The Ugly Islands: teacher information:

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keep away from students keep away from students keep away from students
(scroll down to get away from the horrid blink, now you have seen it).

Three pages in this series: answers, problems and teachers have a different background colour. These are the pages a student should not be accessing. The different colour will help the alert teacher.
The material on this site may be freely used by educators in accordance with the copyright policy listed later in this teacher information page which contains information on:

How to use the Ugly Islands

This web site is designed to encourage the development of scientific thinking and creativity, using data that are available somewhere on the site. If the data you desire are not available, I can "arrange to have them collected" that is, I will generate them so that they are consistent with all other available data. That is something you may wish to consider when you have looked at making up your own questions.

With the exception of this file of information for teachers, all of the material on this site is completely consistent, and remains in character at all times, treating the Ugly islands as a real place. Everything is created to run under Netscape, and all of the files you will need may be found on the same site, although pictures are stored in a sub-directory called pix: if you are running this under Netscape offline, you will need to know that. If you are running it under some Microsquishy product, please think again.

Future editions of this file will contain suggestions for use. For some years, maybe forever, the site will be setting up and developing, but already, some of the situations are starting to gather a focus, like the mysterious problem of the collections of pipestone on the outer reefs of Big Ugly, which some may find reminiscent of the ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia.

There are also several development rows looming on the horizon -- these will become apparent mainly in the Council papers, and in some of the excerpts from "The Islander". There is also a rather alarming proposal to use cut-price tactical weapons, bought from the former USSR, to make a harbour on the exposed southern side of Big Ugly, where there are many species of extremely limited distribution. I have placed a number of comments in the HTML for problems.htm, so that this file, if viewed as text will reveal many of the other problems that are likely to arise in some form, but read the next paragraph.

Update, October 29, 2001: I hope to have a number of completed issues of The Islander up in the next few days as PDF files. May, June and July are now complete and already up, ready to use, and I hope to do two more, with the rest following later. When we talk about multimedia, we sometimes forget that print is also a medium: the issues of The Islander are all two pages long, intended to print double-sided, and then be handed out to stimulate students to get further involved in the simulation. All of the problem ideas will be incorporated into these issues.

To take one example from the May issue (now complete), the letter to the editor from J. P. Joule, provides some basic background for a student challenge: in the developed world, our life style demands that power be available at the rate of 7 kilowatts a person to provide all the services and materials we expect, including cooking, public transport, food production, industry, lighting and all the rest. Given the data, what sort of installation would be required on a house roof? The figures are approximations, but fairly good ones. Clever students will see that the islands have an unusual source of hot water in some places . . . but for more, see How to use The Islander.

The Plughole Barrage proposal is one I am still working on, but once again, human, social and ethical values are all part of the decision-making process. In every situation, there are as many side issues as possible written into the script, ready for teachers to use. The hints and information that leak out in the letters pages should take students back to the Web site in pursuit of further information, because there are always human aspects here, especially when it comes to making decisions.

Students working from this material will need to be adept at reading between the lines, and will need to avoid going for the obvious answer -- most of the problems I have set up or plan to set up will have no single correct answer. But even where there is one best solution, people will only be able to arrive at a good answer by considering all of the available evidence, and sometimes by asking for further studies to be carried out. Be aware, for example, that the islanders' economy is not in a good state, so there will be a strong temptation to cut corners, in order to make money for the community.

I remain completely willing to field suggestions for situations that may arise (or be made to arise) in the islands. I am particularly interested in lifting "local" issues into a more general arena, where students can look at such problems, free of any emotional baggage based on self-interest. So feel free to fire details of your local issue at me, so I can build it in here: it is very difficult to argue a sustainable forestry or logging issue when it divides your community -- it is far easier when it is addressed as somebody else's problem -- which may turn out to be relevant in your local issue, once you have resolved it.

What the Ugly Islands are

Map of the Ugly Islands This map shows the islands as they can be seen on the map today, provided you have a good atlas. Most of the land mass is in Big Ugly, which is about 25 km from side to side. It is about 40 km from the northern tip of Little Ugly to the southern coast of Big Ugly. The nicest people on the islands live a simpler life style on Little Ugly, but some of the most creative and interesting people live in the Uglets, the archipelago of coral cays running up out of the eastern mountains of Big Ugly. The project is conceived as a major simulation exercise. There are new things being discovered all the time, allowing new problems to be considered. The climatic range is immense, the biology is diverse, the geology is remarkable, the economy and politics can vary hugely, so all sorts of arguments can arise.

