In Costa Rica, New Crop of Science Teachers Finds Inspiration

social flycatcher in Costa Rica

Social flycatcher in Costa Rica. (© Shelby Childress-Riha)

I awoke to a clap of thunder so loud I thought the world would end. Outside I knew howler monkeys were huddled in trees, and that in eight cabinas around La Selva Biological Station, science teachers’ eyes were snapping open as well. The next morning at breakfast, everyone cheerily asked each other if they’d slept well. It turns out that we had all been awake for nearly two hours as the epic thunderstorm raged.

Despite thunder, rain showers, pesky insects and hot, humid days, the 16 teachers (from Mississippi, Texas, Illinois and California) who participated in this year’s ECO Classroom were endlessly cheerful and energetic during our 10-day stay in Costa Rica.

Each day they faced new challenges and excitement. Whether glimpsing a baby sloth or climbing a canopy tower 30 meters (almost 100 feet) high to gaze over the forest, there is always something to inspire awe at La Selva.

teacher participating in ECO Classroom pose near a sloth in Costa Rica

ECO Classroom participants Tina Vick and Leslie Lopez pose near a sloth. (Photo courtesy of Tina Vick)

The purpose of ECO Classroom — a professional development opportunity for American middle and high school science teachers — is to give teachers firsthand experience collecting ecological data in the field and to reinvigorate their love of teaching science.

Recognizing the important role of teachers in inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers, Northrop Grumman generously funded this opportunity for CI to bring teachers to a Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network site to learn firsthand from TEAM scientists.

TEAM collects data to understand the plant and animal communities in and around La Selva — as well as in 14 other forest sites around the tropics — and to inform protected area management. While at La Selva, teachers learned the TEAM protocols for collecting data on vegetation (to assess carbon storage) and the abundance of different animal species (using camera traps).

The teachers also conducted group research projects to recreate with their students back home. These projects investigated the biodiversity of La Selva’s ant and plant communities, calculated carbon stored in the forest and compared water quality of different sources around the area.

All of the teachers left Costa Rica with photos, stories and a new sense of wonder about the natural world. Over the next few weeks, as students bustle back into classrooms to start the school year, they’ll encounter snakes, sloths, toucans and more. They’ll learn about land uses in Costa Rica and carbon sequestration in forests from teachers inspired by their time at La Selva.

I loved bringing these teachers to La Selva — one of my favorite places on Earth — and I’m so glad that they’ll share their experiences from this special place with their students.

Morgan Cottle is the project manager of the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network — a partnership between CI, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Smithsonian Institution and the Wildlife Conservation Society. For stories from some of the teachers who participated in this year’s ECO Classroom, check out blogs from Jordan Ferris and Chris Mihealsick.


  1. Sher Donovan says

    Your website needs work, I’ve just spent the last 2 hours repeatedly attempting to apply for the position of Marine coordinator in Arlington, VA. Your website keeps kicking me out or back to the original page, asking me redundant questions covered by a CV. This is more than annoying and unproductive.

  2. Monica Lima says

    Maravilhoso esta iniciativa em Costa Rica, aqui no Brasil passo esta conscientização para que este modelos de desenvolvimento sustentável possa se expandir cada vez mais, espero por aqui que estas iniciativas sejam implementadas também! abraços verdes da amiga Musa Meio Ambiente>>>Monica Lima Brazil _SP

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