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2015 Amazon Workshops Student Field Reporter Project:  We’ve enlisted the help of several students to share their 2015 Amazon experiences with us. Over the coming months we will regularly feature their posts, photos, and reflections – letting them tell their amazing stories of the Amazon and its impact on their lives!  

Reporter: Kailani C. (High School Student, The Gunston School, Maryland) 


The TSA official pawed through my luggage, sifting around dirty T-shirts and Ziplokced clothing so far beyond smelly it didn’t bear thinking about. I prayed desperately she didn’t break or confiscate the seed bracelets and colorful pottery for which I had traded with the Yagua. It would be too ironic for them to survive the journey only to be taken when we reached America again. It was somewhere around one in the morning. Exhaustion tugged at my shoulders and eyelids, and I struggled to remain alert as the official went through my gear. I had declared my baggage when we went through security because I was carrying an apple and an orange in my backpack, which doesn’t really count as agricultural products. But a traumatizing event at the airport when I was ten that resulted in the confiscation of my favorite second grade scissors has instilled in me a deep fear of customs officials. I declared just to fully ensure they wouldn’t arrest me.

I was regretting it now, though. I was tired, on the ground and missing my parents, and it was time to be home.

The official closed up my bags, removing the fruit from my pack. “These stay with me,” she said, before chucking them into the large trash can next to her checking table. She said I could leave, and as I pulled on my backpack, I looked at the can into which the perfectly good produce had disappeared. “I know some kids who would have liked those,” I murmured to myself, before setting my rolling bag on the ground and continuing my journey.

In Llachapa, back on the Amazon that was now so far away, the schoolchildren with whom we’d painted signs and built gardens would have enjoyed that apple and orange. When we ate a lunch there provided by Explorama, the apples we did not eat were given to the students. I thought about them as I walked toward the airport’s exit where the rest of the Gunston kids were waiting, and realized how different things would feel once we returned to our toilet-flushing, hot water-providing, well-fed first-world lives.

As I write this, it has been almost a week since that last day of travel, since the last day of Spanish voices and wide, wise rivers, and I am once again left to marvel at the passage of time. Already the Peru trip feels like it happened months ago. As the stress of review week, followed by exams, takes the forefront of my daily thought, I can only really go back when inhaling the scent of Guillermo’s orchid extract, and feeling again the stickiness of sweaty skin and the wild, steaming life force of the rainforest. There are parts of it I definitely do not miss–the bugs, the heat, the homesickness. But I close my eyes and remember the parts I do wish for again. The cool breeze that comes with a tropical thunderstorm and rattles the palm fronds. Lucio and Raul, with their endless stories and knowledge of the ways of the jungle. Standing on top of Platform 6 at the canopy walkway and looking over the vastness of the rainforest, surging over every horizon beneath the cathedral clouds. The ancient river and its tributaries, giving life to it all.

The River of Life.  photo credit:  A. Vooris

The River of Life. photo credit: A. Vooris

I have traveled since the age of eight, and have been to many glorious places that I even now long for. Wanderlust is like a fine wine; time just makes it stronger. When we got home at almost four on Sunday morning there was nowhere else on earth I wanted to be. But when I woke up the next morning my first thought was of the Amazon, and the fact that I was no longer there. Of course, the next day or two consisted of me trying to get back into my American high-schooler mindset than that of the bugbitten, eco-reporting, exhausted-but-high-on-life-and-loving-it traveler I had been for almost ten days prior. Homework and exams, when compared with saddle-backed tamarins and rainbow boas and documenting it all, now seemed pretty mundane. But I reminded myself that the work I put into my studies now would send me back there one day.

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I could fill a book with all of what I learned in the Amazon; maybe someday I will. It’s certainly too much for one small blog. But the most important thing I discovered, or maybe remembered, on this trip, is that the fight for the conservation of places like the Amazon rainforest is not just one battle, fought by just one group of professionals. It is a war, fought by thousands of people all over the world who choose to make a difference one way or another. You don’t have to have a degree in botany to care about the jungle, or in anthropology to rally behind indigenous peoples, or in marine biology to love the ocean more than life itself, and recognize that these places and people are threatened and that something needs to be done. I think a lot of people do not believe they can change things because they do not know enough about the state of deforestation in the Amazon basin or the rapid depletion of the fisheries to do something about it. “I’m not a scientist, what can I do about anything,” right? But that’s not true. Buying shade-grown coffee or sustainably grown and harvested fish would make a huge difference if just half of America’s population did it, or even one person. The little changes people make are the atoms that make up the body of conservation. It’s the innovative scientists and teachers that we read the articles about, and surely, where would be without people like Rachel Carson and Sylvia Earle? But it’s the silent masses of people who do care about the environment and change the way they live accordingly that also help ensure there’s a world left to fight for.

