Final Project: A Middle School Module on Costa Rica

This discussion topic submitted by Deborah Temperly ( at 1:08 pm on 6/27/01. Additions were last made on Saturday, May 4, 2002.


Our team, Daniel, Janelle, Leanna and myself, were chosen as lead teachers for a new class (or module) on Costa Rica in our local middle school (grades 6, 7 or 8). There are 20 students in the class, and funding is not a problem, so we will be able to bring our students to Costa Rica. We were instructed to be very precise with our educational goals and philosophy and detailed about our audience. We were also to provide logistical information about the in-country exploration of Costa Rica.


Our project was to develop a module on Costa Rica for middle school students by first defining our learning goals and then explaining the pedagogical approach to meet the learning goals. We developed a logistical plan for the module by dividing the module into pre-trip activities, in-country activities and closure activities that are to take place back in the home school. This follow-up paper will provide details of the project.

Learning Goals for the Module

Content Goals
Students will:
1. Demonstrate an understanding of the role of forested tropical areas in global environmental issues.
2. Demonstrate an understanding of the role of ocean ecosystems in global environmental issues.
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the natural history of Costa Rica.
4. Demonstrate an understanding of the ecology of the areas (life zones) of Costa Rica that were studied on the in-country trip.
5. Compare and contrast ecosystems found in Costa Rica with temperate ecosystems.
6. Demonstrate the identification of common plants and animals in Costa Rica.
7. Demonstrate a basic understanding of Costa Rican culture.
8. Use basic Spanish phrases in conversation.
9. Demonstrate map-reading skills.
10. Apply math skills.
11. Use the language arts to demonstrate their acquired scientific knowledge.

Affective Domain Goals
1. Students will continue to develop reflective skills.
2. Students will develop an appreciation of the culture of Costa Rica.
3. Students will develop an appreciation of the diversity of species found in the tropics.
4. Students will begin to develop a sense of their role in global environmental issues.
5. Students will begin to develop an appreciation for a diversity of cultures and customs.

Defining our audience

We decided to design our course for 20 average middle school students. We assumed that there would be a number of different learning styles, so in our planning we attempted to create a multi-sensory experience to reach the visual, aural, kinesthetic and tactile learners. We have tried to address the theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1993) in designing the pre-activity of creating a field notebook and closure activities which should be a culminating performance which demonstrates students' mastery of the designated "understanding" goals. Due to the lack of accessibility of national parks for handicapped students and the rigor of travel in Costa Rica we are not able to address the issues of students with significant mobility issues within the scope of this project.

Activities prior to visiting Costa Rica

The major activity that we planned for the students was the development of a field notebook. In order to create this booklet, the class would be divided into 10 teams of two students each. Each team would be assigned a topic and they would be responsible for researching the topic and developing one to two pages of "inserts" for the field notebook. This would break down the research of the country and important topics into manageable tasks for the students and would allow each team of two students to construct the knowledge in a form that would be most valuable to the other students. Possible topics include:

Typical Costa Rican Foods
Top Ten Birds of Costa Rica
Epiphytes of Costa Rica
Trees of Costa Rica
Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica
Insects of Costa Rica
Geography of Costa Rica
Famous Costa Ricans
Marine Life of Costa Rica
Plate Tectonics

In addition to the student-constructed inserts, the teachers could also produce inserts on the following topics:
"Let's be careful out there"
Useful Spanish phrases

All inserts would be duplicated and laminated and bound with blank waterproof pages into a field notebook for each student, teacher and chaperone. This would serve as a field notebook and journal for the trip.

Along with creating the field notebook, the students would also engage in the following activities prior to the trip to Costa Rica:

1. Daily practice of useful, conversational Spanish phrases
2. Snorkeling practice in a local swimming pool
3. Create T-shirts with leaf prints (using fabric paint) of temperate trees with the common names of the trees written in English with permanent pens near the print of the leaf shape. The importance of this activity will be explained later.

The Logistics of the Trip

Since this trip is for middle-school students, we limited the amount of time that the students would spend away from home. Although funding is not the issue, there are limits to how long middle school age children can be away from home. There is also the reality of how long teachers and chaperones can spend with a group of excited middle-schoolers! Also, students at this age probably would become difficult with long bus rides and would need to have more scheduled activities than adults. Therefore, to facilitate our planning, we broke each day into three segments: morning, afternoon and evening. The following table illustrates the logistical plan for the in-country visit.

Day Location of Visit/Location of Lodging Activities cross-referenced with opportunities to engage in learning goals of the course
(C=content goal; A=affective domain goals; see page 1 for numbered learning goals)
Topics followed by an asterisk (*) explained in greater detail later in paper.

