Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley to bring biodiversity to high school teachers

June 29, 2004

The sun shines on bleak, barren land that was once a plush rainforest dancing with life. Where sea turtles once struggled up the beach to lay their eggs in the sand now stands a beachfront lined with waste products that have washed ashore and choked the wildlife. Thousands of species are under threat of extinction. The question is, "What can we do?"

This summer, Jacqueline McLaughlin, assistant professor of biology, will further her quest to educate others on the need to understand and preserve biodiversity. She will be carrying out the field component of an international initiative, Connecting Humans and Nature in the Costa Rican Environment (CHANCE) through the course, "From Volcano to Rainforest: A Field Study in the Biodiversity of Costa Rica," from July 26 to Aug. 8.

CHANCE is a program for expanding the relationships between Penn State, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Pennsylvania high school teachers, researchers from the Caribbean Conservation Cooperation (CCC) and Asociación ANAI, the Minister of Education of the Republic of Costa Rica, and Costa Rican high school teachers. The project's goal is to provide new experiential learning resources for Pennsylvania secondary science and environmental education teachers. Although not the first field study course that McLaughlin has led, this course has a twist: high-school teachers are participants.

"Ten teachers from across the state of Pennsylvania will join together with Penn State students to participate in this experiential, interdisciplinary learning experience," says McLaughlin.

The 10 teachers, most of whom participated in the Pennsylvania Governor's Institute for Life Science Educators, were selected based upon an essay submission. Their entries were judged by McLaughlin and Patti Vathis from the PDE's Office of Curriculum and Academic Services. PDE has contributed funding to Project CHANCE through a collaborative effort with Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College. Each teacher participating in the Costa Rica program will receive $1,330 from PDE toward the cost of their course. "Our goal—both PDE's and Penn State's—in this expanded field study is to bring what we learn back home," states McLaughlin. "We want the teachers to come back to their Pennsylvania roots and domesticate what they have learned in the field. They'll select one of the nine high school state standards in environmental science and relate it to an issue that affects both Costa Rica and Pennsylvania. It will be an issue that they have witnessed firsthand that also exists in their own backyard, like over-harvesting the Scarlet Macaw and the Pennsylvania box turtle. The teachers will create a hands-on activity to be used in high school classrooms all over the state."

The course will cover and evaluate the Academic Standards for Environment and Ecology Education set forth by the PDE (K-12). It will also look closely at the environment and ecology standards set forth by the Costa Rican government.

Students will be required to maintain a daily journal, attend all programs and presentations, and research assigned species. In addition, the teachers and science education students will also have to lead a group discussion on an assigned topic, participate in a post-trip focus group, and design and document new experiential learning activities that support Pennsylvania educators in meeting new Academic Standards for Environment and Ecology Education. The teachers will then present their research at the next Governor's Institute Conference.

The Costa Rica course is part of an on-going section of courses that takes students into the field to learn firsthand about the world's biomes. The "Field Course Experiential Learning Model" was developed by McLaughlin and Stam Zervanos, professor of biology at Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College, and recently published in The American Biology Teacher. McLaughlin and Zervanos will lead another field course offering this summer. "From Desert to Rainforest: A Field Study in the Biodiversity of Peru." Past courses have taken students to Alaska, Australia, Ecuador, and the Galapagos.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009