Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center

Inquiry in Rainforests: Web programming to improve science teaching

Inquiry in Rainforests a 2-week graduate course for science teachers.

Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) a non-profit consortium of universities and research institutions dedicated to education and research in tropical biology and leadership in responsible use of natural resources.

Boston area; Costa Rica; and on the Web


Our Inquiry in Rainforests course addresses a fundamental problem in science education. Many K-12 science teachers have no clue about the nature of scientific inquiry, or even the fact that science is a process! This fundamental lack of understanding presents a major challenge to the quality of science education in general, to the implementation of the forthcoming Next Generation Science Standards in particular.

Our course challenges teachers to teach science by doing science. Participants develop and perform field experiments in a lowland tropical rainforest, discuss and develop problem-based teaching through research, explore tropical ecosystems, and learn to use video production in teaching.


Each year, teachers testify that our course inspires educational epiphanies that fundamentally change the way they teach science.

That’s the good news.

The challenge is that logistic considerations limit our course to a maximum of 14 teachers each year.

We would like to use the course website and social media to connect past and current participants, and to cultivate a broader virtual community of educators interested in hands-on, problem-based approaches to teaching.

Our current, very basic website explains the course to prospective participants. We would like to expand and develop the site to enable participants to post and share comments, images, videos, and teaching challenges and successes. We would also like to amplify and expand course experiences and strategies to empower a broader virtual community. These goals require professional site design –including a forum and other features – that are beyond our web programming abilities.

We seek an applicant who would begin talking with us this spring, begin working in earnest in June, and come with us to Costa Rica during July to engage in further brainstorming and development of web-based outreach and communication strategies.

Qualifications, Preferences, and Assets

The ideal applicant would have a combination of web and communication skills: the ability to design a sophisticated website easily navigable by novice users, a deep love and appreciation for science, an interest in exploring ways of teaching and learning, and a dedication to improving teaching and educational opportunities. Social skills would be useful, because course participants form a cohesive and creative community of learners who explore, communicate, and build on what we teach them. An ideal applicant would become a part of that community, and incorporate ideas and goals from participants as well as from course directors. Some familiarity with Spanish could be useful, but is not necessary (the course is run in English). Experience with digital video production & editing would also be a plus, but is not necessary.

Time Constraints

We would like to begin work as soon as possible, with the possibility to extend participation into the summer.


Joseph Levine
Course Co-Director
29 Temple Rd, Concord, Ma 01742
Home/office: 978-371-1934
Cell: 617-650-8396

PKG Center Support

MIT students who develop projects around these ideas may apply for support from the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center's Fellowships and Internships programs. Please check the program descriptions and deadlines and talk to program staff to determine which is most appropriate for your needs and project.

If you want to volunteer or you have funding from outside the PKG Center that enables you to work on this project, that's great! However, please do let us know if you work on a project you saw advertised here, even if you don't use our funds. And remember, the PKG Center staff are happy to advise on service projects even if we are not funding them ourselves.

Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room W20-549, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Tel: 617-253-0742  ·  Fax: 617-258-9357
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