What We Did in Costa Rica

What We Did in Costa Rica

In July of 2014 16 teachers from around the country got a unique and exciting opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and conduct research in the tropical rainforest. The team from Portsmouth, “Los Ecologistas Locos”, presented our project during a preservice workshop to the science teachers in the district and because of our spirited enthusiasm, we were asked to share our experiences in an interview aired on local school television.

While in Costa Rica, our primary focus was to conduct a research project examining biodiversity in the rainforest. We chose to focus on how land use impacts biodiversity. The group spent two weeks in and around the La Selva Biological station gathering data. We had the opportunity to visit many different areas: a volcano (a unique cloud forest biome), a coffee plantation (to look at environmentally friendly/sustainable farming), a chocolate plantation (planted within a gorgeous tropical rainforest with suspension bridges, where we learned the history of chocolate, how chocolate is made, and the socioeconomic value of chocolate farming), rafting down the Sarapiqui river with local naturalist guides (viewing the flora and fauna from the river for a different perspective), took an early-morning bird walk with a guide, and spent LOTS of time in the rainforest at La Selva (including lessons on local flora and fauna from LaSelva’s INCREDIBLY KNOWLEDGEABLE staff, guided day hikes, guided night hikes, and we had the opportunity to climb their canopy towers for and incredible/unique view from above the treetops). We also had opportunities to experience the local culture.

We were taught TEAM data collection protocol and used those procedures to collect our own data using camera trapping (animal data), quadrat sampling (vegetation data), insect traps (insect biodiversity), and GIS technology (land use). We also had several unique opportunities to collaborate with the other teachers from around the country. Each teacher shared a lesson they use in their classroom, and we also shared our experiences, challenges, & solutions informally throughout the trip.

Jenny Garcell, a teacher at IC Norcom High School and team leader for Los Ecologistas, described the experience as “the most amazing thing I have ever done or will ever do in my life. Every single day was filled with unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. It was a challenge, but it made me a better teacher because I learned to challenge myself and that science is not always easy, and even when conditions are not ideal we must strive for the best results. That perseverance, along with the new knowledge, is something I will be able to pass along to my students.”

Paul Sarandria, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, professed, “WOW, what an adventure and experience. Spending two weeks in the rainforest was incredible. Experiencing first-hand what most of us only read about and see on television was amazing. Bringing this experience back to my students and having them perform experiments/collect data here brings it all full circle.”

Leslie Bulger, a teacher at Churchland Middle School, says “I never ask my students to do anything I haven’t tried myself. Now I have the hands-on experience of collecting real data during a thunderstorm in the dense tropical rainforest, and I can return to my classroom equipped with tools and lesson plans to recreate my real-world field experiences and get my students excited about conserving nature and pursuing science careers.”

Cami Field, a teacher at Churchland High School, stated “Dude, this was awesome! Living and working with scientists and other researchers in the field in Costa Rica will help me inspire my students to be better stewards for mother Earth, and to see that their actions have consequences beyond what they can see.”