We’ve said it before, and we can’t help but say it again…” What happens in the Amazon should never stay in the Amazon!”
Each and every year the educators and students we have the privilege to share the Amazon with give life to these words. Each and every year the wonders of the Amazon are carried back to friends, families, classrooms, communities, as students and teachers share what they have learned and experienced. Each and every year we do our best to build Amazon Awareness through education!
In July of 2013, we broke recent records and hosted 30 intrepid educators on our first annual Educator Academy in the Amazon. Students from Sidwell Friends School and Shady Side Academy (to name a few) explored the rainforest on reconnaissance for their schools in order to build long term relationships with the Amazon. For adults and students alike, this immersion into tropical ecology, research, and culture gave all of us the chance to challenge ourselves, our assumptions, and our responsibilities.
As educators we sought new knowledge and insights to inspire our teaching and motivate our students. As individuals, many of us wanted an adventure in a remote and wild part of the planet. For some it was an opportunity to rekindle a long lost passion. For others it was an opportunity to push beyond established comfort zones. Many found it a means to look at the world with a new set of eyes.
In addition to total immersion (tarantulas falling from the ceiling and bats flying out of latrines) into Amazon biodiversity, we engaged in hands-on investigations, citizen science research projects, and inquiry-based learning activities designed to deepen our understanding of the rainforest ecosystem and its global importance. We even explored how rainforest concepts relate to 21st century instructional models such as 5E lesson design, inquiry-based exploration, STEM education. Innovative instructional tools such as Project Learning Tree, GLOBE, and Project Noah gave us practical tools to take back to our classrooms. Cross curricular learning experiences focused on cultural exchange, service learning, and sustainability and provided us with even more inspiration for how to deepen our student’s understanding of the complexities global environmental issues.
In this age of high stakes testing, Next Generation Science Standards, and the Common Core, we pondered how to take what we experienced in the Amazon and make it relevant to our curricula, our classrooms, and our students. What bound us all together was the idea that rainforests are magical, wonderful, inspiring places and they deserve a place in our curriculum. Not because monkeys are fun and frogs are fabulous (they are!) but rather because rainforests hold the key to many of our most pressing environmental issues – including global climate change.
The future of our planet depends on our students becoming concerned scientists, responsible environmental policy makers and informed global citizens. Knowledge and skills in science are paramount. How do we nurture this next generation to appreciate the role of science in addressing local as well as global problems related to climate change, sustainable development, and resource conservation? As teachers and teacher educators, we need to participate in science ourselves in order to incorporate science methods into our classrooms. We need to use inquiry-based techniques in order to guide our students in the tools and skills of research. We need to experience critical ecosystems, such as the rainforest, in order to teach about their importance to global health.
In June 2014, another cohort of educators from across the united states will have the unique opportunity to explore these issues through our second annual Educator Academy in the Amazon.
In addition, educators from Arizona and Nevada and other desert states can enroll in a spin off program, the Desert to Rainforest Academy, coordinated by Arizona State University faculty. The Desert to Rainforest Academy participants will engage in hands-on investigations, citizen science research projects, and inquiry based learning activities in both desert and rainforest ecosystems. During the Desert to the Rainforest Educator Academy, participants will get a close-up view of both the desert and the rainforest as complex systems with narrow niches and the interconnected relationships between soil, water, plants, wildlife, climate and people.
Both of these programs encourage the development of a “new set of glasses” for one’s local environment and provide a wider context for exploring significant questions such as – What is biodiversity and why does it matter to me? What factors determine the biodiversity of the desert, the Amazon, my backyard, and the planet? How will climate change affect the many dimensions of the Amazon ecosystem? How will it affect us locally in Arizona? Why is access to water a global concern? As a global citizen, what is my responsibility?
Participants in next summer’s Academy programs will be charged with sharing and applying what they learn with their students, districts, and communities. And once again…the Amazon will flood U.S. Classrooms!
For more information on Rainforest Educator Academy Programs and how you can participate, please visit http://www.amazonworkshops.com/educators–naturalists.html or contact Christa Dillabaugh, firstname.lastname@example.org / 1-800-431-2624.