COS 104-9 - Canopy in the Clouds: An immersive, web-based platform for K-12 earth and life science education

Thursday, August 11, 2011: 4:20 PM
Ballroom B, Austin Convention Center
Gregory R. Goldsmith, Ecosystem Fluxes Group, Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland, Andrew D. Fulton, Drew Fulton Photography, Colin D. Witherill, Broadreach Images, Erin E. Dukeshire, Orchard Gardens School, Javier F. Espeleta, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Adriana Quiros-Arauz, Canopy in the Clouds and Todd E. Dawson, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

The growing availability of computer technology in the classroom is already altering science education. Traditional forms of textbook-based education are already being replaced by interactive, multimedia education with tremendous potential to enhance the learning experience. Innovative approaches provided by new technology are critical for improving science education, especially given the need to enhance scientific literacy and public perception of the roles science plays in society.

We have developed Canopy in the Clouds, a web-based, multimedia platform for K-12 earth and life science education from the perspective of a tropical montane cloud forest ( The website includes specific materials for educators, students and the general public. In particular, 25 inquiry-based lesson plans, normed to current national science education standards, were developed in collaboration with classroom teachers. This curriculum is based on media from the website and based on themes such as ecology and evolution, biodiversity, soils, and the process of science. All content has been peer-reviewed by a group of scientists and educators, and made available on the worldwide web free of charge. Following launch, website traffic was leveraged using social media, teaching association list servers, and more traditional media outlets. 


Canopy in the Clouds represents a student-initiated collaboration among ecologists, educators and visual artists. The site averages 2000 weekly impressions with visitors to date from over 75 countries. In its first month alone, lesson plans were downloaded more than 500 times, demonstrating the tremendous need for engaging and scientifically accurate curriculum materials. The site continues to develop as we implement a full Spanish language translation, as well as a research and evaluation program to monitor learning outcomes.

Despite the critical need for engaging scientific education materials, there are still significant barriers to creating such resources. Canopy in the Clouds can serve as a template for considering best practice in implementing the pedagogy, logistics, and financial necessities associated with digital science education and outreach.

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Banner photo by Flickr user greg westfall.