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I am immensely grateful I was able to go on this trip and learn about so much, from the awareness of the state of the rainforest to the lives of the people there, who struggle to survive as their world develops around them. For my entire life I thought I would be a marine scientist, focusing on improving the health of the ocean I love. On this trip I realized and accepted the fact that wars are not fought with a single weapon, and switching arms is not abandoning a cause. I can fight for change by raising awareness, by learning about peoples in threatened areas and how they live in and view their local ecosystem, and through my words and my writing and my stories. I can spread the word about the value of the rainforest and its people through tales of multicolored birds lighting up against the sky, the dances of the Yagua that seemed to reverberate to the very core of being, and the lessons learned on the shores of a goddess river, the greatest on earth, that will inspire me to teach others about the importance of our home, this colorful, wild, miraculous planet Earth.

There is nowhere in the universe I would rather be.

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2015 Amazon Workshops Student Field Reporter Project:  We’ve enlisted the help of several students to share their 2015 Amazon experiences with us. Over the coming months we will regularly feature their posts, photos, and reflections – letting them tell their amazing stories of the Amazon and its impact on their lives!  

Reporter: Kailani C. (High School Student, The Gunston School, Maryland) 


They really do make it look easy, I thought, as the wrinkled but wiry Yagua man handily cleared a patch of ground with his machete, slicing vertically just above the thick dirt and shearing away the grass. I have seen it done many times, but the technique and apparent effortlessness of lawnmowing via very sharp knife never ceases to amaze me.

It was our last full day in Peru, and we were back where we had started, at Explorama. We had spent the previous two days at ACTS, on the walkways or in the lodge working on research projects. We presented the evening we got to Explorama, demonstrating our findings to all travelers present. They went really well, considering we’d had less than a week to gather data and write up a report. Now that our scientific forays were more or less complete, we could focus on the other big aspect of the Amazon rainforest: indigenous culture. The tribe in our area is the Yagua, a people who have adapted well to modern society but still preserve their traditions. On the day they came to the Lodge to show us their old ways, bare-chested men with palm fiber hanging to their ankles and women wearing red skirts and palm fiber halters, all of whom wear modern clothes now with the exception of a few elders, paddled up in their dugout canoes. They set up stations around the lodge to show us how they had thrived in the rainforest for so long. Our school group split into two, one following Raul and the other with Lucio. For the whole morning we saw glimpses of the Yagua way of life.

The first station we visited was machete use. Two older men, withered with age but their strength apparent, were fashioning tools a blade. One showed us how to clear land with a machete, his movements practiced and sure. Raul invited us to try, and though those of us who had a go didn’t suck too badly, I felt clumsy and amateurish in comparison. Two other men then showed us how to make thatch for the junction of a roof, weaving two fronds of a certain palm together in an interlocking pattern to keep out rainwater. Another kind of palm was used for the rest of the roof, the weaving of which a Yagua woman showed us later on.

Learning to weave.  photo credit:  A.Vooris, 2015

Learning to weave. photo credit: A.Vooris, 2015

The pattern of a roof junction after weaving.  photo credit:  A. Vooris

The pattern of a roof junction after weaving. photo credit: A. Vooris

  The rest of the walk included learning how traditional blowguns are made and fired (which we tried too), eating guava, the candy of the jungle, watching Yagua women weave beautiful purses and bags from palm fiber, and the natural dyes of the jungle, fingerpaintings of which we put into our journals. Raul then took us to the dining room, where we ate samples of Yagua food. Tamales, manioc and a peanut-candy melted on my tongue. We went next to the porch, where, Raul claimed, he had saved the best for last. Four Yagua men in modern clothing sat on the benches, instruments perched on their laps. One gripped a flute, two had drums, and one was on maracas. Across from them sat a few Yagua women and one man, all in traditional dress. An open space had been cleared in the center of the porch. Nerves and excitement sparked at my heels. The Yagua were going to teach us to dance.

