Bird Watch SXM: Learning with the Locals


A report by Mark Yokoyama for The Daily Herald.

Birds are our constant companions in the Caribbean. They entertain and inspire us. They are also, perhaps, a perfect tool for teaching science to Caribbean youth.

There’s no doubt that science education is fundamental to participation in the society of tomorrow. Success in the global economy increasingly depends on proficiency in science and related subject areas. Even being an informed citizen and voter may depend on being able to understand the science behind issues that impact our daily lives.

On St. Martin – and throughout the Caribbean – one challenge impacting the effectiveness of educational programs is the lack of curricula covering local history, culture, language and ecology. Luckily, an outstanding new program has been developed that uses local Caribbean birds to teach youth about science and nature.

The BirdSleuth Caribbean is based on a highly-successful international program which was localized to feature birds, habitats and conservation issues that are relevant to a Caribbean audience. The best of both worlds, the program leverages the expertise of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who developed the original program and the local knowledge of BirdsCaribbean, who adapted it for use in the Caribbean.

The BirdSleuth Caribbean program includes a variety of lessons and activities designed for the classroom or outdoors. They use birds to explore and teach a variety of scientific concepts, enhance the appreciation and understanding of nature, and develop conservation values. It uses inquiry-based learning to engage students in the process of discovery and teach critical thinking skills.

The activities range from learning about the parts of a bird to games that teach the many hazards facing a migratory bird. The program helps students interact with their environment in different ways – listening with closed eyes to create a sound map, identifying items that don’t belong in a natural landscape, and recording what they see in drawings and text.

Two local groups – EPIC (Environmental Protection in the Caribbean) and Les Fruits de Mer – have received training in the program in order to host training workshops for teachers and youth group leaders who are interested in teaching the program. Currently, Les Fruits de Mer is working to translate the program – available in English and Spanish – into French. They welcome volunteers who wish to help with the translation, check for more details. Interested educators can contact either group to find out more about upcoming training workshops.

Can local birds be an important part of providing all St. Martin youth with a competitive science education for the 21st century? With a program like BirdSleuth Caribbean taking big ideas and relating them to the familiar birds and landscapes we see around us, the answer is almost certainly yes!

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