Middle schoolers explore Florida panther habitat while learning science lessons

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Collier middle schoolers explore panther habitat while learning science lessons

Contributed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Posted November 30, 2009 at 5:38 p.m.

Talk about getting your feet wet. Hundreds of Collier County middle school students got the chance to experience the outdoors up close and personal thanks to a state environment program.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) Program partnered with Collier County public schools, the Florida Panther Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, South Florida Water Management District, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge to expose more Florida students to outdoor learning experiences on public lands.

As part of the 14th LIFE program in Florida, nearly 500 middle school students from Immokalee, Manatee and Golden Gate middle schools recently learned science concepts, methods and skills through hands-on labs at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and two other sites in Collier County in October and November.

“This unique learning experience engages students in their own scientific investigations and gives them an opportunity to meet real scientists who protect, study and manage refuges and wildlife management areas,” said Greg Ira, director of DEP’s Environmental Education. “During the labs, students … explore and measure non-living components of the environment such as temperature, humidity, light intensity and soil moisture, and learn about the threats, biology and protection of the endangered Florida panther.”

As part of the science lessons, students used Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to participate in a scavenger hunt where they learned more about the Florida panther in its natural habitat. One location in the activity led students to a pen that is sometimes used to introduce panthers to the area before they are eventually released.

“Florida Panther Refuge is pleased to host a LIFE program for Collier County students who might not otherwise visit panther habitat,” said Ben Nottingham, acting project leader of the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast Refuge Complex, Florida Panther and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Another aspect of the labs required the students from each middle school to explore a service learning topic that is related to a local environmental issue impacting their school. Golden Gate Middle School students studied water quality in local canals, Manatee Middle School students explored local invasive and exotic species and Immokalee Middle School students examined common non-point sources of pollution such as oil from old cars and agricultural chemicals.

Since 2004, more than 6,300 future scientists and environmental stewards have participated in the LIFE program. The LIFE initiative established a systematic and statewide network of field-based, environmental-science programs that brings students out to public lands to learn science.

The goals of the LIFE program are increased student achievement, teacher professional development in science, increased participation of underserved and under-represented populations and increased stewardship of public lands. LIFE program activities are consistent with the new Governor’s Serve to Preserve: Green Schools Awards program and the field experiences that students participate in are examples of using the natural environment to green the curriculum.

For more information about DEP’s LIFE and other Office of Environmental Education programs, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/ed. For more information on sponsoring a LIFE site or volunteering for the LIFE program, contact Greg Ira at (850) 245-2132.



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