Teacher Returns from Rainforest (an exerpt from Falcon School District's "Big Rocks Report"

Portfolio of Schools --Sandy Lamb, Odyssey Elementary School’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics teacher, returned Feb. 24 from a week-long research project in Panama. She had assisted a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute census of ocelots on Barro Colorado Island.

"I felt like the more I could learn, the more I could share with my students," said Lamb. During her trip, she held a video conference with a classroom studying tropical rain forests. When she returned, Lamb further described the forest's producers, consumers and decomposers, citing numerous examples of its wildlife. Expressing their excitement, several of the surrounding second graders said "awesome."

Press release from Warren school district - Dan Ticchio, Science Teacher at Warren Middle School, brought the rain forest into the classroom through the Rainforest Connection. Along with his colleague Kelly Brown, arrangements were made for a video conference to take place so that their students could experience learning beyond books and lecture. In line with many of the Core Curriculum Content Standards and in preparation for this event, students studied animal adaptations and how that connects to natural selection. Ticchio provided hands-on lab activities and simulations as well. 

Dr. Jacalyn Willis has been researching on Barro Colorado Island, located on an isthmus in the middle of Panama. At the beginning of her presentation, the students were in awe as she explained she is able to swim in the Atlantic Ocean in the morning and the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon. Her goal was to speak about monkeys specific to the region and the importance and implications of adaptation. The four types of monkeys she addressed were the following: Spider monkeys, White-faced monkeys, howlers, and tamarins.  As the video conference was on the SmartBoard in Ticchio’s Science Lab, Willis presented with a split screen so she was addressing the class directly, with two-way sight, and the other part of the screen was linked to her computer allowing her to pull up photos and a slideshow to reply to the children's direct questions. As Willis showed each species of monkey, students were actively engaged and eager to discuss adaptations, like the importance of the tail for balance, long fingers to grip, colors to camouflage, and how monkey size and tree variety impact their survival.

Students appreciated how they were talking with someone in real time from Panama. Although sitting in a classroom in Warren, NJ, they saw the colorful sights and heard the unique sounds of the rainforest, making students feel like they were transported there. 

Through this opportunity, students learned about adaptations, natural selection, endangered species, flora and fauna, stereoscopic vision, and more.  Special thanks to Dot Stradford, Project Information Assistant who handled the camera and production for the video conference from Panama, and to Patrick MacNamara who is a talented member of the Tech Support team supporting Warren Middle School.


Thank you all so much for the session today.  It was hte first time we did something like this in the class, so also thank you for your enormous patience!  We have a couple of kids that want to join you and work in the forst looking for the mountain squirrels.  They have learned a lot this past week and they will continue to studey Ecology all year long.  I'm taking the kids to BCI in July so we'll continue to use the information on the web for that field trip as well, Regards! - Gabriela Etchelecu, AIP 8th Grade Panama


Just wanted to say thank you for helping us with the Rainforest Connection program. We just finished talking to Anna in Panama a few minutes ago and the students loved every minute of it! The link, login, and everything worked well. Thanks again! - Eddie Cashen, Hanover Township Schools

The experience was great. The kids LOVED it and want to do it again, so I know it had appeal for the kids. Well done. The information was useful and worked well to extend what the kids had been learning here int he classroom. - Dr. Scott Jacobs,
Dr. Gerald H. Woehr Elementary School New Egypt


The students at my school ranged from freshmen to seniors. This was one of the coolest things to happen to my class this year.  Being able to participate in the video conference allowed my students and I to take a virtual class trip to a destination we cannot get to. Both Fran and Harry were SO prepared and knowledgeable.  I was SO impressed with the whole experience. Thanks very much for allowing me to make this accessible to my students. With the hardware we have in school coupled with the vision and generosity of PRISM, the videoconference regarding the Panama Canal was a resounding success.  My students were very interested, engaged and appreciative. - Jim Kennedy, Pascack Valley High School

The children had a great time yesterday!  We had a little interference and some minor delays, but overall the experience was great.  When Dr. Willis made references to the various layers of the rainforest, the children knew exactly what she was talking about.  Because we've been studying Belize these past few weeks, the children were making connections easily when she showed the maps and mentioned various places.  They loved the lizard she held up to the screen!  They also enjoyed hearing about the other animals that are native to Belize.  They prepared some questions ahead of time and enjoyed the responses and opportunity to engage directly with Dr. Willis!  Thank you all so much...we're looking forward to our next destination!  - Tracey Alderton, Meadowbrook School Hillsdale

As you know, our arrangements for the video conferences were fairly last minute, but we are so pleased that we were able to participate. The feedback from teachers was enthusiastic and positive. Our students have not yet begun their studies of the rainforest/food webs, but this served as a great kick-off and as one student stated, "It makes Belize a real place." We would love to participate again in February as we will have had the opportunity to prepare our children for full engagement! - Michele LeBlanc, Ed.D. Principal, Lincoln Avenue School Sayville, NY 

First foremost, I appreciate you taking the time from your research schedule to speak to my classes last Friday.  They were absolutely buzzing about the experience for the remainder of the day.  It was truly an experience that continues to generate discussion and questions.  There are not enough words to express my gratitude for that.  It is the type of educational experience middle school teacher hope and dream for... -  R. Casey Davis, M.Ed.,  Science Teacher Bonham Middle School Temple, Texas 

