Comments from Participants


Clockwise from top left:

Barbara Bentley with teachers at La Selva; Hazen Audel with the group on a bridge through the cloud forest canopy; Arenal volcano on an unusually clear day in July


Participants comment on the course

and its influence on their teaching

From Martin Perlaky

Springfield HS, Holland, Ohio

(This course) ... was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in 18 years of teaching.  We spent our time together experiencing science in truest form, as a scientist ourselves.  This is something that we rarely get time to do in our busy day-to-day lives, so to take 15 uninterrupted days was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Once on the trip I found that I was in the midst of seven of the best teachers probably anywhere in the country.  Being able to interact with such intelligent people who had similar goals in the classroom as I had was extremely enriching.  Learning the natural history of this new country was an eye opening experience as we got to experience everything first hand from climbing an active volcano to dodging snakes and bullet ants.  Taking that information back home would have been an amazing trip.  However this trip was even more than that as we put scientific skills to work in the rainforest.  Getting that experience of executing scientific experiments from idea all the way to completion is something I bring home to my students that will make teaching an even more enriching experience ...

The most enlightening part of this experience was ... following the scientific process all the way to the end and the importance of the presentation.  I have used been using inquiry based methods in my classroom for about six years.  But one part that has been lacking is the follow through with the analysis of the results and classroom discussions of the results.  This course drove home the importance of these in getting students to understand what their results mean and how to interpret those results.  Also, having to do the presentation myself I realized there is a whole higher level of thinking and learning in preparing that presentation and then with the delivery of it.  It is something that will definitely take my students learning to a new level. 

From Kristen Edwards

Formerly: Lee HS, Marianna, Arkansas;


Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, NASA, Washington, DC

Participating in Rainforests and Reefs (July 2008) was, hands-down, the single most profound professional development experience of my teaching career.

Professionally, my experiences in Costa Rica were nothing short of remarkable.  As a life scientist by training, participation in the course was a reminder of how important it is to actually engage in the process of science, not just memorize, regurgitate, repeat.  In an educational climate where many science teachers are relegated to teaching to the test- despite my own best intentions, I was beginning to go down that path myself – it was a striking reminder to me that the lessons I remember the most from my own science education, and the ones that inspired me to pursue a career as a scientist (and then a science teacher), were those where I was actually doing science.  I was also able to bring back to my classroom a greater appreciation for the interdependence of life, a different perspective – from first-hand experience – on topics such as climate change and land management.

During the course, I also established relationships, both personal and professional, that continue to this day.  Being around men and women who are so passionate about education reinvigorated me as a teacher and inspired me to play more of a role in ensuring a quality science education for all children.  If I could find the time, I would do it again without hesitation.

From a personal perspective, the most enjoyable parts of the trip were whitewater rafting on Rio Sarapiqui, going on nighttime nature walks, and every single moment we spent at Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve.  While I had been rafting before, the experience of doing so in a tropical rainforest, seeing plants and animals I had previously encountered only in books, was phenomenal; I consider that day one of the top five of my entire life.  The night walks were incredible; I was so enthralled by the difference in the flora and fauna we were encountering (compared to day walks on the same trails) that I completely forgot that I am terrified of the dark!  Cabo Blanco was a life-changing experience; several days of being completely unplugged from the real world- no electricity, cell phones, Internet, etc. – reminded me of the importance of slowing down and appreciating the beauty that surrounds you, and being in a place that is so (relatively) untouched by human influence made me more appreciative of my role in conserving and protecting the planet.

From William Hodges

Holt HS, Holt, Michigan

(This course) ... was an amazing opportunity to learn new facts, new pedagogy, and most of all, be overwhelmed by the diversity and concentration of life in the rainforest. 

Professionally, I was reminded that it is very important to treat science as a process in all that we do.  While we can’t spend everyday having students create and carry out personal investigations, we need to give them the opportunity to do so, and we also need to be very careful in the wording we use when describing scientific “truisms”.  If we treat science as the best explanation we currently have based on careful observation, it will help students understand how scientific knowledge changes over time and help with delicate subjects such as global warming and evolution. 

Content-wise, I left Costa Rica with numerous examples and pictures that will help in the instruction of symbiosis, evolution, limiting factors, and more.  I have ideas for laboratory investigations that students can conduct—many of which that can be run year after year and create a volume of knowledge about the change of our school grounds. 