Raul explained that down here, music is very local, with not many outside styles coming to the jungle. I had read that dance was a common occurrence amongst the Yagua, and the band here would be live. Raul asked us to please be polite and not refuse if we were asked to dance, and the four players started up. Their song was instrumental and with a fast, foot-stomping beat. The man and one of the woman dancers demonstrated the first dance, one of friendship. The band stopped, they took their seats, and Raul asked us to dance next. The players began again, and after a handful of awkward seconds Jack, Hanna and I hopped up and had at it. Pack instinct kicked in. The rest of the Americans stood and tried to mimic the Yagua’s fluid movements, and we grouped together, catching the rhythm. They showed us a few dances, and I got into it as best I could. I was no local dancer, but it felt great to move my body other than just walking. After five minutes of it I was drenched in sweat. When we finished, we thanked the dancers and musicians and took the hours before lunch off. We headed back to our rooms to pack our backpacks for this afternoon. It was time to trade.

Around 2:00, Raul led us along the short path between Explorama and the Yagua post that had been set up for trading. We came into a huge tapered hut whose roofing went all that way to the ground. Inside it was dark, the only illumination coming when the clouds rolled off the sun outside. Yagua, young and old, gathered on the benches inside. Raul told some of the history of ExplorAma, when Peter Jenson, an anthropologist, came over fifty years ago and saw a vision of an ecotourism lodge that interacted positively with the indigenous people. Explorama has expanded over the years, but the Yagua still come to show the tourists their ways and to trade or sell. When Raul finished, the Yagua stood up and invited us to dance as a group.

Dancing with the Yagua.  photo credit:  A. Vooris, 2015

Dancing with the Yagua. photo credit: A. Vooris, 2015

They led us through several dances, including the King of the Forest dance, which honored their highest god. We formed an undulating line, with our right hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us. Those in the front of the line set the beat, thumping the ends of their staffs into the hard-packed dirt. As the dance started, the Yagua began to sing. I could not understand the words, but their voices rose harmoniously in the darkness, calling on some ancient communal spirit that flowed through our ranks as we circled the center of the hut. I could feel the old power of the ritual, rising and falling with our movements and their words, and I knew these people understood things about this part of the world more than we scientists may ever grasp. We traded for the rest of the afternoon, bartering common American goods for seed bracelets and small blowguns, before running through a cool rain back to the lodge.

A group of Yagua children at the trading post.  photo credit:  A. Vooris, 2015

A group of Yagua children at the trading post. photo credit: A. Vooris, 2015

The Yagua have been in the Amazon for years beyond my knowledge, and they know the moods of the rainforest, its twists of fate and little nooks of gods. The tribe here is fading as elders die and young people leave to seek a change in the modern world, but the stories are not all forgotten, nor the old ways of doing things. The Yagua hold a jungle-taught wisdom, and they have reinforced my conviction that despite the perks of so-called “development” and the many allures of the modern world, sometimes the old ways really are the best. Even if it involves cutting grass with a machete.

2015 Student Field Reporter Project:  We’ve enlisted the help of several students to share their 2015 Amazon experiences with us. Over the coming months we will regularly feature their posts, photos, and reflections – letting them tell their amazing stories of the Amazon and it’s impact on their lives!  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Reporter: Kailani C. (High School Student, The Gunston School, Maryland) 

I still can’t get over its name. The “Andean Cock-of-the-Rock?” Seriously?

I’ve been perusing the ID guide to Peruvian birds I bought for a little pre-departure studying, and I have to say I’m a bit awed. Besides the sheer volume of Amazonian winged fauna–Peru holds over 1,800 avian species–their common names are as unique and at times amusing as the birds themselves. Along with the bright orange Cock-of-the-Rock, Peru is home to the Amazonian Umbrellabird (its huge feathery crest reminds me of an overenthusiastic flapper girl), the prehistoric-looking Hoatzin (you can really see how birds evolved from dinosaurs), the jewel-like Little Sunbeam (the hummingbird names are especially fantastic), and hundreds of others.

Me looking in the Peru bird guide at the extravagant Cock-of-the-Rock

Me looking in the Peru bird guide at the extravagant Cock-of-the-Rock

Needless to say, we’re lucky we’ll have a guide well acquainted with the non-human inhabitants of the Amazon. There’s no way each of us could memorize all of the names and faces we’ll be seeing down there, not with the little time we have left to study. For those of us going on the Peru trip, research and planning have become much more immediate parts of our lives. We have less than two weeks until we fly out, and it’s crunch time to get all the loose ends tied and make sure we’re completely ready.