We just had our first session with Dr. Willis for the Rainforest Connection.  It went really well.  It generated so much excitement for my students.  Many of the children started to create rainforest books when we got back to the classroom.  Ruth was fantastic with the technology piece.  This was a rich experience for the children and a wonderful kick off to our science unit. – Stacy Obedin, Colts Neck 

Thank you so much for allowing us the opportunity to participate in the video conference to Belize.  Our students had a wonderful learning experience.  They really enjoyed looking at the pictures and speaking with Dr. Jackie and Ms. Anna.  The question and answer session proved valuable to both Ms. Tanis and me, as well as our Carver students.  By listening to the questions, we were able to discover misconceptions and student knowledge.  We look forward to more of these learning experiences.  Have a safe journey home!!!- Dianne Chester-Tanis and Lori Clerkin, East Orange

My fifth grade students participated in the Rainforest Connection videoconference with Dr. Willis in Belize.  Our topic was Monkeys and their Adaptations.  We were in the midst of our unit on Animal Adaptations and the timing was perfect for students to learn about the specific adaptations that monkeys have for survival in their environment.  They learned that monkeys have two eyes in the front of their head for a better sense of space so that they can swing from tree to tree.  They also learned how useful their tails are as almost a fifth limb.  Students were very interested and had many questions for Dr. Willis, both about this topic and about life in the rainforest.  Students asked questions such as, “How many different species of monkeys are there in the rainforest?” and “What is your favorite animal in the rainforest?”.  This was a richly rewarding educational experience for my students and myself. - Jennifer Kim Leonia, grade 4-5

Hello Dr Willis,  I just wanted to write and thank you for letting us do a video conference with your people in Panama.  My group had its conference last week and it was a tremendous experience.  The class was an assemblage of relatively lower ability level kids.  They are a great bunch but they struggle mightily with maintaining focus.  The video conference, however, captured their attention and excited them about learning in multiple ways.  Mrs Zakutansky was great - her charisma and quick, steady pacing kept the conference moving along and that helped to maintain their interest.  And the material was fantastic - Mrs Zak showed a jaguar skull which the kids were interested in and panned footage of the canal with a ship was also interesting to them.  They especially responded to the two video clips shown.  Mrs Z did a split screen which allowed her to remain as a presence while explaining the action in footage of an ocelot taking an iguana and a tarantula wasp dragging a tarantula after paralyzing it.  Great stuff!  And certainly learning experiences that can't be replicated in a classroom in New Jersey.  I was especially pleased when I heard the quality of the questions my students had for Mrs Z after her presentations.  Their questioning revealed a deep engagement with the material which is no small feat with these kids!

Thank you again.  I hope to be able do this again with classes in the future. -Martin Shields Pascack Hills High School Montvale, NJ

 We really enjoyed learning about the cloud forest and the flora and fauna located in it.  This was our first exposure to this type of forest and we really found it interesting.  Currently, we have been assigned a project where we have to compare and contrast the BCI rainforest and the cloud forest.  The information we learned from you will be useful. Thanks again - Ms. Clerkin & Mrs. Jubelt  Carver School East Orange

I know I have a few kinks to work out however my students had a wonderful time and were very excited the entire day.  I promise I will get better with videoconferences as I become more involved in this in the future.  Thank you for everything that you did.  The kids loved meeting you and would love to meet you in person someday.  Overall it was a great experience for them. – Kimberly McGrath, Milltown School Bridgewater School District

Hi Jackie, It was great to see you on camera.  The videoconference worked perfectly.  Your connection was very strong today.  It was a treat that you could pan the scenery so the students could see the lake and trees.  It was fortunate that we got to see a close up of an iguana.  Mary Lynch, the teacher, had prepped her students.  They were eager to ask questions.  In summary, it was a big success.

It must have been so exciting to see an ocelot this morning during your videoconference with the students from Bridgewater.  – Sondra Markman Warren School District 


Just wanted to say thank you for the connection on the Rainforest on Monday, Feb 14th. Our students really enjoyed talking to Jackie in Panama.  The Howler monkies in the background thrilled the students.  I think it was an experience they will not soon forget.  Thank you again for letting us make the connection!! - Allene Graves, Texas

We all appreciate the opportunity to be a part of your great work. It was a wonderful presentation and the sixth grade students got a real taste of how math and science work so tightly together in real world situations. Again, if we can be of any assistance, please let us know. We are ready to help. Teacher – Deb Olysn, New Jersey

I want to share with you our lesson plan grant submission to Digital Wish for 10 Flip Video Camcorders.  In the video piece, we included two brief segments of your video conference with our second graders. http://www.digitalwish.com/dw/digitalwish/view_lesson_plans?id=5992 - Terry Pilitzer, Colts Neck

I stayed for both of the videoconferences today.  I thought they went very well.  You do such a good job of introducing students to the wonders of the rainforest.  The students were quite attentive.  Some had to overcome their timidity before asking questions.  I think the topic of monkeys the teachers selected was a good one.  You integrated other information about the rainforest into your presentation. 
The teachers want to follow up on the videoconference in future classes.  Also, you used terminology that they can refer back to in upcoming units.
Thanks so much for including Warren in your schedule.  Tell Greg that his howler monkey imitation was first rate. With appreciation...- Sondra Markman, Warren School District