Advice for Classes Participating in RFC Live! Video Conferences


--Conference procedures require a little preparation.

  • Learn to use the microphone. The microphone will have to be muted (off) when your class is not participating in the discussion. If you do not turn off your microphone, then all the rest of us will hear even the small noises in your room or just the hum of the equipment.
  • Please make sure the microphone is easily accessible to the students who will be asking questions.
  • Make sure the room is well lit and that the light is from above, not behind the students. We want to see you.
  • Rehearse the students with some prepared questions so that they will speak slowly and clearly and into the microphone, but not too close to the microphone either. Most students need some coaching so that they do not swallow the end of the question or speak too rapidly. The people in the forest in Panama will wear headsets, but they will have lots of forest noises to contend with (like screeching parrots!) and so need very clear speaking from the students.
  • Students who speak should have the camera on them, preferably close-up, so that we can tell who is talking.
  • Preparing questions-- have the students read some of the recommended background readings and then ask them to brainstorm some things they would like to know about the topic for their date of participation (below). Pool a set of questions and guide the students in narrowing down to several good ones. Help students edit their questions for clarity. We might not get to all, but we will try. If there is time, we will also take some spontaneous questions.
  • The sessions will be structured so that we will do introductions at the beginning. We will want your group to identify your school's name, school district, state, teacher's name, and grade level. If we can, we will show all of the groups on a split screen.
  • Question and answer periods will occur several times each session, as time permits. Your group will be given a place in the sequence of classes that will speak with the Rainforest Connection team. Be ready to start quickly when your class appears on the video screen.
  • Please also listen to previous discussion so those questions are not repeated.


--Background readings: For each topic we have identified some helpful readings

  • Show the students a map so that they can see where Panama is located and where the Panama Canal cuts through the isthmus. Barro Colorado Island is in a freshwater lake that provides water for the Canal locks. Lake Gatun is on most maps of Panama, but Barro Colorado Island, the largest island in that lake is not often identified.
  • For young students it is important to ask them how far they think Panama is from their school, what kind of transportation they would take to get to Panama, and how long the trip might take (4.5 hours flying time from Newark). Some discussion of climate and seasonal differences would be useful to them. Time in Panama in this season is the same as in New Jersey. The usual daytime temperatures on Barro Colorado Island right now are about 76 - 84 degrees F, It is Dry Season and we have had little rain since Christmas.


The various sessions have different topics, so these readings are listed according to the themes. The two main sources are the website for "The Rainforest Connection" (RFC) at and the JASON Project curriculum guide with corresponding units on the JASON videotape and website.

  • General: See the RFC website for "2002 Journal Entries" #11 Bungle In the Jungle: What Not to Do and "Teacher Tips;" JASON Student Atlas/Maps
  • Interview a Scientist (Jan. 12): Biographies of J. Willis and G. Willis on website under "Researchers on BCI" and in JASON curriculum Introduction page 7; JASON, Unit 3 on mammals pp. 81-83 and 90-94 for activities, "Sampling Mammal Populations" See the RFC website photo gallery at the bottom of the 2002 Journal called "Scientists and Ocelots." In the "Background" section read #8 "How We Study Mammals" and in Background also read section #9 Mammal Directory where part #1 is called "Agoutis"
  • Interview a Scientist (Jan. 12) in Spanish: website under "2002 Journal Entries"-- "Meet A Scientist on BCI - Ricardo Moreno;" JASON, Unit 3 on mammals, "The Agouti & the Jaguar" See the RFC website photo gallery at the bottom of the 2002 Journal called "Scientists and Ocelots." In the "Background" section read #8 "How We Study Mammals" and in Background also read section #9 Mammal Directory where part #1 is called "Agoutis"
  • Predator-Prey Relationships (Jan. 13, 14, 15): JASON Unit 3 on Mammals, especially pp. 81-83, activities pp. 90-94, and "The Agouti & the Jaguar" See the RFC website photo gallery at the bottom of the 2002 Journal called "Scientists and Ocelots." In the "Background" section read #8 "How We Study Mammals" and in Background also read section #9 Mammal Directory where part #1 is called "Agoutis"
  • Nutrient Cycling (Jan. 14 & 15) Website under "2002 Journal Entries"-- #8 Reflections on Dead Wood; also "Photo & Video Gallery" for photos of Dead Things and Leafcutters and #9 Gardens Underground; JASON, Unit 2, pp. 53 -5
  • My Favorite Biome with emphasis on reptiles, amphibians, camouflage (Jan. 16)- The Rainforest Connection journal entries from 2002 that are about reptiles are #7 "meeting With A Snake" and #14 "Lizard Lifestyles". See the photo gallery called "Snakes" also in the 2002 Journal. From the Background section see #13 called "Snakes" See the 2003 journal entry #2- "A Memorable Reptile"
  • Family Science Saturday (Jan. 17)-- Predator - Prey Relationships: Biographies of J. Willis and G. Willis on website under "Researchers on BCI" and in JASON curriculum Introduction, p.7; JASON Unit 3 on Mammals, "The Agouti & the Jaguar" See the RFC website photo gallery at the bottom of the 2002 Journal called "Scientists and Ocelots." In the "Background" section read #8 "How We Study Mammals" and in Background also read section #9 Mammal Directory where part #1 is called "Agoutis"
  • Interview a Scientist- Invertebrate Specialist (Jan. 20): Dr. Robert Prezant (see below); JASON, Unit 2.
  • Impressions of a Rainforest (Jan. 21 at 9:30 in Spanish): Bonifacio De Leon, Fieldworker: See RFC website Go to the "2002 Journal" and click on Spanish version-- then read journal entries # 1, 2, 3, & 7. Also "2003 Journal" En Espanol, # 1, 2, 3, & 5.
  • Interview a Scientist: Bat Researchers (Jan. 21 at 1:00 PM in English): JASON p. 84
  • Tropical Rainforest: My Favorite Biome (Jan. 22 and 1:00 Jan. 23) Symbiosis, Leafcutters Website under "2002 Journal Entries"-- #9 Gardens Underground; JASON Unit 2, and p. 53
  • Interview a Scientist: Mammal Specialists and other topics (Jan. 23) -- Biographies of J. Willis and G. Willis on website under "Researchers on BCI" and in JASON curriculum Introduction, p. 7; and Unit 3 "The Agouti & the Jaguar" & "Sampling Mammal Populations" See the RFC website photo gallery at the bottom of the 2002 Journal called "Scientists and Ocelots." In the "Background" section read #8 "How We Study Mammals" and in Background also read section #9 Mammal Directory where part #1 is called "Agoutis"


