Camile Clarke led her high school students on a study of how human activities affect forest biomes in the Caribbean. Students conducted a field experience around their school in central Jamaica to observe characteristics of the local soil and vegetation as well as map the human impact on the natural landscape.
As you explained in your National Geographic Educator Certification capstone project, the syllabus in Jamaica requires students to learn about tropical rain forests from equatorial biomes as well as Jamaica’s tropical marine ecosystem. How did you make your study of tropical rain forests relevant to students, and how did taking students into the field tie in to your study?
Although the ecosystems are different, deforestation affects tropical rain forests like the Amazon as well as our small farming community. We surveyed the farmed and forested area around our school. The field component of my project provided students with the opportunity to view the impact of agriculture on the community. They also compared the characteristics of rain forest vegetation with the vegetation present in and around our community in central Jamaica. Our area has a semi-evergreen forest, which has plants that are adapted to endure a dry season.
The field work taught students valuable map-reading and observational skills. I started the activity by pointing out features for students to label and make a note of on their maps, such as hills, depressions, and cultivated areas. By the end of the activity, they were pointing out features to me that should be recorded on their maps.
Could you tell me a bit more about your school and how its location impacted your study of deforestation?
Mile Gully is a small high school in Manchester, Jamaica. The main economic activity in the community and surrounding area is agriculture, and often this activity leads to deforestation. While we were on the field trip, we passed through several forested areas that allowed students to view the natural vegetation in our tropical marine ecosystem and compare it to rain forest vegetation.
What the most impactful part of your project’s field study?
While we were in the field, we chanced upon a farmer who gave us a tour of the water-conserving devices on her farm. Students were astonished by the fact that the operator of the farm was a woman. They completely took over the interaction and began to ask questions. While this was happening, I realized that students who were naturally reserved had no problem speaking to someone they had just met in this context. Some students had parents who were also farmers, so they were especially intrigued by the farming methods and wanted to share these ideas with their families.
What advice do you have for other educators regarding taking students into the field?
Take them out every chance you get. A field trip doesn’t have to be off-campus; it could be just to observe clouds or look at insects in the school yard. Students truly learn when they make connections with what is studied in class and what actually happens in the world. For my students, completing the field study really cemented everything we had done in class. They had fun, they were curious, and they made connections.
What is the most important thing you hope students learn in your classroom?
I want my students to love learning. They should always want to ask questions, get answers, and solve problems. Inspiring students to do this is one of the best things any teacher can do.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Interested in joining Camile as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at NatGeoEd.org/Certification.