Rumpus in the Rainforest!

October 24, 2012

Experiencing the Amazon rainforest first hand is an incredible opportunity – and for some a lifelong dream.  Jon Strube, an elementary principal from Indiana, set his sights on the Amazon seven years ago and worked tenaciously to find a way to get there.  Last summer, Jon’s dream finally came true.  With the help of a grant from the Eli Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program, Jon joined a lively group of educators on our 2012 Amazon Workshop for Educators.

And what a lively group it was!  We raised a rumpus as we joyfully explored the rainforest and as a result we came to understand that there are times when  you have to set aside the formalities of science and let your creative juices flow.  Sometimes viewing the Amazon through the lens of the arts and humanities makes the Amazon understandable in ways that a thousand data points cannot.  The same is true for the students in our classrooms!  Infusing our science lessons with a dash of art or a pinch of music is a great way to open the door to curiosity and wonder.

Jon is using his Amazon experience to do just that.  Next summer Jon will launch the first annual summer enrichment theatre camp for his students at Tzouanakis Intermediate School.  Principal Strube, along with TZ fine arts department educators, Dessa Frank and Carrie Hamilton, will bring to life the rainforest through the musical, The Rumpus in the Rainforest, by Bad Wolf Press. Jon will use his adventure in the Amazon and first-hand experience of the rainforest to infuse more knowledge and artifacts into the production.  The students of Tzouanakis Intermediate School will have the opportunity to explore the Amazon rainforest while they expand and enrich their musical and artistic craft all the while learning more about this exceptional natural resource and wonder.

Great work Jon!  We hope you can post a video clip of the production so we can see your students in action!

JOIN THE DISCUSSION!  How do you infuse the humanities into your science teaching?  How do you make the Amazon come alive in your classroom?

Meet Dr. Molina (Mo) Walters

Clinical Associate Professor, Arizona State University, Mary Lou Fulton Teacher College

Dr. Mo is a dynamo and over the last two summers we’ve had the pleasure of spending time in the Amazon with her.  Her passion for education is contagious! As an elementary and secondary science methods professor her energy and enthusiasm for developing the next generation of exceptional educators is evident in everything she does.   We are super excited that Mo will co-lead our 2013 Educator Academy in the Amazon!   We asked Dr. Mo to share her thoughts on the magical interface of the Amazon, science education, and the facilitation of wonder.

Mo, you’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Amazon over the last two summers. What is it about the Amazon that has captivated you and compels you to keep coming back? 

The Amazon is a magical place.  My first visit took my breath away.  I was then and still am awed and enlightened by its grandeur, beauty, and diversity.  Few places on earth can rival the rich diversity, both cultural and ecological of the Amazon rainforest.  It’s an outdoor classroom that will teach you about life, your place in the world, and about yourself. 

Next summer you are heading up our Educator Academy in the Amazon.  As you prepare to lead that field experience, what is the one thing, the most important thing, you want participants to take from their time in the Amazon?

The Amazon is at the heart of our planet and all life.  What we do and how we live will impact all other earth systems.  As educators and individuals we can make a difference!

This quote reminds me of you, “…the role of (an) educator is subtle – not to just raise awareness, but to encourage perception and facilitate wonder.” (Mitchell Thomashow).  As a  “teacher of teachers” your job at ASU  is to prepare the next generation of classroom teachers.  How do help your students balance the demands of high stakes testing and the tidal wave of standards reform with their role as “facilitators of wonder”?

High stakes testing will always contribute challenges to teaching and learning.  The variables that contribute to these challenges are many.  However, the standards that inform the development of high stakes tests emphasize questioning, problem solving, inquiry, and applying those skills to science content via real world applications.   My goal with students, of all ages and in all settings, is to stimulate and facilitate their own sense of wonder and curiosity by offering them many opportunities to question, explore, and take risks. 

