Entering the world of experiential learning with Ecology Project International (EPI) feels like I’m moving from a world of two dimensions, to three dimensions. Honestly, in more ways than one, I really am. My job is to help teachers take the science of the field courses, and create lessons within the Next Generation Science Standards’ 3 Dimensional Framework. I’ve been doing this work for a few weeks now and I feel like I won the job lottery. I’ve spent my entire career preparing for the requirements of this job. Years of classroom teaching, curriculum development, field trips and multi-day excursions with students, and partnerships with great organizations like Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institute have all helped me build the background knowledge, network of support, and skills I’m using now. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I love travel and adventure
A large part of my job is to provide excellent resources and facilitate learning online for teachers who are preparing for a field experience. Since I enjoy teaching, and I have experience with both in-person and online learning, I’ve enjoyed creating the online classroom for EPI, where teachers build community and start their learning journeys before they ever leave home. But, the other part of my job is where the real magic happens.
Costa Rica was the site of my first Professional Development field adventure with EPI, and it could not have been more astonishing. I taught how to create 3D lessons, but I learned about the fragile and diverse nature of the Pacuare Reserve. From my first step into the boat that would take me to the rainforest filled with phenomena for exploration, to my last moments of releasing baby turtles into the surf and wishing them well on their journeys, my experiences were engaging and perspective-changing.
Pacuare Reserve is a remote research station with rustic accommodations. Howler monkeys wake and call each other early in the morning. The campus comes alive with the dawn as the capuchins travel through the treetops with their capuchin babies, and the leafcutter ants start marching along the ant highways. The scientists come in from the beach and head for coffee as the sun goes up, having completed their nightly monitoring of turtle-moms coming to lay their eggs in the sand. The birds talk, the air becomes busy with butterflies, and the daytime shadow-lurkers skirt the camp in the shade of the forest edge. It is a privilege to be a witness to the ordinary waking of the lowland tropical forest and coastal environment.
"The campus comes alive with the dawn as the capuchins travel through the treetops with their capuchin babies, and the leafcutter ants start marching along the ant highways."
I have stories to share about learning and teaching in Pacuare Reserve with EPI, and I hope that sharing those stories will inspire curiosity, conservation, and the desire for teachers to visit, learn and create there too. Travelers come to understand what nature should look like on the Caribbean coast away from the lights and noise of people. Visitors never forget what nature feels like in the wilderness of Central American, and they take that understanding with them when they go.
Laura Dinerman is the Online Curriculum and Teacher Training Supervisor for EPI.