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August 10, 2016

054: A clownfish and some Javascript code...

I guess that new-ish movie Finding Dora has led to a resurgence of children who know of Finding Nemo. I remember that watching that movie back in high school. Anyhow, this post isn't some sort of retrospective into movies I once watched--it's to get us thinking what a clownfish and some Javascript code could possibly do together to advance the goals of the 3Helix project.

To introduce a bit of my own work outside the 3Helix project, I work extensively with a pair of hacker collectives founded by and (nearly, if not exclusively) comprised of transgender individuals. We have all seen the frankly horrific problems facing the trans community in the United States, perhaps most recognized by the public is the ill-named "bathroom bills." The question becomes how can we work to teach the normalcy of transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals within the framework of what is available to us in CSnap?

That's where our clownfish come in. Most people probably don't know this, but clownfish exhibit substantial gender and sex switching. Every clownfish is born male, and each school has a female who is the center of the school. Well, if every clownfish is born male, how is there a female in the school? Simple: clownfish are able to change their sex from male to female. What ends up happening is the dominant male, upon the death of the female of the school, will change their sex to female and a new dominant male will rise from the remaining ranks.

With the stage set, we can use clownfish to help pique students' interests in biology, teach some programming skills, and begin to engage them with the idea that gender and sex transitions are commonplace throughout nature, including humans. To that end, I have spent the last week prototyping and beginning to write a game in CSnap that will have players creating their own clownfish colony, watching it grow, keeping it healthy, and observing how the gender transitions manifest in clownfish schools. I hesistate to compare it to something like The Sims but for fish but I'm not able to come up with a better mental image than that right now.

Maybe as an extension I can find a way to "adapt" the game into an engine of sorts on top of which the clownfish is simply the first game. That would encourage students to seek out other examples of species that are genderfluid and implement a simulation of that species using the engine. As it stands now, that dream will have to wait until I finished implementing the game as is: it's around 40% finished. Next week we will look at the process of implementing code in CSnap (along with lots of photos so you can follow along in making your own first CSnap scripts).

I last took a biology course over 15 years ago, but what I lack in the nitty-gritty of the hows and whys of the gender swapping of clownfish, I hope to more than make up in my ability to connect our students with these important and timely topics that can increase students' awareness and engagement with these crucial topics.

12:15 AM | Brian