Educators Share, Compare in BirdSleuth’s First Central American Teacher Exchange Workshops

By Lilly Briggs
August 6, 2018
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Since 2012, members of the Cornell Lab’s BirdSleuth project have been organizing workshops for educators throughout Latin America. Our goal is to introduce both formal and informal educators to an environmental education and science curriculum called BirdSleuth International, which engages elementary and middle-school students in hands-on learning about birds, habitat, citizen science, and conservation.

Along the way, many of our Latin American partners have shared stories about how the curriculum helped their students gain an appreciation for birds. That feedback was encouraging, but after 6 years we also wanted to gather some hard data about how well the materials and activities worked. A grant from National Geographic helped make this possible.

One step was to collaborate deeply with BirdSleuth International teachers to figure out how best to measure what the program is achieving. In spring 2018 we held two in-depth workshops that brought together teachers from Guatemala and Costa Rica: the first was held in Guatemala, followed by another with the same teachers in Costa Rica. These educators work with Community Cloud Forest Conservation in Guatemala and San Vito Bird Club and Parque La Libertad in Costa Rica.

The workshops provided chances for the participants to meet colleagues from a different country, sharing differences in their cultures and classroom settings along with similarities in their goals and their relationships with students.

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Once the workshops began, everyone contributed toward the overall research efforts, which focused on understanding how the BirdSleuth International curriculum contributes to the field of environmental education. How does it impact not just youth knowledge, but also harder-to-measure outcomes such as their attitudes and behaviors toward birds and the environment? How do teachers inspire kids to get excited about the birds around them, to consider them “the ornaments of the forest,” as one young indigenous woman in Guatemala put it. Or to relinquish the slingshots that some use to kill birds for fun? Answering such questions quantitatively was particularly challenging in the sociocultural context—it required far more than just taking surveys validated in the U.S. and translating them into another language.

While teacher exchange opportunities are fairly common for North American BirdSleuth educators (either through Cornell Lab events or at national conferences), these BirdSleuth International Teacher Exchanges were the first community-building events specifically involving BirdSleuth educators working in diverse Latin American contexts. This video showcases their experiences, and highlights the power of coming together in person to explore shared goals. As one educator from Costa Rica noted: “We have a common objective—that the children learn about birds and the environment. We are working here (in Costa Rica) or there (in Guatemala), but that’s what keeps us united despite the distance.”

Lilly Briggs is a postdoctoral associate in the Lab’s Education and Citizen Science programs. She has been involved in building the BirdSleuth International program since 2009, when she conducted the first field test of the curriculum in Costa Rica. Since 2012 she has been teaching workshops throughout Latin America.