1 Fly from home to San Jose
Lodging: Hampton Inn at the Airport

Evening: General orientation to Costa Rica; exchange of small amounts of money; adjustment to new time zone; swimming in pool at hotel
(C-7, 8,) (A-2, 5)

2 Visit Poas Volcano National Park
Lodging: Hampton Inn at the Airport

Morning: Leave hotel for day trip to Poas Volcano; visit Poas Volcano National Park; have lunch of typical foods at national park
(C-3, 4, 6, 7, 8,) (A-1, 5)

Afternoon: work on applied math problems such as temperature conversions, reasonable metric measurements, money problems. Students will construct "memory cards" of quick conversions and reasonable estimates to be carried in their field notebooks.
(C-10) (A-5)

Evening: Journal reflection time with prompt "What natural disasters can occur in the area that you live in?"
Students trace travel route on map with highlighters
(C-3, 5, 6, 9, 11) (A-1)
Video: Fern Gully (Disney Film)

3 Visit National Museum and travel to Monteverde Reserve
Lodging: La Casona at the Monteverde Reserve

Morning: Visit National Museum for approximately 2 hours and begin travel to Monteverde stopping for typical Costa Rican lunch
(C-7) (A-2, 5)
Afternoon: finish travel to Monteverde and after settling in do a short hike along the road discussing safe hiking in the tropics

Evening: Journal reflection time with prompt "How do you think the plants and animals will look different than the ones you see at home? What animals do you most want to see and why? What is the most interesting thing you learned today at the museum and why?"
Students trace travel route on map with highlighters
(C-5, 7, 9, 11) (A-1, 2, 5)
Video: Rain Forest: Heroes of the High Frontier by National Geographic
(C-1, 3, 4, 6) (A-3)

4 Hiking in Monteverde Reserve
Lodging: La Casona at the Monteverde Reserve

Morning: Slide show and guided hike of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Students will be divided into four expert teams of five students each as part of the Jigsaw method.* (C-1, 3, 4, 5, 6) (A-3, 4)

Afternoon: Visit "sister" class at the local middle school.* Collect leaves of local trees. (C-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) (A-1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Evening: Have dinner at La Casona with buddies from the sister school. Make leaf print T-shirt of local leaves with names of trees written in Spanish.
Journal reflection time with prompts: "What is the most important or interesting thing you learned from your buddy? How do the plants and animals look different from the plants and animals you see at home?" (C-5, 6, 7, 8, 11) (A-2, 3, 5)

5 Hiking in Monteverde Reserve
Lodging: La Casona at Monteverde

Morning: Mixed teams from the Jigsaw method* will hike with a local guide on the trails of the reserve.
(C-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) (A-1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Afternoon: shopping at the Monteverde gift shop.
Visit to the Le Jardin de los Mariposas (Butterfly Garden)
(C-1, 4, 6, 10) (A-3)

Evening: Night hike
Journal reflection time with prompts: "How did you use your other senses in the rainforest at night? How did you feel in the rainforest at night? Why?"
(C-4, 5, 6) (A-1)

6 Leave Monteverde
Lodging: Motel in Quepos near Manuel Antonio National Park

Morning: Depart Monteverde and start drive to Quepos. Drive is approximately 6 hours.

Afternoon: Finish the drive to Quepos

Evening: Mark maps. Journal reflection time with prompts: "How did you see the land being used as we traveled from Monteverde to Quepos?"
Video: Costa Rica by National Geographic
(C-1, 3, 9, 11) (A-1, 4, 5)

7 Hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park
Lodging: Motel in Quepos near Manuel Antonio National Park

Morning: Guided hike of Manuel Antonio National using local guides.

Afternoon: Complete a "Defining Features Matrix"*
(C-4, 5, 6, 11) (A-3)
Free time at the beach

Evening: Ocean night walk and journal reflection time with prompts: "How is the ocean different at night than in the day?"
(C-2, 4) (A-1, 3)

8 Visit Manuel Antonio National Park
Lodging: Hampton Inn at the Airport

Morning: Snorkeling at Manuel Antonio National Park; free time; picnic lunch

Afternoon: Travel to San Jose. Assignment for travel: create some type of game to review any component of the trip to Costa Rica

Evening: Game night!

9 Travel Home

Further explanation of pedagogical techniques

Three pedagogical techniques were noted with asterisks (*) in the table above and will now be described in greater detail.

The Jigsaw classroom is a cooperative learning technique (Slavin, 1985) first developed with elementary school children. However, it can be a very effective learning tool for learners at any age. The first step in the Jigsaw classroom is to divide students into mixed teams. In working with middle school students, we might choose to identify the teams with different colored bandanas or hiking hats. Not only would this give the teams an identity, but it also makes set-up of the Jigsaw method easy to see when moving students around. For this project, assume that there will be five mixed teams of four members each. Each member of the mixed team is now given an assignment on which to become an expert. In the Monteverde setting, the tentative four topics might be:
What makes a cloud forest a cloud forest?
Birds of the cloud forest
Plants of the cloud forest
Animals other than birds

Once each member of the mixed team has been given an assignment, the experts with the same topic from all five mixed teams would gather together with a guide and complete a guided hike of the reserve trails. During this hike, the experts would concentrate on their topic to learn as much as possible from their local guide.

