by Namrata Dixit

 

Roots & Shoots has provided me with the most unique and rewarding opportunities to grow personally and professionally year after year. Last summer, I was chosen to participate in "Inquiry In Rainforests", a professional development course for teachers hosted at the Organization of Tropical Studies’ La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica — an experience that surpassed all of my expectations. For 15 incredible days, I had the chance to live in a rainforest. I woke up each morning to the sights and sounds of the planet's most fascinating living organisms. I slept nestled in Zompoppa, amidst creatures beyond my wildest imagination. Each moment, I breathed in the calm energy of a tropical wonderland. 

Though I have been practicing meditation for the past ten years, the peace and connection I felt during each moment at La Selva is something I had never experienced before. Being away from “civilization,” with no electricity, Internet, or cell phones, helped me realize the importance of taking the time to slow down and appreciate the beauty that is all around us. The rainforest awakened my innate sense of connection, wonder, and respect for the natural world. It helped me see first hand the intricate interconnectedness that I never experienced from any biology class. Through observing the rich natural world, teeming with the most amazing flora and fauna, I felt a sense of responsibility for protecting and conserving our planet, and a need to share with others the significance of land management and climate change.

Starting from the very first day, the course instructors, Joe Levine and Hazen Audel, left me awestruck by the breadth of their knowledge ranging from bullet ants to helaconias. Both of these incredible teachers are filled with child-like curiosity and wonder. In spending time with them, I learned to regard every living thing as a miracle, to approach every step in the jungle with excitement, and to think about the delicate balance between biotic and abiotic. Their passion and commitment to their work were truly awe inspiring.

The Inquiry in Rainforests course is extremely well-planned with carefully crafted activities to provide hands-on experience in conducting scientific investigations. Inspired by this method of learning, I now take my students out into our local temperate meadows and forests to provide them with a new lens to observe nature and engage first-hand with science. This naturally leads us to asking authentic questions. “21 questions" and "One-Take Wonders" are two examples of easy activities I learned during my trip that I have since used to enable my students to experience being scientists.

The course was an opportunity to appreciate the intricacies of the scientific method. I was immersed in the process of scientific investigations: from finely tuning my scientific question to allow a meaningful study design, to devising methods of collecting that data, to careful analysis, to understanding potential sources of error, and finally to presentation of results. The course drives home the importance of getting students to understand what their results mean and how to interpret those results. It also helped me understand the higher level of thinking required to prepare and deliver an oral presentation. My students will take learning to a whole new level as they immerse themselves in technology, math, and science. The three investigations we conducted helped me realize how to be very careful in the wording we use when describing scientific “truisms”. I walked in students’ footsteps and learned the need to treat science as the best explanation we currently have based on careful observation. It helped me see how scientific knowledge changes over time. For high school science teachers, this place is a paradise beyond belief!

 

 

The experience of collaborating with the finest teachers from around the country (Knowles Fellows) and five international teachers was profound. I still keep in touch with them, share ideas, and fondly remember the times we would find ourselves holding hands, agape in wonder at the sights in front of us while hanging on the bridges in Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. That day truly ranks as one the top five best days of my life!

On a human level, this course impresses upon you the riches of the untouched natural world and makes you contemplate your own unique role in this beautifully balanced planet. As a teacher, I felt uplifted with purpose, my mind filled with new ways of immersing my students in authentic science. I gained a sense of enormous gratitude for my own place in shaping the minds of my students. Returning to my classroom filled with a renewed sense of child-like wonder and curiosity, I felt like I could make a deeper connection with my students to create a truly symbiotic learning experience.


About The Author:
Namrata Dixit is a creative teacher with an insatiable zest for life who strives to keep expanding the four walls of the classroom to optimize her students’ learning and understanding. She is National Board Certified and also a New York Hall of Science Design Fellow. She completed the Roots & Shoots online course, Turning Learners Into Leaders, in Summer 2014. She currently teaches middle school science. 
 


 

Inquiry in Rainforests Scholarship: 
In partnership with the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) in Costa Rica, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is offering one scholarship for the 2017 Inquiry in Rain Forests course, a professional development course in Costa Rica led by Joseph Levine, co­author of the Miller and Levine Biology textbook. This opportunity will be offered to a science educator who satisfactorily completes the 2016 Roots & Shoots online course and uses the information gained to complete an inquiry ­based service learning project with their students during the 2016-­2017 school year. For more information and details please click here.