The development of this site started on June 22, 1996, and is still growing. At this stage, I have a fair idea of how it will grow, and the main elements are in place. I expect the site to act as stimulus material for people teaching the sciences to young people. Many of the situations that will arise will be suitable subjects for debate and argument. In most of those cases, there will be no single correct answer -- reflecting the true state of most environmental and scientific arguments. The situations are supported by full data sets (or will be when the problems surface, and all will be complex. They will require informed opinions about the best way to go, or what new evidence to seek, and later evidence may well make a nasty mess of somebody's neat ideas -- rather like real science :-)

Teachers will probably be glad to know that the situations encountered by the islanders have close parallels in other parts of the world. Even the defecating newhawks which short out the power lines resemble a problem encountered (with vultures) in another corner of this wonderful globe we live in.

How the site works

Just for now, the only pointers to the problems page and to the matching suggested solutions will be from here. Later, you will be able to access these links from a number of other places -- or you will be able to access the problems page from a number of places, and that will lead you to the suggested answers -- when I feel the time is right to post those suggestions, probably a week to ten days after the answers come up.

In September 1999, I got my act together, and started putting together some ideas for a study guide, designed to point out some of the areas where I have left the way open for this to be used as stimulus material. In July 2003, I am still full of good intentions, but writing books is eating up my time.

That being said, there will always be a link from here, and I may well be persuaded to post responses here, as soon as they are received, for the benefit of teachers only.

Map of Big Ugly with place names

Remember: this page should not be used by students!!

Which explains why this map (with names) is here, and not somewhere else.

If this looks a bit messy, so be it -- I dropped everything and shoved this in after having a request to make it available -- I did not want to put it in the main Ugly Islands stuff.

I am working on some better maps . . . still!

Making up your own questions

You can take almost anything in the Web site and make an issue of it. Take a statement or a situation that has been described here and call for a researched debate on it, drawing on information available here, and also information from the real world, where similar problems have arisen. Should the snarks be exterminated or not? What might happen if we do that? What about the new hawks -- should we lay baits for them?

Some of the best issues for this sort of work are flagged in the problems page, but as I go, I am always adding little twists here and there, and sometimes I forget to flag them. Do a bit of a read, find something that grabs you, and run with it! If it works well, tell me, and I will share it with credit to you.

Ask students to use their imagination to draw an animal or plant that has been described but not illustrated. Ask them to create an extra animal (or animals) and describe and draw them, explaining how they fit into the existing ecosystems, and send me the best ones so I can add them in with due credit -- I am desperate for more illustrations.

I am not unaware that there is the basis here for creative writers to establish a far more human face to the Ugly Islands by writing stories involving the place and the people. The basic characters are there, and they can either use these or create their own.

Play the what-if game: what would happen if somebody discovered that there was a powerful anti-cancer drug in the Canute grass, or that the hairyoddities provided a brilliant model for human diabetes research?


The villain behind this This is me. In brief, I am a once and future science teacher, who recently taught computing and science to secondary students, now a full-time writer, multimedia author, and broadcaster on things scientific and environmental. If you need more than that, you can reach me by e-mail at:, or you can track me down on our family home page, and links that follow from it, wherein All Will Be Revealed. You may even be able to deduce why progress here has been so slow -- this is what I do for fun :-)

Copyright: who owns it?

I do. This project contains material which I allowed the then Secondary Schools Board in New South Wales to use in 1976, under a severely restricted licence. It was, and has at all times remained, my intellectual property, even though the Government Printing Office placed an invalid and illegal claim to Crown copyright on my materials when they published it. Such an unauthorised claim does not confer any degree of ownership on the Crown.

Several years ago, the successor to the SSB, the present-day NSW Board of Studies, claimed continuing ownership in this intellectual property, which is flattering but still invalid. The original material was conceived by me, and written by me in my own time. It was never sold, ceded, or assigned to any other party, and my intellectual output outside of working hours was not the subject of any employment contract. The copyright is mine to dispose of, and mine alone. I, and nobody else, decide who can use it, and if any fees should be paid.

Copyright: teachers have open go

Any genuine teacher or student may freely use what they find here in whatever way they will, at no charge, so long as they do not try to make money out of it. Share the material, use it, develop it and amend it, adapt it, but do not try to steal it. Now if that doesn't get the message over, probably nothing will, so I shall stop there. By the way, the turkey that tried it on has since been sacked -- I hope my spirited defence helped to pull the rug from under him, as I have no time for those who try to make themselves important by stealing the work of others.

