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If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times…the future of the planet depends on the students sitting in our classrooms.  As educators, the task of nurturing this next generation to appreciate the role of science in addressing local as well as global problems often falls to us. At times this may seem like a super human task that requires a spandex suit and a cape.

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Happily, our 2013 Educator Academy in the Amazon participants are redefining what it means to be a super hero.  They have traded in their capes for rain ponchos, field notebooks and i-buttons.

They are becoming role models for their students because they understand that as teachers they need to participate in science themselves in order to incorporate science methods in their classrooms. They need to use inquiry-based techniques in order to guide their students in the tools and skills of research. They need to experience critical ecosystems, such as the Amazon in order to teach about their importance to global health.

Here are a few examples of what our Amazon Super Heroes are up to!

Science Explorers, EcoFest, and the Wooster Elementary Environmental Science Club

 Jennifer R. and Jolene W., Arkansas, Elementary Educators.  This dynamic duo from Arkansas truly don’t need capes to rank as Amazon super heroes.

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They epitomize what it means to be “facilitators of wonder” as they lead their students on explorations of their school yard nature trail, engage them as citizens during a community wide EcoFest, and integrate an appreciation for the wonders of nature into every lesson they teach.

“Our 4th and 5th grade Environmental Science Club set up a Rainforest Awareness informational board at EcoFest in Conway.  They displayed an experiment that showed the importance of keeping trees in the Rainforest because of the effects on the water.  It also communicated the need for clean drinking water and school supplies for the people of Peru. We have shared our personal encounters and pictures with our students so that they are able to empathize with those people.   We want our students not to take things for granted and appreciate their education.”

You can read more about the Wooster Elementary Science explorers on their blog: http://richardsonscienceexplorers.blogspot.com/

Biodiversity and Butterflies  

Kathryn E., Oklahoma Middle School Educator and Fund For Teachers Fellow.  With all the new standards coming out, it can take super human efforts to re-imagine classroom instruction.  But great educators like Kathryn take it all in stride.  Kathryn is turning her classroom into a rainforest as a way to energize science content and engage her students – while still meeting the standards and finding time to be a Fund For Teachers Fellow and Fulbright Distinguished Educator too!

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“How can an educator not bring amazing information from the Amazon back to the classroom?  With lessons and activities ranging from fishing for piranhas to teaching S.T.E.M in the classroom, I gained valuable experiences and content knowledge to enhance my ecology unit. I am much more confident in my teaching about the attributes of the rainforest, symbiotic relationships, and natural resources.  For example, when discussing symbiotic relationships with my students, I was able to use examples I observed first-hand in the Amazon rainforest.  Little by little the Amazon rainforest is coming alive in my classroom.  For the first time, I have a large butterfly habit to observe and record the life cycle and then students will be researching tropical butterflies compared to the butterflies found in North America. Next, there will be fish in the classroom and learning about the pink river dolphin and piranhas. Then, I will bring in orchids, bromeliads, and ferns to teach about the trees and epiphytes of the rainforest.  By the end of the semester, my classroom will be quite the example of a rainforest.”

Connecting the Desert to the Rainforest  

Amanda R., Nevada, US Park Service.  One can only imagine what Amanda could do if she actually had a super hero costume! This desert dynamo is on a non-stop mission to share the wonders of the world with all the visitors she works with as part of her job with the National Park Service.  She somehow still finds time to do things on the side – like creating rainforest “GreenBoxes” for the GreenPower program at the Desert Research Institute which will provide educators with hands-on teaching activities and materials that show just how much the desert and the rainforest have in common!

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“The goal of these green boxes will be to provide a diversity of hands-on investigations by using such resources as GLOBE, STEM, Project Noah, and the 5 E inquiry model. With this goal in mind, this will be one of the many bridges that teacher can use to educate youth in Clark County and throughout the state of Nevada and the country of Peru.”

Urban Science Superstars 

Holly M., Massachusetts, Middle School Educator.  After returning from the Amazon, Holly launched the school year with a “DonorsChoose” project request to raise money to purchase the equipment her students will need to become citizen scientists and collect environmental data for the  GLOBE program.  Holly’s students come from an urban school surrounded by buildings and cement.  It is a diverse, inner city school with 91% of students designated as High Needs due to low income status, English Language Learner status or Special Education status. Nearly 66% of the children come from families where English is not their primary language.

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“My goal, as their middle school science teacher, is to expose them to technology, make science authentic and investigative and show them what real scientists do, while bringing as much of the natural world into my classroom as possible.  I was inspired by the data collection I did as a participant in the 2013 Educator Academy and I want to share this excitement with my students.  By collecting data, using an exact protocol, and contributing to a scientific community, it is my hope that they will feel empowered and energized, just as I did in the Amazon”

Read all about Holly’s DonorsChoose proposal and then start your own!