The biggest assignment that we need to complete individually is to plan and prep our research projects. This trip is possible because it is part of the Bay Studies program at our school, a week taken from the school year each spring for the student body to split up and research different parts of the Chesapeake Bay, or in our case, the Amazon River. To take advantage of this, we’ll all be doing individual research projects. One of our teachers, Mrs. Vooris, has downloaded a sound recording software from the Cornell ornithology site onto her computer so several of us can work with the calls of the jungle. One of us will be listening to frog calls, and I’ll be experimenting with the pitch and volume of birdsong in different levels of the canopy and at different times of day and night, along with just general observation and field journaling. Other research projects include soil analyzing, butterfly observation, medicinal plants, and studying the light gaps in the rainforest. My brother will be experimenting with leaf-cutter ants’ reaction to certain stimuli, such as created obstacles or a shifted food source, and one student will be studying the bioluminescence produced on some of the trees. We each need to figure out what we’ll need to bring with us to complete our projects, as we’ll obviously not be able to dash out to the nearest store for something missing. We have been meeting through the last several weeks to pin down what still needs doing.

The group of Gunston students going, minus two

The group of Gunston students going, minus two

The other big objective is gear. We each have a packing list, but many of us are not fully kitted out with waterproof pants and hiking boots. The mosquitoes will be vicious, so long sleeves and lightweight pants are imperative. One of the moms has recommended Permethrin to spray on our clothes and sheets to help keep the bloodsuckers off. It’s less toxic than Deet, which is a relief because they taught me on Hog Island that Deet eats your binoculars, and I’ll be glued to mine. Mrs. Vooris is taking her computer for communication, sound and blog recording, and other functions that require a keyboard and Internet, provided they have strong connection so far from Iquitos. I rather doubt it. The rest of us have been warned to keep any electronics in a Ziploc when not in use. Thinking back to my time in Guatemala when we were still living on our boat, I understand why. It’s called “rainforest” for a reason. We’ll also be there in the high-water season, so max humidity and river levels. As useful as my iPod would be on the long plane rides we’ll be taking, it’s staying home.

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Some of our gear and research material

And there will be lots of flying. Lots of moving in general, actually. We leave on May 15, which just so happens to be the day the seniors of our school Disembark, a traditional transition ceremony where the graduating class leaves campus by boat, just as they had arrived on their first day of school four years before. Normally, they go downriver to the nearby Camp Pecometh for a barbeque and celebration, but the Peru trip seniors will be picked up by Mrs. Vooris, Ms. Beck (our other teacher) and the juniors as soon as they reach the camp. From there we’ll drive to the airport, fly to Fort Lauderdale, drive to and spend the night in Miami, fly to Iquitos the next day and take a several-hour boat ride downriver to one of handful of Explorama lodges where we’ll be staying and studying.

All the miles are a fine price to pay for this experience, though, as is the bug factor. I remember the insects of the tropical Americas, and though I’m not as jumpy around them as I was when I was ten, the mosquitoes are still going to be a pain. Immunizations and vaccinations have been a major focus, especially for parents. My brother and I were recently immunized against yellow fever, and two days before our trip we will start taking anti-malarial pills, which we will need to keep taking during our stay in Peru. Hopefully the bug spray, mosquito netting and covered bodies will be enough to keep the worst of the little buggers off.

Trade with the local Yagua people is also on the horizon. I love bartering, and the artwork and tools the Peruvians craft for trading are truly beautiful, so I’m especially excited for this aspect of the trip. It’s also a great opportunity for me to give a bunch of the shirts I’ve grown out of to people who can use them more. I wish I’d had more time to brush up on my Spanish before leaving, as it is the lingua franca between travelers and the local peoples. I haven’t spoken it to someone who can’t speak English in more than three years, so hopefully my brother, a Spanish student as opposed to my Latin, will be able to converse when I cannot. I’m not too worried about it, though. I have been with many people who do not require a language to strike up a friendship.

I imagine the Peru group will be closer after this adventure as well. Experiences such as walking dozens of feet above the rainforest floor, sharing hours-long plane rides, and seeing spiders larger than your hand–which I anticipate if not necessarily hope for–tend to bring people together. My excitement is building as the push-off date draws near. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the body-hug of rainforest humidity or been have woken by the shrieks of the tropical dawn chorus, and it begins to call to me again as the days tick down till takeoff.

