Experiential Science Education - Yanayacu, Ecuador 2010

My Adventure

Dear Gentle Reader,

This great adventure started with a Linked-In request I made to a former professor of mine at the University of Wyoming.  At the very same time in an office, far, far, far away, Dr. Scott Shaw was contemplating writing a grant that would allow teachers to become actively involved in research.  He got my Linked-in request and recognized that I might be a good candidate to take on his upcoming Ecuador expedition.  

When he contacted me and asked if I was interested, I was flabbergasted.  Interested?  Really?  Did he even have to ask the question?  Spend two weeks in Ecuador, doing something I love to do?   Of course I was interested.  The rest is history.

The website that follows is the result of the 2 weeks I spent at the research station and in Quito.  This website has gone through many incarnations.  Initially it was going to be a blog, detailing my daily activities at the station but the Internet connection at the station was too spotty and it really wasn't going to work.  So, I decided that I would set up a website so that people could get a sense of what my experience was like as well as read interviews with the fabulous undergraduate students, graduate students and professors that also took this journey with me.

I also wanted to encourage other teachers to consider how a research experience could improve your teaching.  Additionally, how real research can benefit your students in their learning process.  After all science is a hands-on subject.  What I came away with was the notion that science is a process of discovery and if  I can facilitate that process of discovery, for my students, that they will walk away with skills that are far more important than any science I can teach them.  The skills to observe, to ask questions and finally to research and to answer their own questions.  In other words, critical thinking!  

As for the trip, we spent the first 2 days in Quito acclimating to the altitude.  Quito is at 2820 meters (9252 feet). On day 3 we traveled up to the Yanayacu Research Station.  The next 10 days were spent working on the Collaborative Research:  Caterpillars and Parasitoids in the Eastern Andes of Ecuador research grant. (NSF grant # 0717458). 

We were under the direct supervision of Master's graduate student, Guinevere Jones and we were helping her with her part of the overall project. 

Every morning we would go into the rainforest and collect caterpillars and bring them back to be identified and catalogued.  After being identified and recorded in the database (see caterpillars.org to view the database), every caterpillar was placed in its own bag with the appropriate food plant.  It would be watched to see if a parasitoid would emerge from the caterpillar or its chrysalis/cocoon.  We were hoping to find caterpillars that had been parasitized by a braconid parasitoid wasp. 

These wasps are natural pest control.  They lay their eggs inside of a caterpillar and when they hatch the larvae consume the caterpillar.  It is a gruesome but fascinating process because the caterpillar, somehow, it kept alive until the wasp larvae are ready to emerge and pupate. (I swear the person who wrote the movie Aliens was either an entomologist or a braconid wasp in a former life.)

In between all of the collecting, identifying and cataloguing there was a lot of great conversation, laughter and learning from each other. I hope you find the website useful and informative and it inspires you to seek out a research experience of your own.


Jennifer Donovan-Stump