Student Citizen Scientists: A Class Apart
It started with a tweet. Ms. Katie Kappler, a sixth-grade environmental science teacher from Plymouth, Indiana, reached out to Earthwatch on Twitter, looking for a scientist to speak to her students on coral reefs and rainforests. Since 1971, Earthwatch has worked hard to execute its mission of delivering enthusiastic citizen scientists to field research. This tweet opened up a perfect window for us to take our mission to educate right into to the classroom.
Dr. Stan Rullman waves to an eager sixth grade class in Plymouth, Indiana.
Living the Earthwatch Mission
Dr. Stan Rullman, research director at Earthwatch and a co-author of Rain Forests & Reefs: A Kid’s-Eye View of the Tropics, responded to Ms. Kappler’s request to present to her class online with an enthusiastic “yeah, I’m in!” With colorful posters and plants dotting a conference room, Rullman set the stage for an interactive Skype session with the students.
The lesson focused on reefs and rainforests. The hour-long interaction was guided by pictures taken by Rullman on his many adventures in tropical rainforests around the world. He showed the class photographs taken early in his career when he trained snow leopards at the Cincinnati Zoo. Other pictures testified to Rullman’s experience as an educator, birder, biologist, and ecologist. Not only did he capture photographic evidence of the diversity of life, he also recognized the importance of natural sounds and stressed the importance of listening to nature. In keeping with the scholastic mantra of the three “Rs” (reading, writing and arithmetic), Rullman asked the class to consider three more—restore, reconnect, and rewild.
Planting the Conservation Seed in Young Minds
The interactive lesson ended with a Q & A session with the students. Questions like, “How can we stop logging in parts so far away in Madagascar?” and “How can we minimize greenhouse gases?” demonstrated their mature and responsible understanding of the impact each one of us has on the natural world. Rullman’s answers incorporated lessons on offsetting impacts and environmental certification.
Ending the class with thought-provoking ideas, Rullman quoted butterfly researcher and writer Robert Michael Pyle and said that extinction is more than just the loss of species; it’s also the loss of experience. With fewer opportunities to experience the natural world themselves, students have to rely upon secondhand information from people like Rullman. He encouraged students to get “a passport and an empty journal,” the only two books that can encourage travel, observation, and documentation of personal experience. “Your observations can inform scientists about what’s going on in the world,” he said. “Extinctions happen one backyard at a time.”
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Dr. Stan Rullman: What do you want to be?