Law of the jungle applies at Judd Elementary School

Students join scientists in Panama rain forest via live videoconference


Staff Writer

JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Fifth-grader Brendan Kingsley, 10, asks scientists, videoconferencing from Panama, a question at Judd Elementary School in North Brunswick, last Thursday.JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Fifth-grader Brendan Kingsley, 10, asks scientists, videoconferencing from Panama, a question at Judd Elementary School in North Brunswick, last Thursday. NORTH BRUNSWICK — Township elementary school students visited a rain forest on Jan. 27.

Through the real-time technology of videoconferencing, fifth-graders at Judd Elementary School witnessed scientists dodge the rain, ocelots feed and sloths climb trees as the events happened thousands of miles away in Panama during a program called “Rain Forest Connection.”

“Videoconferencing lets our students travel around the world to see things they wouldn’t normally see,” said Sandy Kopelow, Judd’s resource room teacher. “Because a camera can get close-ups of animals and other things that a person wouldn’t necessarily get close to, our students sometimes get an even better perspective than if they were really there.”

As Judd is the only township school with videoconferencing capabilities, the students in Jennifer Herrick’s class invited Mark Amatucci’s fifth-grade class from Parsons Elementary School to share in the experience.

“This was a great experience for my class,” Amatucci said. “Not only was it great for them to interact socially with students they’ll see in the middle school next year, but also it reinforced the lesson they’re learning in science, to be good observers.”

During the videoconferencing session, research scientists Jackie and Greg Willis explained the importance of observing animals. The New Jersey couple visits Panama for five weeks out of every year to track and report on mammals living in the rain forest. Montclair State University in New Jersey sponsors their trip and the videoconferencing project, Kopelow said.

After pointing out some of the rain forest’s creatures and their habits, the Willises fielded student questions.

Judd student Taylor Lee, 10, posed a question the Willises couldn’t answer.

When he asked the couple how many plant and animal species resided in the rain forest, Mrs. Willis said, “We don’t really know, but the number reaches into the billions with all of the microscopic organisms. There are lots of unidentified fungi and critters we probably have crawling on our bodies right now, that we may never know about.”

Judd student Brendan Kingsley, 10, said he received an unexpected answer to his question, “What’s the most vicious animal living in the rain forest?”

Mr. Willis said, “The bullet ant, or what some call the 24-hour ant, is the most ferocious. When it stings you, it feels like you’ve been hit by a bullet and you’re out of commission for at least a day.”

This year marks Judd’s fourth year of videoconferencing, Kopelow said.

“We originally got a grant from Rutgers Center for Math, Science and Computer Education to train two teachers,” Kopelow said. “We then received a Pair and Share Grant from the state.”

The latter grant provided money for additional training and the videoconferencing equipment. Judd’s Parent-Teacher Organization funds the programming, according to Kopelow.

Many of the programs are completely interactive so children better learn and retain the information presented, Kopelow said.

“Our students have met with scientists, and visited museums and learning centers around the country,” Kopelow said. “We have even met with National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) scientists.”

Videoconferencing also allows students in North Brunswick to work with other classes around the United States, Kopelow said.

“During Read Across America last year, we literally read across America with classes in many other states from New York to California,” Kopelow said. “We will be doing that again this year during the first week in March.”

Kopelow called videoconferencing an “extremely important educational tool.”

“Teachers can’t be experts on everything, but now we can meet with experts who teach all of us — children and teachers alike,” Kopelow said.