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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.

bi-o-mim-ic-ry:  

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

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Jay as a middle schooler in 1995

If you are anything like tenacious Jay Blaine, you pester your mother for FOUR years until she makes it happen.  Now that is persistence!

As a middle schooler, Jay finally made it to the rainforest as a participant in one of our very first Amazon Rainforest Workshops, way back in 1995.

Flash forward eighteen years, and we are delighted to report that we serendipitously reconnected with Jay – now an artist and activist working in California.  Jay recently launched a wonderful new Facebook page called Rainforest Eye.  It is loaded with fantastic and inspiring rainforest images from around the world.  Jay is the first to acknowledge that his page wouldn’t be possible without the photographers.

Unlike many other Facebook “picture” pages, Jay is committed to celebrating the photographers behind the images – giving them the credit and recognition they justly deserve.  Many of the photographers he features, like Kurt Orion G  (South East Asia), Steve Parish (Australia), and Tracy Kidston (Amazon) are amazing naturalists who enhance their photos with fascinating natural history notes.

As Rainforest Eye continues to grow, Jay hopes his efforts will provide his fellow artists with mass exposure – helping to push their careers to the next level, while at the same time building rainforest awareness and appreciation through their beautiful and captivating images.

So, what sparked Jay’s fascination with rainforests?  It all began with his 3rd grade teacher and a unit on rainforests.  Jay was captivated by the images of camouflaged katydids, strangling figs, and howling monkeys.  As he and his classmates looked at all the animals that lived in the various layers of the rainforest, his mind reeled.  How could one place have so much life?  His third grade mind locked on a targetone way or another he would get to the rainforest!

Jay’s mom, Diane, tried to appease him with a glow-in-the-dark infographic of the rainforest, but that just wasn’t going to cut it.  Over the next four years they looked into a variety of rainforest experiences until Diane, a librarian, determined that the Amazon Rainforest Workshop offered the most educational learning opportunity for her son.  And off they went – down the Amazon in search of pink river dolphins, up in the canopy on one of the world’s first canopy walkways, and into the night on the prowl for snakes and tarantulas.  Jay?  Have you thanked your mom lately?

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Jay Blaine- visionary behind Rainforest Eye

As an adult, Jay is combining his passions for art, the environment, and outreach.  His Rainforest Eye Facebook page is just the beginning.  His long term goal is to create “Artists for the Environment” a non-profit that brings together artists from around the world in an effort to promote awareness about environmental issues.

Thank you Jay for the work you do and for sharing your story.  And a big THANK YOU to all the teachers out there who continue to spark the imaginations of their students by sharing the wonders of the rainforest in your classrooms…your efforts to raise awareness and appreciation can have amazing results.

What do one tropical canopy researcher, a Minnesota teacher, and a bunch of teenagers have in common?  On the surface, not much.  But dig a bit deeper, or rather climb a bit higher, and you will find a shared passion for exploring and understanding the intricacies of the Amazon rainforest canopy!

Researcher, Dr. Meg Lowman, and high school teacher, DC Randle, have joined forces to mentor the next generation of rainforest researchers and in the process are transforming the lives of Minnesota high school students.  Many of DC’s student have traveled with him to the Amazon and with the help of Meg, they have engaged in all sorts of inquiry based projects including herbivory (plant and animal feeding interactions) assessments, long term plant studies (leaf tagging), bromeliad and epiphyte studies, and more!  DC has given his students the opportunity to become apprentices to a top scientist like Meg and engage in authentic inquiry as they participate in important research in tropical ecology and biology.

It all began when Meg and DC met deep in the neotropical rainforest as guest faculty on a Jason Project, a virtual field trip which streamed live into classrooms around across the US.   Their mentoring partnership has had an enormous trickle-down effect and has made the Amazon come alive for hundreds of students!

For DC, having Meg as a mentor has allowed him to grow as a scientist in his own right.  He has participated in numerous field research projects, worked side by side with a diverse array of scientists,  served on scientific committees, and co-authored papers on tropical ecology.  Ultimately DC says, “I have become a better educator as a direct result of Meg.  My students have become better students of science and education as a result of me mentoring them in the same way Meg has mentored me.” 

What does a professional ecologist like Meg gain from this relationship?  Her work with DC has opened her eyes to the importance of engaging students in the real work of scientists and giving them first-hand experience with the magic of scientific inquiry.  Over the course of her partnership with DC, Meg has shifted part of her professional focus to K-12 education and is now incorporating this new understanding into her work as the director of the new Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, NC.

The ripples of this amazing partnership don’t stop with Meg, DC, and a handful of select students.  Through their collaborative efforts, they are able to share and amplify their first hand experiences with research in the Amazon rainforest.   As DC and Meg will attest, in order to sustain these forests for future generations, the first key in doing so is education.  “Students and other interested people need first hand experiences and opportunities to see, investigate, and understand how the system works to better provide the information to sustain them for years to come.” says DC.  Fortunately for all of us, Meg, DC, and their students are doing just this as they spread the word through their schools, communities, and the greater scientific network!

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!  Leave a reply below.  Have you been a mentor or a mentee?  How has that impacted your personal and professional life?