It’s all fun and games until you get birds and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology involved…then mayhem, hilarity, and learning ensue!

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Last summer, birding in the Amazon became a full contact sport as U.S. and Peruvian educators and students raced around the grounds outside the Amazon library – flapping their “wings” as they searched for resources needed to survive!   Language barriers dissolved as hands were clasped and teams were formed.  Laughter filled the air as educators learned to communicate with hand signals and pantomime.

How does magic like this happen?  It takes partnerships and a lot of planning, but it is so worth it!  During the annual Educator Academy in the Amazon for K-12 teachers, we partner with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to bring their BirdSleuth programs to the Amazon.

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While they are in the Amazon, U.S. educators work with Lilly Briggs, Cornell’s International BirdSleuth Coordinator, and are introduced to the new Habitat Connections curriculum.   This great program uses inquiry, games, and citizen science to help students discover the diverse habitat need of birds and the challenges they face when migrating.  We then partner with CONAPAC’s Amazon Library and host a similar teacher training for Peruvian educators – many of which have to travel for hours by boat to make the training.

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The high point of all this in-depth exploration is an afternoon of fun and community building between U.S. and Peruvian teachers.  Together we “field test” several Habitat Connections activities with the students who visit the Amazon library after school each day.

14662568112_248a60d934_oIt was an experience none of us will ever forget, but we left with way more than just happy memories.  All of us have new tools and resources that will improve our teaching and engage our students – whether we teach in a one room school in the Amazon, a private school in NYC, or an elementary school in Tuscola, Illinois.

 

So how does all this translate back to a US classroom?  Here’s how one teacher took what she learned in the Amazon and integrated it into her classroom.


 

Connecting the Amazon to the Classroom via BirdSleuth 14750812696_ffdf8d12d1_k

by Pam White-Evans, 6th grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in Tuscola, IL.

(Pam teaches math, science, and social studies but if she ever needs another career she has a real talent for talking to howler monkeys in rehab!)

“Our first science unit of the year this fall was Birdsleuth’s Habitat Connections. It was very interactive and the students really enjoyed this aspect of the curriculum.

The first lesson was “Habitat Investigation.” This lesson gave the students a chance to get outside and explore their schoolyard. We had one particular area in mind that we would like to improve, so we studied it extensively. This was the start of information gathering for a grant that we applied for. The students were introduced to the idea of citizen science. It was an idea they really liked. We got out our binoculars and took a bird walk and practiced taking data to input into eBird.

The second lesson (and their favorite!) was “Migration Obstacles.” It was a beautiful, slightly windy, rather warm day when we did this activity. This activity is so much fun because everyone is involved in some way during the exercise. Improvising “hazards” makes it interesting. Our hazards ranged from a “ghost” building to wetlands to glass buildings and an airstrip, cars to cats. The children enjoyed being the hazard as well as trying to dodge the hazards. It wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be. We talked about ways to improve the migration route and make it more bird friendly. Then they tried again and were much more successful.20140821_142542

There are some very good slides to go along with each lesson. We looked at the migration routes that certain birds followed. They were interested to see the birds that were in South America near the area where we visited the Amazon.

The third lesson “Bird Survivor” teaches about the life cycle of birds in an interactive game. The “Fact or Fiction” is a good way to get them thinking about some common misconceptions they may have about birds. For example, do all birds build nests? The survivor games goes through the life cycle of birds by having some students be the bird and the rest of the class telling them their fate. In the end, not all are successful. It is sometimes hard being a bird!

The fourth lesson “To Migrate or Not” looks at tropical and temperate residents and migrants. Talking about tropical migrants was the perfect time to talk about the birds in the Amazon! Through my eBird account we looked at many of the birds I had seen while visiting. We could then see if they were migratory birds or if they lived in the area year round. The students were able to see additional hazards of migration. This tied in with the sixth lesson “Modeling Migration” that takes a close look at eBird. Students were able to look closely at data and learn to decipher what the graphs were trying to tell them.

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The fifth lesson is “Scientist in Action.” I don’t believe that too many of the students had thought that scientists actually study birds and what they do. Nate Senner’s activities intrigues the students. They found his study interesting, but many thought it would be really hard to do that.

