There’s nothing quite like immersive learning, and for 11 senior students at St. Andrew’s High School, this meant heading to a tropical jungle in the name of science.
In June, senior biology students and two teachers went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the rainforests and reefs of Honduras for an 18-day canvassing trip with academic adventure group, Opwall Adventures.
“Hands-on is always better, it’s like a teacher’s dream to be able to do that,” said organizing teacher Kim Arthurs. “All of the experiences will settle in the memory much better than reading about it on a piece of paper.”
The students arrived in San Pedro Sula before heading into remote forest camps in Cusuco National Park, where they spent their days receiving lectures from an accredited scientist before embarking on several daily hikes to collect data. Sometimes this meant trapping birds, bats or frogs, cataloguing lizards and bugs, collecting plant and fungi samples, or canvassing the canopy.
At night, they’d sleep in tents and hammocks at the side of a fire, hoping their clothes would dry from the jungle’s humidity.
“It was really awesome, not only the scientific part of it but being able to go and experience this country that is just so cool and so different from anywhere else I’ve been,” said Grade 12 student Aaron Finlay.
Finlay’s favourite part of the trip was the herpetology surveys, where students collected lizards and frogs and learned to identify them and document their size.
For Grade 12 student James Rees, his favourite part was when they used light traps to collect bugs, including moths the size of a hand. The experience helped him learn about the diverse issues in the area.
“There’s definitely a lot of work to be done in that the people there are in poverty, the ecosystem … it’s not crumbling but it’s not doing well as it could be, and there’s a lot of poaching,” Rees said.
For St. Andrew’s graduate Katie Wedekind, her favourite part was playing an impromptu game of soccer with local school kids.
“I didn’t expect how much we learned, getting to be fully immersed there,” she said. “It pushed you a lot.”
The second week of the trip saw the students head north to the island of Roatan, where they scuba dived into the tropical coral reefs to catalogue fish and corals in the area. The students had gained their diving certificates in Canada previous to the trip.
For all of the students who went on the trip, whether they have plans of going into sciences or not, the lessons learned are set to stay.
“This trip was worth three or four biology classes, hands down,” said Rees. “You’ll study for tests in biology, but you won’t retain it for the next three or four years. Here, you’re literally learning then doing; it just locks into your brain.”
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