Amazon Teachers Need Transformational Professional Development Too!

Field Notes From the Amazon

Here at the Morpho Institute, we believe that education has the power to transform conservation.  While much of our work focuses on professional development and curriculum resources for US educators, it is even more important to provide these same experiences for our colleagues in the Amazon!  We also know (and the research backs us up!) that conservation requires a collaborative approach to be successful.  Over the the last four years, we have partnered with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Explorama Lodges, and CONAPAC to provide professional development programming for Peruvian educators in the Amazon.  We are so pleased to share the fruits of this collaboration with you via this special report from CONAPAC’s director, Brian Landever

Conservation Education in the Peruvian Amazon Making an Impact

[June 1, 2018]  The 2018 CONAPAC environmental science and conservation workshop for 100 Peruvian elementary and high school teachers in the rural Amazon has been a powerful continuation to collaborative rainforest care in the state of Loreto. It has added depth, encouragement, and international visibility to the conservation efforts that are led by teachers in communities that partner with us.

In 2017, the annual workshop focused on building familiarity with the rainforest ecosystem with classes on children-led garden activities, bird sciences, ecology, and regional medicinal plants. Dynamic activities were given to teachers to bring to their students. In November 2017, our evaluations showed that 85% of teachers had applied what they learned during the workshop to their classroom instruction!

meaningful professional development + direct connections to the classroom = conservation through education!

This year, the same presenter returned from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Karen Purcell, and from ANIA Org Pedro Paucarcaja (Association for Children and the Environment) returned with an additional speaker, Teresita Ahuanari. Generous support for the workshop came from JBQ Charitable Foundation, allowing us to host the workshop in comfortable lodges operated by Explorama. Amazon Rainforest Workshops also provided critical support through its Amazon Binocular Project, bringing binoculars to teachers and classrooms to build enthusiasm for birds.

The teachers that attended benefitted from an unintended reunion, experiencing bonding and fraternity as education professionals. They now relate to each other not only through shared profession, but through shared lesson plans, each earning unique results when applied in the classroom that will be triumphantly shared within our new WhatsApp group. This is important. This program will have a longer lasting impact as it becomes integrated into culture, which requires a wide base of social/peer encouragement.

Forging professional connections and collaboration in the Amazon

The combination of fraternity, comfort, familiarity with speakers and subject matter, exciting, new class content, and a developing sense of purpose enhanced the enthusiasm in the teachers making this year’s workshop was a joy to observe. The background coordination was labor intensive, and I feel honored to have put in the effort to produce a program so nicely received.

Classes led by Karen Purcell built an understanding of regional birds and mixed this with active participant demonstrations in the same manner that will be reproduced in community classrooms. The teachers debated on the danger posed by birds to crops, followed by learning about documented eating patterns. They learned about nest structures and their functions, and then built them by hand to replicate those found in nature. Teachers formed groups to study local bird data, and then presented the information to the larger group, each including local myths about their birds. They even went out with the Amazon Rainforest Workshops-donated binoculars to see the lovely details of tropical birds, many using binoculars for the first time. The resulting experience built a sense of fascination for birds that otherwise are taken for granted.

Learning how to use binoculars for the first time!

Pedro and Teresita led teachers in the process of building a “Bosque de Niños,” which directly translates to “Children’s Forest,” but is better expressed as a children-owned-and-operated nature preserve and study area. Teachers work with authorities to officially protect a plot of rainforest for the purpose of giving it to the students for ongoing investigation and play. The children themselves are guided to plan obstacle courses, name trees, track plant growth and wildlife, map the area, and generally spend enough time in that plot of land so they treasure their rainforest and build a sense of ownership and stewardship.

Practicing Hands-on Inquiry in the Amazon

Each class was 9 hours long, and both provided monthly lesson plans for the duration of the school year. The student progress made each month by teachers will be reported to CONAPAC and passed on to Karen and Pedro. For their organizations, this will add important data for scientific analysis and connecting students’ work with international observation. Bird watching sessions will lead to the publication of bird sightings on, a global, shared database of bird activity. Development of Children’s Forests will collect data on the impact of bringing youth into contact with nature (vitamin N). We anxiously await the first month’s results.

Original Student Art = Powerful Assessment Tool

The impact of these workshops is becoming visible. At the end of the 2017 school year, we saw numerous, impressive drawings by students of birds with accurate names, photos taken of classes in progress, and elaborate gardens designed and built by children. At the beginning of the 2018 school year, we saw numerous hand-painted signs proudly exclaiming that children and communities conserve the environment, and we video-recorded a dramatic poetry performance of a young woman in high school urging us to listen to the cries of the earth.

The message is taking on colors of a movement because people care. Teachers go back to school after these workshops, motivated by their experience, and teach their classes in ways that inherently transmit a message relevant to students and their communities. The knowledge content provides an understanding of why it is important to care about nature, building scaffolding for students to develop their emotional involvement; passion. Learning how birds are integral to a balanced ecosystem’s ability to provide us food promotes urgency and protectiveness. Add in pride for those same birds, or plants, or trees, and the message just makes sense that we have to care for the earth if we ourselves want to be well. For youth especially, the importance of having a healthy, beautiful planet is self-evident, and with the proper education, they can express how and why. As they grow into adults, if that education is maintained, it is likely that their decisions and plans will reflect respect for the planet. In other terms, economic development will have a stronger chance of being ecologically friendly, making the triple bottom line the new bottom line- people, planet, profits.

Brian Landever
Director, CONAPAC
(Conservación de la Naturaleza Amazonica del Peru, A.C.)
Iquitos, Loreto, Perú


Contact Brian Landever at
Be a part of CONAPAC’s efforts by adopting schools in the Amazon:

Contact: Phil Kahler at
Learn how you can help us put binoculars into Amazon classrooms

Educator Academy – July 1-11 in the Amazon 

Contact: Christa Dillabaugh at


JBQ Charitable Foundation for your on-going financial support of CONAPAC’s teacher workshops

Vortex Optics for your support in providing high quality, water resistant binoculars to the Amazon Binocular Project

BirdsEye Nature Apps for your support in helping us spread the word to birders around the world

Nancy Trautman and Lilly Briggs from Cornell Lab of Ornithology for saying ‘yes’ in the very beginning

Lucio Pando for your generous heart and amazing ornithology skills.  Rest in peace dear friend

Cesar Sevillano and Percy Reyna for carrying on Lucio’s legacy in the Amazon]]>

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