The seventh and final lesson is “Improve Your Bird Habitat.” After going through all the lessons, we took another look at the area that we would like to improve in our school yard. We decided to make the area an outdoor classroom where we can observe birds and other wildlife, as well as attract Monarch butterflies. We went through the grant application, so the students could see what needed to be done. They drew sketches and helped write the answers to the questions. We look forward to finding out whether or not we will be funded for our project!

I ended the unit with a slideshow of pictures from my trip to the Amazon. The students were intrigued by the pictures and the information that I shared with them.”


 

So what’s next?

We have another Educator Academy in the Amazon scheduled for July 1-11, 2015.  This year, as part of the program, we will conduct two BirdSleuth training for U.S. and Peruvian teachers and expand our reach deeper into the Amazon so we can share this wonderful resource with even more Amazon teachers and students.   This is our way of giving back and thanking the Amazon and its people for allowing us to use their backyard as our classroom!

We’d love to have you join us!  More info on the 2015 Educator Academy can be found here:  http://www.amazonworkshops.com/educator-academy.html

 

Blind Dates in the Amazon

November 6, 2014

Standing on the banks of the Sucasari River as dusk began to settle around me, I strained to hear the sound of approaching boats over the cacophony of rainforest insects and frogs. 14660644373_8d44daf6cf_z (1)

I had only emerged from the jungle two hours earlier after spending over a week with high school students exploring the rainforest from top to bottom – my personal version of heaven.  With just enough time for quick shower and a clean set of clothes, I needed to regroup – and quickly. I had to be ready to greet a boat of weary educators who had just spent the better part of two days traveling to this remote corner of the Amazon rainforest in Northeastern Peru.   I knew their names and some of their faces, but we had never met in person.

Feeling like I was about to go on a blind date with 28 people all at once, I could feel the butterflies of nervous anticipation taking wing in my stomach.  Who were these people that I would spend the week with? (I’ve been at this long enough to know educators can be WAY harder than students!) Was I ready for them?  Were they ready for me?

Could they handle the ambitious agenda I had planned in order to cram as many learning, exploring, and discovery opportunities as possible into our short time together?  In the end, would they be able to justify the fees they had paid to attend this K-12 science professional development experiment that I (along with my amazing Amazon faculty) had dreamed up?  Would they embrace the adventure with gusto and not balk at the rustic conditions, the heat, the humidity, the mud, and the biodiversity in the latrines?

Would they find their inner explorer and ring every last drop of wonder out of each experience we threw at them?  14643775381_171477c4ba_oCould they get up before dawn, bird before breakfast, dig up leaf cutter ant nests till noon, climb through the rainforest canopy after lunch, and keep going long after dark in search of nocturnal wildlife along rainforest trails?  Would we, together, be able to successfully build curriculum connections between these amazing Amazon experiences and the classroom?

Or, would they revolt and retreat to the hammocks, exhausted, nursing their frustrations with pisco sours and cervezas, while plotting a mutiny?

Finally, the sound of outboard engines parted the curtain of rainforest noise and two boats full of the 2014 Educator Academy participants rounded the bend in the river.

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In short order, 28 disheveled, but smiling bodies emerged from the covered boats. As the educators clambered up the steps to the lodge, I could see a wonderful mix of anticipation, curiosity, excitement, and awe wash over their faces as they took in the Amazon rainforest for the very first time – mirroring the euphoria and relief felt when you realize your blind date is going to be way better than expected!  It was immediately evident that my 28 “blind dates” were more than up for the adventure we had planned.

Little did any of us know just how life changing the next 8 days would be, how close we would all become, and how the Amazon would transform the ways we think and teach. No one could have anticipated how the Amazon would refuse to let us go once we returned home.    

“This program immersed me into life on the Amazon River. I am forever changed by the knowledge, stories, challenges and life-long friendships developed during this experience!” ~Melissa Jordan, 2014

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Are you ready for the blind date of a lifetime?  Registration is open and scholarships are available for the 2015 Educator Academy in the Amazon.  Learn more and download the syllabus here.

Submitted by Christa Dillabaugh, Director, Educator Academy in the Amazon

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!

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!

K Keever 2013 (10)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.

AZ Edu 7-13 076In 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.

Educators Napo 7.3.12 006Both 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, christa@amazonworkshops.com  / 1-800-431-2624.