More Amazon Super Hero Profiles Coming soon! Rainforest Alliance Schools in Jacksonville, FL,  Biomimicry Science Fair Projects in Colorado, Watershed Collaborations in the Mid Atlantic, and More! 

croppped tarantualLet’s be honest…looking for tarantulas on the ceiling before sitting down to dinner is not considered normal. Nor is checking for frogs in the shower before you shampoo.  But as many of our Amazon travelers will attest, there is an undeniable sense of pride and accomplishment when you can actually say you’ve done this!  There are definite benefits to traveling to places in the world that take you to the edge of your comfort zone.

It is on this un-comfortable edge where:

1.  perspectives are changed

2.  passions are discovered

3.  adventurous souls are awakened

4.  routines are broken

5.  true callings are revealed

6.  futures are redefined

7.  independence takes root

8.  the most surprising people become friends

9.  life altering experiences occur

10. real growth and learning happen!

Take for example, the tarantula on the ceiling.  When it fell from the rafters onto the dinner table, naturally a collective gasp (and a few shrieks)  erupted around the room.  But after the initial shock, these were replaced with awe and wonder.  The student closest to the airborne arachnid overcame her phobia and calmly held her ground, much to the awe of her peers!  This in turn inspired others to take a closer look as researcher, Steve Madigosky, gently collected it and explained it was a pink-toed  tarantula (Avicularia sp.).

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Sure enough it looked as if each of the eight toes had been dipped in pink nail polish, prompting oohs and ahhs instead of squeals and shrieks from the audience. Someone then asked the obvious question, “What was it doing on the ceiling?”  Much to everyone’s surprise, Steve explained that there are arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantulas in the Amazon, uniquely adapted to life in the treetops.  The beauty that landed on the dinner table had simply lost her footing but because she was built for tree top living, she survived the fall just fine.

When Steve asked if anyone would like to hold it, the response was overwhelmingly positive and students patiently waited for their turn to feel the delicate touch of 8 pink toes on their skin.   In this unscripted travel experience, perspectives were changed, fears were overcome, routines were broken, and new passions discovered…

When was the last time you checked for tarantulas on the ceiling?  If you haven’t, maybe it’s about time!

Amazon here we come!

June 26, 2013

Wow!  This year we are celebrating 22 years of building Amazon awareness through our summer workshop programs and we are pulling out all the stops!  This year we will host:

30 Adventurous Educators

26 Student Explorers

7 Teacher Leaders

6 Awesome Faculty Members

5 Student Amazon Rainforest Workshops

and

1 Stupendous Educator Academy in the Amazon! 

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Our student participants will experience an adventure like no other as they explore rainforest ecology, community, and culture.  They will push past comfort levels, expand their worlds, experience the joy of unplugging from technology and make new friends!

Their dedicated teacher leaders – amazing men and women – will serve as role models, guides, and co-learners as they lead their students on an unforgettable, life-changing learning experience. Image

The educators participating in our Educator Academy spent 6 weeks preparing for their Amazon experience and are already laying plans for bringing the Amazon back to their classrooms and communities.  If the energy they put into their pre-departure preparations is any indication, the Amazon will be rocking when they hit the ground!

There is no doubt that the Amazon will change each and every one of us…but our task is to decide what WE are going to do in return.  How will we change the Amazon?  What is our responsibility in ensuring its sustainable future?

As Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

We have no doubt that our small group of 2013 Amazon explorers fit her description and they will have plenty of ideas for making a difference! Stay tuned for future blog posts with details!

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Have you ever been awe-struck by nature’s engineering prowess and thought to yourself, “how in the world is that possible?” or “wouldn’t it be great if humans could do that?” Did it ever occur to you to think of nature as a big research and development firm with over 3 million consultants and over 3.8 billion years of experience? Welcome to the world of biomimicry – a world where creative and thoughtful people are looking to nature for inspiration.

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Learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs.

According to Janine Benyus, of the Biomimicry Institute, “…nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with; energy, food production, climate control, benign chemistry, transportation, and more.” Designers, engineers, architects and other innovators are asking the question “What would nature do here?” and are finding not just one new idea but myriad time tested, environmentally appropriate, solutions.

What better place to explore the idea of biomimicry than the Amazonnature’s hotbed of innovation and inspiration?

morpho - croppedTake for example this lovely blue morpho butterfly.  The new “glare-free” e-reader screens were inspired by blue morphos and “mimic” how the wings absorb and reflect different wavelengths of light!

Taking a walk down a rainforest trail takes on a whole new meaning if you thinking like a biomimic.  Each plant and animal you encounter is uniquely adapted to survive and thrive using a minimal amount of resources, creating a minimal amount of waste, and leaving behind a minimal impact on the environment. Every organism a source of inspiration, a blueprint of design, a model of sustainability.

