Electronic Field Trip to Costa Rica Is Cross-Curricular and Organized

In just one day, students at Baker Elementary School in Acworth, Georgia, saved 37 acres of rain forest, came face to face with a live boa constrictor and assisted scientists in experiments taking place live at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica -- all without ever leaving the classroom.

Last April during Earth Week, Baker Elementary students did all of these things by travelling electronically to Costa Rica as part of a live, interactive educational program called Science in the Rain Forest. Created by Turner Learning, Inc. (Atlanta, Ga.), in conjunction with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Science in the Rain Forest transformed students across the nation into ecological scientists as they learned about plant and animal life from deep within one of nature's richest living laboratories -- the Costa Rican rain forest.

Turner Learning Adventures is a series of electronic field trips combining live telecasts with telephones and computer technologies to take students on interactive adventures without ever leaving the classroom. Since 1994, Turner Learning has produced 13 of these electronic field trips from places like Berlin, Germany, discussing life after the fall of the Berlin Wall; the Gettysburg Battlefield, to learn about the Civil War; San Diego, California, to gain a behind-the-scenes look at politics during the 1996 presidential debate; and the Atlanta Braves spring training camp to learn math, science, history and economics through baseball.

The eighth field trip in the series, Science in the Rain Forest took students of all ages to the La Selva Biological Station -- one of the premier field stations in the world -- and exposed them to a fascinating array of insects, reptiles and wildlife, while focusing on the importance of preserving our world's rain forests.

How It's Done

"One of the reasons why I like going on Turner Learning electronic field trips is because they allow me to focus on the students and the curriculum rather than all of the little things like permission slips and costs," said Carol Murphy, a media specialist at Baker. Through the integration of broadcast, cable and computer technologies, students talked with international and local Costa Rican scientists while examining the biodiversity of plant and animal life, and discovering how natural resources relate to science and technology. Science in the Rain Forest also shared ideas with students on what they can do in their own communities to help preserve the rain forests.

"I think one of the most exciting things about Turner Learning electronic field trips is the interactivity, having the experts right there giving our students current information," said Gloria Navarro, principal at Baker Elementary School. "The students are able to talk with and listen to these experts electronically with the computer or by calling the toll-free number -- and that is the cutting edge, it's where we want to be."

The La Selva Biological Station field trip helped teachers integrate technology across several curricula, and was promoted as the pinnacle of a cross-curriculum experience. Teachers at Baker declared it "rain forest week" at the school, and students sold T-shirts to raise money to save the rain forests. Art classes transformed the school into a rain forest itself, covering the walls with rain forest scenery. Students wrote rain forest pledges, p'ems and songs and sent letters to the Georgia legislature to help save the rain forest. One class even made a mailbox where students could place their "save the rain forest" letters.

Working With Others

Baker Elementary worked with Turner Learning to tie in other local experts, such as Suzanne Harper from Zoo Atlanta's Night Crawlers Program and Costa Rican students Alonso and Marisol Ramirez. They visited the school and talked with the students both in the classroom and online. Students also watched as their classmate asked a scientist a question during the live production from Costa Rica. The Zoo Atlanta guest even brought her friend "Bobby," a baby boa constrictor, with her to show students the types of animals found in the rain forest.

Participating educators received a learning kit containing teacher training videos, data disks with background information, and a teacher's resource book featuring lesson plans, background readings, charts and maps to complement the televised lesson. In addition, educators received taping rights to the program and copying rights to the online chats so that the trips could become a permanent reference for faculty and students.

"I like the fact that the total package is there for me and I can prepare for the field trip beforehand in the privacy of my own home," said Karen Horacek, a second grade teacher at Baker Elementary. "Turner Learning electronic field trips tear down the walls of countries, tear down the walls of states and lets us visit them," another teacher commented.

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This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.