Spring into Discovery with eMammal’s Teacher of the Year

By Stephanie Schuttler

The Students Discover project partners researchers from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Kenan fellow teachers across the state in an unique collaboration to scale citizen science projects to teachers across the state, nation, and even world. eMammal is used as a hands-on, critical-thinking approach in the classroom to satisfy state and national educational standards while allowing students to participate in important biodiversity research. Twenty-one schools and several countries have participated in Students Discover and we would like to applaud Valley Springs Middle School for their outstanding contribution to mammal research over the 2015-2016 school year. Cathy Belair is our first ever eMammal Teacher of the Year!

Photos: (Left) Cathy Belair also won Teacher of the Year at Valley Springs Middle School and (Right) sets up an eMammal camera trap.

Belair is a seventh grade mathematics teacher at Valley Springs and was also recently named the District Teacher of the Year. Belair believes that exploration and experimentation are essential to human growth, but fears that those elements are being lost in this fast-paced world of technology. “Technology should be a tool that is used by humans to help understand the world rather than the source of all learning,” she commented in a recent interview. While many areas of education are quickly moving towards technology-based programs, projects like eMammal’s Students Discover offers hands-on experiential learning that students might otherwise miss out on.

During the deployment process, when the cameras are placed on school property, students were assigned jobs to keep them close by and alert. Some students helped to mount cameras to trees, while some were tasked with documenting deployment data, and others were took pictures of plants and animals that might be captured on cameras with their mobile devices. Camera traps were deployed in the wooded areas around campus at total of 38 times over the school year!

Animal detections

Mammal species detected at Valley Springs Middle School. Students captured rare species like bobcats and even a black bear at their school!

Throughout the course of the project, students were involved in virtually every step. They helped to identify the sites where cameras should be set up and actively participated in the deployment process. After the three-week deployment period, students worked to identify all the animals that were sighted. They used the data collected to practice seventh grade math, like projecting the expected number of sightings and formulating questions that could be answered with data analysis like graphs (or automated tools on the eMammal website).

Photos: (Left) Student-generated graph of the activity patterns of white-tailed deer at Valley Springs Middle School and (Right) a white tailed-deer and fawn on school grounds.

North Carolina teachers face huge pressure to follow mandated state curriculums, but Cathy Belair seamlessly tied the Student’s Discover project into her seventh grade math curriculum. She focused largely on using the data collected to work with ratios and proportions, which is a major standard in seventh grade. Students were able to apply the concepts they were learning to real-life situations. In one instance they used proportional reasoning to estimate the expected number of sighting from the data they had available to them.

Photos: (Left) Coyote and (Right) black bear caught on an eMammal camera trap at Valley Springs Middle School. Recently the school had a lockdown because a bear wandered on campus.

The Students Discover project is beneficial to the classroom in ways that reach outside the curriculum as well. Hands-on learning opportunities like these can ignite a certain interest in learning for many students. A major motivator for the students was knowing that the work they were doing and the data they were collecting would be used by real scientists. Learning takes on a whole new meaning when there is purpose to accompany it.Two of her students are convinced they have a future in working with animals after being involved in this project.

Cathy “would highly recommend that teachers get involved in Citizen Science projects in their classroom because it increases student engagement with the world.” Students Discover offers a unique opportunity to tie classroom curriculums to hands-on experiential learning that she feels is so essential to human growth.


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