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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.

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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

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!