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ECO Classroom takes teachers to the field

Leslie Bulger, an 8th grade science teacher in Virginia, never asks her students to do anything she hasn’t tried herself.

Through ECO Classroom, a collaboration between Conservation International and the Northrop Grumman Foundation, she has joined 15 other adventurous middle and high school science teachers from across the United States for the ultimate hands-on learning experience — living and working with scientists in the field in Costa Rica, home to 4% of the world's animal and plant species.


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    EditImage Alt Text:A social flycatcher finds a meal in Costa Rica. © Shelby Childress-Riha
    EditCaption Title:“The amount of carbon stored in some of these tropical tree species and how different this is from the prevalent tree species in Colorado where I live.” — Danielle Belmont
    EditCaption Description:Photo: A social flycatcher finds a meal in Costa Rica.
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    Edit Image Alt Text:Teachers visit the Mi Cafecito coffee plantation and learn about the de-fruiting process for harvested coffee beans. © James Maccarthy
    Edit Caption Title:“One thing I didn't know was how a biological field station works. I was surprised how many researchers are here, and we had the opportunity to speak with them about their research while we were out in the forest collecting our own data. I was surprised by the amount of studies being conducted here at La Selva.” — Sara Bourbour
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    Edit Image Alt Text:A great curassow wanders in front of a camera trap set up by the teachers. © James Maccarthy
    Edit Caption Title:“The interdependence that the plants and animals have with each other. For example, the blue jean dart frog finds a bromeliad and drops off one of her tadpoles in each of the puddles that form at the base of each leaf. She then returns each day and individually feeds the tadpole — one of the only amphibians to do this.” — Paul Sarandria
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    Edit Image Alt Text:Anuradha Bajpai, a science teacher at Baltimore County Public Schools, learns how to set up a camera trap from Johanna Hurtado, the TEAM site manager at Volcan Barva (the Costa Rica TEAM site). © James Maccarthy
    Edit Caption Title:“Pineapple, which is my favorite fruit here, is a bromeliad and is composed of several individual plants and flowers clustered together to make one large and delicious fruit.” — Jennifer Greenawalt
    Edit Caption Description:Photo: Anuradha Bajpai, a science teacher at Baltimore County Public Schools, learns how to set up a camera trap from Johanna Hurtado, the TEAM site manager at Volcan Barva (the Costa Rica TEAM site).
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    After two weeks of collecting data on plant and animal diversity, visiting coffee, chocolate and banana plantations, and learning techniques like camera trapping and satellite imaging, Bulger can return to her classroom this fall equipped with tools and lesson plans to recreate her real-world field experiences — and get her students excited about conserving nature and pursuing science careers.

    This is the third year CI’s Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) program has brought teachers to its field site at La Selva Biological Station in the Central Valley of Costa Rica.

    Middle school science teacher Susan Gottschalk-Yoder from Baltimore, Md., plans to inspire the next generation of conservationists in her classroom by sharing pictures of Costa Rica’s plants and animals — from the passion flower and orchid to the red-eyed tree frog and three-toed sloth — with her ecology students.

    “My goal is to educate my students on their local neighborhood biodiversity and the role they play in conservation,” she says, “and then share global examples of biodiversity and the role they could play in the future conservation of flora and fauna all over the world.”

    While students in Jennifer Greenawalt’s Baltimore classroom may be more likely to see a raven or an oriole in their city, she knows they can learn from the amazing diversity of Costa Rica’s bird population, such as the mangrove hummingbird, scarlet macaw and great curassow. Her students will conduct field reports on bird biodiversity in their back yards, inspired by the bird watching she’s experiencing on this trip.

    And Mark Walser, an 8th grade teacher from Durango, Colorado, will use the fieldwork techniques he has learned to help his students calculate the carbon stored in southwestern Colorado’s trees.

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    EditQuote Text (Do not add quotation marks):My hope is that students will consider the value of protecting forests as a means of carbon sequestration. While we can obviously enact expensive, man-made technologies for storing carbon, protecting forests remains one of the most logical and inexpensive methods of reducing carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere. In addition, it ensures the protection of priceless ecosystems that serve as homes to countless organisms and incredible biodiversity.
    EditQuote Attribution:Mark Walser, 8th grade teacher from Durango, Colorado and ECO classroom graduate
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    Stay tuned to CI’s blog Human Nature in the coming weeks to read more about the teachers’ ECO Classroom experiences!

    In the mean time, share this page with your online community to let them know how important it is to inspire students to take care of our natural resources.


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