Jan. 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, & 23-- Dr. Jacalyn Willis

1. What is your job and how did you end up in the field you are in today? Who or what inspired you to pursue this career?
I am the Director of PRISM at Montclair State University in New Jersey. PRISM is a center at the university called Professional Resources In Science & Mathematics. Those of us at the PRISM offices provide assistance to teachers and their schools to help them teach science and mathematics. We visit classrooms in New Jersey, offer workshops and courses for teachers, advise principals and supervisors on curriculum, and generally make ourselves useful so that every kid gets to learn science and mathematics.

I have a Ph.D. in Biology from the City University of New York, so I was not trained as a teacher. This is common among scientists-- they are expected to teach, but are not expected to take courses in how to teach. But I worried that I might not know what I was doing when it came to teaching. I became very interested in how to teach science and mathematics so that students will want to learn and understand these subjects. I taught biology students in college while earning my degree. Later, after I had my doctorate, I took a job doing the same.

I studied flying squirrel ecology and behavior in New York when I did the research for my doctoral dissertation. After graduate school, I continued to do research on squirrels in other habitats. When I visited squirrels in rainforest in Panama, I became interested in mammal populations in the tropics, and did research in Panama during vacation breaks from the college teaching.

I've always been fascinated by animals and their behavior, but I grew up in Brooklyn in a neighborhood where there were no squirrels or native birds, just some English sparrows. I did my best to observe the sparrows and their nesting habits in the cracks in buildings. My uncle encouraged me: he was the only person in our family who had gone to college, where he studied physics. He, more than any other person, probably had the greatest influence on me. He fostered my passion for learning about the natural world. Other than the information in the books he gave to me, and what he taught me in conversation, I was taught no science in school until seventh grade. My Uncle Charlie taught me about stars and how they are formed and the names of constellations and the planets, and how atoms are structured, and what kinds of questions scientists ask about all these things. He stretched my imagination.

2. What research/work projects are you currently involved in? How do you conduct your research/work and what tools/technology do you use?
I do a census of mammals in the forest on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. My husband and I walk the trails (separately) to find and record the presence of mammals, in the mornings. We use binoculars and notebooks-- not much else. We record the data in databases on a laptop computer. We use certain mathematical formulas to estimate how many animals are on the island and if the populations are getting bigger or smaller or staying the same.

We also do walks at night to record what animals are visible after dark. We use a quartz-beam light and headlamps. This is harder to do because of the darkness, and the wariness of the animals.

