Persell Students Interact With Rainforest Through Live-Feed

Persell Middle School fifth-graders interacted with college student researchers based in Costa Rica during a morning live-stream session with Twan Leenders, Roger Tory Peterson Institute president. Leenders and his students showed off frogs, birds, spiders and more during the live presentation from the Costa Rican rainforest. P-J photo by Katrina Fuller

At Persell Middle School, gone are the days of overhead projectors.

Instead, students and teachers have leapt forward into an age of technological wonder where the rainforest is only a click and a connection away.

On Friday morning, fifth-grade students gathered in the auditorium to connect with Twan Leenders, Roger Tory Peterson Institute president, and his college students who are currently researching in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Leenders, father of a student at the school, was happy to show the students some of the landscape, introduce the researchers and show the fifth-graders some of the creatures they have been studying. The experience coincided with the fifth-graders learning activities as they are working on a lesson about the rainforest.

Leenders didn’t have a large amount of broadcasting equipment or a special video camera, but instead was live-streaming with the students from his iPhone in the middle of a remote forest.

Mindy Trapani, Persell Middle School teacher, explained that Leenders and his researchers were located thousands of miles away.

“Costa Rica is north of Panama,” she said. “He’s in a very remote area. He’s just using his iPhone to transmit with us – it’s amazing we have the technology to do this.”

Leenders told the students he and his research team are in the middle of the jungle, and offered to show them a few of the projects they are working on.

“We want to show you a few of the things we’ve been doing here,” he said. “We’re studying animals (like) birds, frogs, snakes, and we just caught a bird.”

A researcher held up a bird for the students to see, drawing gasps from the audience.

“Did you see the bird?” Leenders asked.

“Yes!” the students bellowed.

“Do you want to see a spider?” he said.

The spider drew a mixed reaction from the students, with some yells of “Yes!” and from others, noises of disgust.

Afterward, Leenders walked up a hill to give the fifth-graders a view of a volcano that is nearby their research facility. He said no one has ever been able to get to the volcano and climb it.

“It’s an active volcano, and we can feel tremors and little earthquakes almost every day and every night here,” he said. “I’m looking around and you can see the rainforest. We’re right on the edge of the rainforest, and you can see down the hill, that is the costal plain.”

Due to better reception at the top of the hill, a few students were able to ask questions. One student asked why Leenders decided to visit the Costa Rican rainforest.

“Well, when I was about your age, I was really interested in the rainforest,” Leenders said. “I would go to the library and get all kinds of books about the rainforest and stare at all the pictures, and memorize all the little animals I saw. I was always interested in animals and plants, and I studied them at home.”

He said when he had the opportunity to travel, he decided to go to the rainforest and see what it was like. Leenders said he has been visiting the rainforest for a long time.

“I actually have visited this particular place – this is my 25th year coming back here,” he said. “I used to live here, and I managed a preserve here. Every single day I walk out of my house, I see something new. You know, like catching Pokemon? That’s pretty much what life is like here.”

Jason Kathman, Jamestown Public Schools District technology information specialist coach, said the occasion was made possible by Leenders’ willingness, and a software called “Zoom.”

“This is the first time we’ve used Zoom,” Kathman said. “With Zoom and anyone with a cellphone and a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, we could bring anyone into the classroom.”

The software was made available through Erie-2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES. With the Zoom software, a “room” is set up for a specific time, and links are sent out to both parties, Kathman said. Then, with the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger, the two locations are connected.

“I love that Jamestown can read about and have a whole module on the rainforest, and we were just lucky enough to have Mr. Leenders on his way to Costa Rica, so we could say ‘Well, what are you doing while you’re down there? Would you mind streaming?'” Kathman said. “I love that we can do that. If we can do this, we can bring an author, any expert from anywhere in.”