Now imagine using biomimicry as a focus for STEM education – asking your students to study a leaf to learn how to make solar cells or a spider to make resilient fibers.  Imagine them learning how to adhere like a gecko, create color like a butterfly, sequester carbon like a mollusk, and air condition like a leaf cutter ant.

This summer students and teachers will put on their biomimicry hats and prowl the Amazon rainforest in search of inspiration – learning from nature, not just about nature.

If you’d like to learn more about biomimicry and find K-12 teaching resources visit Biomimicry 3.8

After poking around in the leaf litter and climbing into the canopy of the Amazon, it seems we might have discovered a new species of STEM378938-R1-13_12We affectionately call it by its common name, STEMazon.  Although not officially described by STEMologists, we have petitioned to give it a proper scientific name – Stemus amazonicus.

STEM, as you may know, is an educational organism that is taking the world by storm.  School districts across the country are scrambling to get some form of STEM into their classrooms as fast as possible.  Everyone is hopeful that a healthy population of STEMs will bring much needed balance to the educational ecosystem.  It seems that new species of STEM are being discovered daily.  The latest domestic STEM species is commonly called STEAM (Stemus Artus) and is named for its affinity for incorporating the arts into its diet.

So what’s so special about Stemus amazonicus?  Until recently, most educators didn’t believe that the Amazon had any connection to their classrooms and curricula.  Sure, all those monkeys are super cute and the frogs really are fabulous, but in this age of high stakes testing, the Common Core, and Next Generation Science Standards, the common misconception was that the Amazon had no relevance to 21st century instruction.  STEMazon (Stemus amazonicus) is about to change all that!

All puns and humor aside, here at Amazon Workshops, our goal is to make the Amazon relevant in today’s classrooms. While we firmly believe that teaching about the Amazon’s amazing flora, fauna, and indigenous cultures has merit and value, we also realize that in order to make these topics relevant in today’s educational ecosystem, we need a new approach.

stemAs a result, we are investigating how Amazon themes and topics can be used as focal points for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) lessons, activities, and explorations.

It is critical that today’s students develop the knowledge, attitudes, and awareness needed to understand the Amazon’s importance as a shared global resource. It is equally important that they develop the skills necessary to actively participate in its protection.  Incorporating the principles of high quality STEM education into our toolkit is one way to do this.

Our 2013 Educator Academy in the Amazon will provide expedition members the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hunt for STEMazon in its native habitat! Our goal is to identify not only its physical attributes but to understand its natural history; learn how it interacts the inhabitants of today’s educational ecosystem; and explore its potential for use in US classrooms.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!  Are you incorporating STEM into your classroom instruction?  How might you use Amazon topics and themes as focal points for STEM instruction? Have an idea for a “STEMazon” mascot?  Give us your ideas!

For the last twenty years, the educators and students who participated in our Amazon Workshops have snapped amazing photos of rainforest biodiversity. Unfortunately, most of these photos have only been seen by a handful of friends and family – or worse they are in a shoebox under the bed!

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One has to wonder…what could we learn about rainforest biodiversity if we had access to all the photos taken over the last two decades? What if we could take all those photos and sort them by location and date and species? Would we be able to see patterns of distribution? Discern subtle changes in populations? Stumble upon something new and undiscovered?

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What if we could share these photos with the world and inspire wonder and curiosity and knowledge in the next generation of explorers who sit in our classrooms?

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Project Noah "Deep Roots" patch commemorating our 1 year anniversary

Project Noah “Deep Roots” patch commemorating our 1 year anniversary

Exactly one year ago we stumbled upon Project Noah; a tool that harnesses the power of digital photography, GPS, and mobile technology, and we immediately knew we had an answer. Finally the multitudes of photos that are taken each year in the Amazon could have a larger purpose!

Last summer, we launched a pilot of Project Noah during our Educator Workshop. The images in this post are from that expedition. Our initial goal was to shine a light on Amazon biodiversity and begin to construct a virtual field guide to the region we visit each summer. We created a “mission” on Project Noah and called it Species Spotlight: Peruvian Amazon.

Many of our participants uploaded their photos to our mission and created field notes for their observations. Experts from around the world took notice and helped with some of the species identification. Even today these photos are viewed and commented on as we continue to fill in the details for each spotting.

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For 2013, we are incorporating Project Noah more fully into our Educator Academy in the Amazon and are already working with educators across the country to connect our Amazon images to their classrooms. This year, in addition to simply capturing images of what we see, we will also use our Project Noah spottings to explore the themes of plant and animal adaptations, biomimicry, and climate change in the Amazon.

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Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but the curiosity they incite is priceless. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!  How can you use these photos to incite curiosity?  What questions do they raise? What research might they prompt? Please respond in the comment box below.

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!