To find species that are really hard to see, we have cameras on the island that take photos whenever a warm-blooded creature walks by. We get photos of ocelots and tapirs and opossums, as well as some birds and reptiles (when they warm themselves in the sun). Sometimes we get photos of animals we didn't know for sure were on the island, such as pumas and capybaras and margays (a type of small spotted cat). This year we will also have video cameras that turn on when an animal approaches, and that can film in the dark, which we will place under some fruiting trees.

Jan. 20-- Interview A Scientist

Dr. Robert Prezant: Malacologist and Invertebrate Zoologist,
Montclair State University, NJ

Research Focus

What structural modifications take place in molluscs and other invertebrates that reflect changing environments? How are these reflected in the number of animal species in a given habitat?

How did you end up in the field you are in today?
As a child I filled my basement with frogs, caterpillars, snails, fish and grasshoppers that I collected from a local park. I loved watching them in their new homes for a day or two and then carefully bringing them back to their real homes in the woods. My parents never discouraged me even though my "zoos" sometimes took up a little more space than they liked. All through school and right into college, I always studied animals. At the beach, I was the one who retrieved the crab that startled most others. In college I was very lucky to have a teacher, Dr. Margaret Simpson, who allowed me to study development of barnacles in her laboratory. From there, there was no looking back.

What are some of your recent research projects?
We have studied the changes that take place in mollusc shells when they grow in different habitats. Some oysters, for instance, grow long and thin in fast flowing water but are short and almost circular in calm waters. Similar changes take place in the very small building blocks that compose the shells but these shifts in structure can only been seen through a microscope. Changes in shell shape can thus help us understand the environment. Similarly, the diversity of organisms found in a given habitat tells us a lot about that environment. We have carefully studied the coastal biodiversity of several barrier islands. To do this we take samples from shallow and near-shore waters along the islands, comparing the open ocean side with the more protected bay side. There are important differences on the two sides of the islands, with animals on the open side more exposed to the rigors of the ocean waves often having adaptations to protect them in this higher energy environment. Thus, in addition to monitoring the general health of a habitat by its biodiversity, we have additionally studied various molluscan forms as a reflection of both function and habitat.

Jan. 21-- Fieldworkers on BCI
En Espanol: Trabajadores en la isla de Barro Colorado: Bonifacio De Leon

Bonifacio es oriundo de Panamá. Aunque ahora está jubilado, Bonifacio trabajó en la isla por más de 30 años.
A pesar de que Bonifacio no es un científico de profesión, el amor a los animales y a la naturaleza, junto a los años de trabajo en la isla le han proporcionado gran experiencia y conocimiento.

¿Bonofacio, cómo es que llegaste a la isla?
Hace más de 30 años comencé a trabajar medio tiempo en la isla. Después de un tiempo, una posición de tiempo completo se abrió y uno de mis jefes me ofreció trabajar en esa posición. Al comienzo, trabajé en diferentes tareas en la isla. En aquel entonces no teníamos todas las facilidades con las que contamos hoy. Las escaleras que hoy conducen al comienzo de los senderos no existían. El trabajo era ardúo, pero el tener la oportunidad de estar en la isla, de ver los animales y las plantas tan cerca, el compartir con los científicos y los trabajadores, hacían el trabajo más agradable y placentero.
Algunos de los científicos se dieron cuenta de mi interés y amor por la naturaleza, ellos solicitaron mi asistencia en sus investigaciones y así comencé a trabajar con algunos de ellos.
Comencé estudiando plantas, hojas, árboles, frutos. El estar en diferentes áreas de la isla me permitió observar muchos animales. En esos años tuve interesantes encuentros con diferentes animales, lo que me permitieron aprender muchísimo sobre el comportamiento de muchas especies.

¿Por qué trabajaste tantos años en la isla?
Siempre he tenido un profundo amor por la naturaleza, las plantas y los animales, la isla ha sido para mí la oportunidad de vivir muy de cerca lo que tanto amo. Aunque físicamente hoy no estoy en la isla, mi corazón nunca dejará este hermosísimo y único lugar.
Muchas veces la tristeza me invade cuando en nombre de la "civilización" veo la destrucción de la naturaleza. Cada día más árboles son cortados, más animales pierden sus hogares llevándolos muchas veces a la muerte. Mi corazón llora por la destrucción que la humanidad está causando al medio ambiente.

Bonifacio es una persona muy respetada y querida por las personas que han tenido oportunidad de trabajar con él. El siempre se ha destacado por su habilidad de encontrar animales, en especial perezosos. Como ustedes saben, los perezosos son mamíferos muy difíciles de ver por vivir en lo alto de las copas de los árboles. Bonifacio parece tener un don especial para poder encontrarlos. Claro que estos no son los únicos animales que ha encontrado. En nuestra conferencia tendremos oportunidad de escuchar algunas de sus fascinantes experiencias en la isla.