More importantly, I left Costa Rica with a much greater appreciation of the diversity and interdependency of life, and how the diversity and abundance of life in a rainforest compares and contrasts to the temperate meadows and forests of our ecosystem.  Not only do I have the great experience of this class to draw inspiration for future labs, but it also has made me appreciate the flora and fauna of our area much more.  The interaction between the biotic and abiotic, and how both realms affect one another, will always be with me, and I needed to see a vastly different, wonderful ecosystem to truly appreciate it ...

... La Selva was incredible.  I’ve been a zoologist since age 5, and to see all of the animals in their native environment, behaving like animals (not like zoos), interacting with flora, and all of the relationships—well, it was stunning and mesmerizing.  I could watch spider monkeys for hours—from 100 feet below.  This experience has renewed my excitement in teaching my zoology elective—and furthering my goal of getting kids outside ...

... Personally, I was afraid that I was going to walk through our woods and be disappointed with what I saw.  Cardinals don’t match toucans, and squirrels are a poor substitute to capuchins.  However, I was amazed in the beauty I found when I returned.  Ferns I never noticed, 2 or 3 spectacular wild flowers, and a gray fox all revealed themselves—and I appreciated them more.  The rain forest made me a better observer of my surroundings—I see the world with new eyes—the blind can now see.

From Amy Braverman

Alexander HS, Albany, Ohio

The opportunity to travel to Costa Rica has changed me both professionally and personally.  At La Selva I began to develop friendships that I hope will last my lifetime. The opportunity to learn from other biology teachers from around the country was an astounding experience. I have continued to communicate with several other participants both professionally and personally.

The biological diversity at La Selva was stunning! We were able to do so many different types of hikes in the tropical wet forest due to the extensive trail system! We hiked both in large and small groups during the day and night rain and shine! We even got to climb up what I like to call the Tower of Terror, to be in the canopy of the tropical forest. I was also very impressed with the state of the art laboratory facilities available for us at La Selva. 

I was so excited for our day at Arenal and Tabacon and it far exceeded my expectations! The hike to the lava flows and the afternoon spent at Tabacon were exciting and beautiful.  The hot springs was truly a natural paradise.  The trip continued with our experiences at Monteverde, ecolodge and organic coffee farm. 

The Ecolodge was a very different experience because of the obvious climactic difference but also the integration of education, research sustainable farming and the community involvement. 

Throughout the trip my eyes were opened to remarkable environments and new ways to teach my students about their environment. Each of the projects changed how I teach my students. I have always valued hands on learning but now I am incorporating more science inquiry in all of my courses. Each day that I teach, it seems like I am incorporating an opportunity for my students to learn from my experiences in Costa Rica. Whether it is a story told, or a lesson incorporating inquiry, Costa Rica has come to my classroom to stay!

From Lisa Stefanucci

Northwestern HS, Albion, Pennsylvania

Honestly, I came away from this course amazed at how much was accomplished professionally and personally. During the course we were given the opportunity to do REAL science inquiry using REAL data, which was my professional goal for the course.   And in the “doing” I realized that I would now be much better able to MODEL this process for my students.  My teaching experience has proven that when I use MODELING the students are best able to achieve the learning outcomes.  I also experienced, as a “student”, that I can make errors and revise hypotheses.  By performing multiple field problems I am now able to modify rainforest inquiry for use in the temperate deciduous forest.  And finally, I now realize that ending an investigation with MORE questions than I started with is really a good thing!

During each investigation we completed I became more aware of the need to allow students to take chances, and make mistakes and revisions along the way.  This requires more time spent and more depth in the process, in DOING the science, which I am sometimes hesitant to do.  By my own participation in group investigations I learned a lot about using each participant’s unique skill set as a part of the whole process.  I hope to be much more aware of this in the classroom, and promote the development of groups with a variety of skills.

I loved the night walks (and eye-shine!), due to the preponderance of nocturnal insect, amphibian, and reptile activity! But most of all, my “eureka” moments were enjoying the LUXURY of TIME to re-commit myself to my love of science and nature, especially but not exclusively during the Directed Observations.  My innate but sometime dwindling enthusiasm has been revived!! I had the opportunity to think about what I was doing and how I could excite and engage students in a similar way.  After this experience, I will be much more likely to allow my students SOME of this luxury in a controlled manner (as we all know what most teenagers will do given too much freedom!).  21 Questions and Directed Observations are both perfect ways to meet these goals.