Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in a joint venture with Cornell University, were recently awarded $1.4 million from the National Science Foundation to fund a new environmental education project called Crossing Boundaries. This is the largest single grant ever awarded to an HWS faculty member. This program will span three years and provide middle and high school students with real-time information, technical competence, motivation, and the vision to use information and communications technologies (ICT) in addressing biodiversity conservation issues in regional and global contexts.
The project — funded through the NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program — will utilize geospatial technology to analyze tropical rainforest conservation efforts in the Brazilian Amazon and the restoration of critical wildlife habitats in Chiapas, Mexico. Geographic information technologies (GIT) enable the capture and analysis of geographic data. Examples of GIT data include the measure of precipitation levels, ground temperature, tree canopy density, crop coverage, fault lines, soil moisture, animal habitats, and flood zones. GIT can also be used to create complex maps as well as dynamic maps of renewable energy resources (e.g. wind, solar, geothermal, biomass).
James MaKinster, associate professor of education, and a principle investigator for this grant project, is excited by the full range of potential outcomes. “Our students need to develop awareness of the global interdependence of today’s world and also need opportunities to develop teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills that can be used effectively within a 21st century workforce.”
Crossing Boundaries has several components. One or two Hobart or William Smith undergraduate students will participate each year in 10-week summer internships in Brazil and Mexico. They will share their ideas, thoughts, and experiences via web-based technologies with middle and high school students in the U.S. These secondary students will then collaborate with their peers to produce wiki reports on what they’ve learned, create podcast presentations, and/or exchange web-mediated peer reviews.
Courtney Wilson ’08 was funded by assistant professor of environmental studies Eugenio Arima, who is also a co-principal investigator, as the first Crossing Boundaries intern in Brazil. She worked at IMAZON, a non-profit organization promoting sustainable development in the Amazon rainforest. Her project entailed using GIT to identify locations suitable for reforestation projects. When asked to share how the experience has transformed her, she responded, “Traveling into the heart of the Amazon made me realize just how much is at stake. There are so many stakeholders from the local farmer, logger, rancher, local government officials, concerned indigenous community members, environmental organizations, world citizens, and countless other individuals. Basically, if you live on planet earth you are a stakeholder and you are affected by decisions made in every corner of the world.” After graduating from William Smith, Courtney joined the education division of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to develop middle and high school science curriculum for Crossing Boundaries. The lessons will incorporate the use of geospatial information technologies and contain facets of her work done with IMAZON.
Secondary students will also have opportunities to enhance their learning through video and web-based communications with scientists and conservation professionals from around the globe. This will allow students to see scientific and environmental careers in action and will enable students to see the broad spectrum of careers utilizing information and geospatial information technologies in their everyday work. These technologies are vital components of a wide variety of career fields today including civil engineering, education, consulting, environmental conservation, meteorology, climate change, watershed protection, architecture, city and land use planning, and many others. The grant project’s staff and collaborators are hopeful that exposure to these opportunities and exciting technologies will motivate students to be more proactive in exploring the sciences when considering college majors and future career paths.
To support all of these activities, each year 20 secondary science teachers will be provided sustained professional development opportunities. These efforts include a summer institute, five Saturday workshops throughout the academic year, and ongoing personal and electronic support. Teams of one high school teacher, one middle school teacher, and 1-2 scientists will also head to Brazil and Mexico in the summers of 2009 and 2010 to work on building curricular modules. All of these experiences will help participating teachers develop information and communication technology skills as well as curricular plans for their classrooms. Teachers will be instructed in biodiversity science, conservation issues, geospatial technologies, and a variety of technology-rich pedagogical strategies.