During the second day of Jigsaw activity at Monteverde, the students would reassemble into the mixed teams. Now each mixed team would contain four experts on four different topics. The teams would now once again hike with a guide, but it would be the responsibility of the experts in the team to teach about their topic. The local guide would only correct any errors or misconceptions and contribute additional information that may be added as a new animal or bird is sighted.

There are many advantages of using the Jigsaw method as a cooperative learning method. In this case, using the Jigsaw method 1) moves responsibility for learning and teaching to the students, 2) gives them a reason to stay on task and 3) logically breaks the class into smaller groups to effectively explore the cloud forest.

Developing a sister school relationship and buddy system would be an effective way for students to develop an understanding of Costa Rica and Costa Rican culture. Most likely the sister school relationship would be initiated between teachers. It may be possible to also pair students up as buddies before our class visits Costa Rica. If possible, a letter or two could be sent prior to the visit via airmail or possible Internet.

A face to face encounter between the buddies has been scheduled during the time at Monteverde. One activity that the buddies would complete is the construction of a leaf print T-shirt using leaves of local plants and then writing the names in Spanish. This T-shirt would be a souvenir for our students to take home. Each of our students would give their buddy a T-shirt completed in our home school with leaf prints of local trees of a temperate forest and the names written in English. Part of the assignment could include one or two more correspondences between the buddies once our students have returned to the home school.

Completing a Defining Features Matrix (Cross and Angelo, 1993) is an exercise designed to promote analysis and critical thinking. This use of a matrix has been designed as a classroom assessment technique and is a valuable tool for providing structure for students to organize their thinking about multiple topics. A sample matrix for this module is provided in Appendix A.

Closure activities

Once the students returned to their home school it would be important to have some closure activities after the students have had an opportunity to reflect on their trip. A final project developed by the students to fulfill the following objectives should be the goal of the closure activities.

Demonstrate an understanding of the role of forested tropical areas in global environmental issues.
Demonstrate an understanding of the role of ocean ecosystems in global environmental issues.
Demonstrate an understanding of the natural history of Costa Rica.
Demonstrate an understanding of the ecology of the areas (life zones) of Costa Rica that were studied on the in-country trip.

According to Wiske (1998) performances of understanding must do the following:

Relate directly to understanding goals
Develop and apply understanding through practice
Engage multiple learning styles and forms of expression
Promote reflective engagement in challenging, approachable tasks
Demonstrate understanding

Students could utilize a number of different ways to demonstrate their understanding, such as PowerPoint presentations, posterboard displays, illustrated storybooks, poetry or other appropriate forms. Because there could be such variability in the forms of expression, it would be imperative that the teachers develop Primary Traits Analysis (Walvoord, 1998) that would clearly articulate the traits of a well-developed performance of understanding. The development of a Primary Traits Analysis exceeds the scope of this project.

As part of the closure activity, our team suggested that friends and family be included at the time the final projects are presented. It seems appropriate to engage friends and family in this experience by organizing a "Costa Rica Evening". The evening could start with a dinner which includes typical foods of Costa Rica, background sounds of Costa Rica (suggested CD: natural sounds of Costa Rica produced by Zona Tropical) and concludes with the presentations of all of the final projects completed by teams of students.
Appendix A

Defining Features Matrix
Adapted from Cross and Angelo
(Data on diversity of species found in Costa Rica: The Ecotravelers' Wildlife Guide. This data may be supplied by teacher as part of the matrix)
Characteristic Temperate Ecosystem at home (Data used for North Carolina, USA Cloud Forest
(Monteverde) Tropical Moist Forest
Number of species of Salamanders 49 Up to 35 Up to 35
Number of species of Frogs and Toads 29 Up to 120 Up to 120
Number of species of Lizards 10 Up to 68 Up to 68
Number of species of snakes 37 Up to 127 Up to 127
Number of species of mammals 31 Up to 205 Up to 205
Number of species of breeding birds 167 Up to 600 Up to 600
Annual rainfall
Temperature range
Epiphytes (abundant, occasional, absent)
Root structure (describe observations)
Leaf shape (describe observations)
Pollination strategies (describe observations)


Beletsky, Les (1998) Costa Rica: The Ecotraveller's Wildlife Guide. San Diego: Academic Press.

Blythe, T. and Associates (1998). The Teaching for Understanding Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cross, K. P. and Angelo, T. A. (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Josses-Bass.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.

Slavin, R. (1985). Learning to Cooperate, Cooperating to Learn. New York: Plenum Press.

Temperly, D. S. (1994). "Cooperative Learning in the Community College Classroom: Teaching Students to Teach Themselves in the "Jigsaw Classroom". Journal of College Science Teaching, 24 (2), 94-97.

Walvoord, B. E. & Anderson, V. J. (1998). Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wiske, M. S. (1998). What is Teaching for Understanding? In M. S. Wiske (Ed.) Teaching for Understanding: Linking Research with Practice (pp. 61-86). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Additional Resources

Benyus, J. (1989). Northwoods Wildlife: A Watcher's Guide to Habitats. Minocqua, WI: NorthWord Press.

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