphuncle. The ammonoid could use the siphuncle to control the amount of gas and fluid in each chamber, giving it the ability to achieve neutral buoyancy and move about in the marine environment.  </p><p><br />Although ammonoid shells are abundant in the fossil record, there is an extremely poor record of their soft parts being preserved or fossilized. Based off of their relationships to mollusks alive today, ammonoids likely had bodies that were soft. The animal would have lived exclusively in the last chamber of its shell with numerous arms extending in a ring around its mouth, eating plankton and detritus, dead or decaying matter. Scientists study the shapes and patterns of ammonoid shells and related species, fossil and modern, to learn about the extinct animal.  </p><p><br />Ammonoids lived around the globe and were present on earth for a very long time, about 350 million years. The entire group went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, about 66 million years ago, along with the dinosaurs.  </p><p><br />The abundance of ammonoids in the fossil record and their long history on earth make them good fossils to study. Geologists use ammonoid fossils as guide or index fossils, helping to date the rock layers from which the fossils were found. Paleobiologists can use fossil ammonoids to learn about patterns of extinction and glean information about the group's evolutionary history.</p>
Maggy Benson

Plesiosaurs and other Large Marine Reptiles

<p>Explore this complementary collection of materials for the Smithsonian Science How webcast, Plesiosaurs and other Large Marine Reptiles with Paleobiologist Dr. Laura Soul. </p><p><br />Travel back in time with Paleobiologist Laura Soul to learn about the giant marine reptiles that once ruled the sea, like plesiosaurs. Laura will introduce your students to several related groups of marine reptiles, like pliosaurs and elasmosaurs, exploring their unique features and adaptations for living in marine environments. Laura will also share some of her while research and discoveries about how the body shapes and sizes of these marine reptiles changed over time. Throughout the broadcast, Laura will take questions from your students via text chat and there will be opportunities for students to share what they think using live polls. Join here on April 11 at 11am and 2pm ET: </p><p><a href=""></a>. </p><p></p>
Maggy Benson