Origins of the Ugly Islands

Hairyoddity The idea was to provide some materials which students could read before a public examination, so they would be familiar with the material before the test, so that slow readers would not be disadvantaged. Then, when the Reference Test took place, they got a second copy of the same stimulus material, and some extra information which was in the same vein, and took very little reading, but suddenly shone a different light on the data with which they were familiar.

At first, it was just a set of tables and figures, but I realised we needed to do rather more, to create some continuity. And so the Ugly Islands were born, complete with a set of obscure Joycean references, inserted as proof of ownership. The Ugly Islands began as a copy of the Florida Keys, turned upside down, as they were described to me by my former lecturer in zoology, Harry Recher, then at the Australian Museum, who kindly fed me a great deal of printed information about the special problems of living in such places.

Then I realised that I needed some larger land masses to generate weather patterns, and so Little Ugly and Big Ugly had their inspiration in Compton Mackenzie's Big Todday and Little Todday (as in Whisky Galore), while the elements of geology and biology (now detailed out of all comparison with the original form) have their roots in many places where I had visited, lived or worked -- in Fiji, Papua, Rottnest, Lord Howe and Norfolk Island, the Hebrides, parts of Micronesia, especially Pohnpei, and some ideas have been drawn from visits to Bahrein, Bali and Java.

There were probably a few other influences from places that I have read about, rather than visited. I also gained from a reading of a number of the Icelandic sagas published by Penguin Classics, especially Njal's Saga, Egil's Saga, and also the Landnamabok. Those familiar with these works may see the debts I owe, although just recently, I have been writing some material on Madagascar, and there are parallels there as well -- even though Madagascar was far from my mind when I created the bulk of the Ugly Islands -- I guess it is just the way that island ecosystems are.

The animals and plants could occur almost anywhere, and probably do. As a general rule, I have taken certain attributes, and built up logically to create the situations I describe. So in the end, it's all true, every word of it. Just ask a hairyoddity.

And if you are wondering about that name, and some of the others, it seems that somebody on the Ugly Islands was a Joycean scholar, but beyond that, I am not allowed to go :-)

Classroom problems built into The Islander

This list is by no means complete, but it will outline the major questions as I try to set them up in the issues of The Islander that are complete. That said, I am still leaving myself some stubs onto which other problems may be welded at some later date, so feel free to make up your own, if you can see an opportunity.

The idea is to look at a particular copy of The Islander first, then print it out and make double-sided copies for the students. They should then have access either to your off-line set of Ugly Islands materials, or to Internet-enabled computers.

Note that there is often more to a story than appears in a single issue, and sooner or later, students will realise that they ought to look ahead, and get more evidence. There is a lesson for them there. More importantly, students may see parallels with a local situation, but here they can discuss and argue the science without local animosities being fanned. There is information to be had, but they will need to dig for it.

Social issues: the Cloudwalker Hotel, the rate at which developed countries use power. Conservation issues: snark hunting, and the conditions under which it should be allowed, and the rights, if any, of the sinking duck. Scientific issues: the practicality of solar power, and the way it might be achieved. Good work has been done on assessing the practicality of 'gasohol' from sugar cane or corn, and the sums do not look good (I have written some of this up at, but you need to have a school subscription to access that David Pimentel of Cornell University was one of those who has looked at the problem, so students can do a Web search on his name.) Students will need to research the available information, select the relevant pieces of data and make their own decisions.
Medical: there is a slow-breaking story on a tummy bug that is hitting some of the islanders. Not ready yet. Should we farm the hairyoddities? Tourists treating locals as though they are staff in a theme park over the boat pulling (see letters in June and July, and maybe later), farming the hairyoddities (watch out for a twist in the story in July), while the estimation of the available energy in the Plughole will keep them working luckily, the speed works out at exactly 3 metres per second. Patenting species, controlling the rabbits and more.
Clear-felling, wood-chipping, the value of old growth forest, and what makes a species (see the question of the gliding frogs). The information is there to allow a conclusion to be reached, but there is no definite answer which is as it should be.

© Copyright Peter Macinnis, for The Ugly Islands Council,
free use allowed under the conditions listed in TEACHERS.htm
Leaving out the hairyoddities (who have apparently gained some form of cyber presence), you are visitor number

Last revised March 6, 2007.

This site is owned by Peter Macinnis, but if you want to email me, stick my first name in front of that or I may miss you!!