 I help my students develop a sense wonder through inquiry-based discovery activities and then they practice demonstrating their own learning – a model that is transferable to the classroom. I actively model this strategy by sharing my own joy and enthusiasm for learning, stimulating the students’ natural curiosity and making the connections between this innate characteristic to know and understand our world with demonstration what we think and comprehend.  As a facilitator, one of the ways I model my own sense of wonder is through what I call “Think Alouds”.  My Think Alouds consist of my posing questions, demonstrating my own thought processes, and revealing my own sense of wonder.

 A sense of wonder leads to exploration which opens the door to discovery and ultimately the construction of knowledge.  Through this construction of knowledge, deep and lasting understanding is attained.  That, I believe should be the goal of all standards-based education and testing!

Well said Dr. Mo, well said!   Can’t wait to join you in the Amazon next summer during the 2013 Educator Academy in the Amazon!


Suddenly the treetops above us erupted in noise and chaos.  We scrambled to grab our binoculars and craned our necks to find the source of mayhem high above our heads.   Hearts beating fast, senses heightened, we quickly spotted a troop of tiny primates climbing and jumping through the canopy of the Amazon rainforest.  In a flash they were gone and the forest returned to its silent midday slumber.

We gathered together on the trail and in excited voices compared notes as we tried to identify the exact species we had spotted.  We quickly concluded that we had just seen a small family group of pygmy marmosets, the world’s smallest true monkey.

Still flush with excitement, we reflected on the powerful, even visceral, reactions we all felt as we watched those tiny mammals race through the treetops.  Unexpected and unfiltered, this chance encounter in nature did more to ignite our curiosity than any science textbook or zoo exhibit ever had.  This, we determined, was what the joy of discovery felt like.

In this age of high stakes testing, Common Core, and Next Generation Science Standards, it is easy to focus our learning (and teaching) of science to formal classroom environments, but in fact science is all around us.  Taking advantage of “informal learning environments” opens up the opportunity for us to experience the joy of discovery – opening our eyes to the excitement and wonder that is science.

Surrounded by Science:  Learning Science in Informal Environments by Fenichel and Schweingruber elaborates on the power of informal science learning.  In a nutshell, informal science learning:

  • Sparks our interest and excitement in learning about the natural world.
  • Deepens our understanding of and appreciation for scientific content and knowledge we may already have or would like to acquire.
  • Engages us in scientific reasoning as we test, explore, predict, question, observe, and make sense of the world. around us.
  • Encourages us to reflect on science as a way of knowing and understanding the world around us.
  • Provides us with hands on experience with the tools and language of science.
  • Develops our identity as science learners – someone who knows about, uses, and can contribute to science.

Reflecting back on that chance encounter with the pygmy marmosets, it is clear that we had also encountered the power of “informal science learning” as we all wanted to know more, learn more, and do more as citizen scientists in the Amazon.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION! When was the last time you experienced the joy of discovery?  The thrill of an epiphany?  A reawakening of wonder?  How did these “informal” learning experiences shape your identity as a science learner?

What happens in the Amazon should never stay in the Amazon…and if the educators we worked with last summer are any indication, the Amazon is already spilling over its banks and into their classrooms, communities, and personal lives.

Our ten day 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.

2012 Amazon Rainforest Workshop for Educators

As educators, most of us had “taught” the rainforest at various points in our careers.  Almost everyone acknowledged that it has become more and more difficult to include this engaging content in our instruction.  As part of the privileged few who actually get to experience the Amazon first hand, we grappled with our personal and professional responsibilities.

In this age of high stakes testing, Next Generation Science Standards, and the Common Core, we pondered how to take what we experienced 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 Our students will be the ones that will tackle these issues and we need to prepare them.  Inspired by our time in the Amazon, we returned home with a new perspective on “teaching” the rainforest and how the rainforest relates to instructional best practices, interdisciplinary and crosscutting concepts, and the core ideas of our respective disciplines. Although the strategies will be different for each of us, we are committed to supporting one another in our efforts.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION:  Is the Amazon or the rainforest part of your curriculum?  Need some inspiration?  Check out this mindmap and then tell us how you can use rainforest topics to engage your students and meet the standards.