Photo of HERPS dog with box turtle in its mouth

Turtle sniffing dogs were used to capture box turtles.

Led by a team of UNCG researchers, professors and graduate students, 50 top-notch science educators from five different states gathered at Haw River State Park for a weekend herpetology curriculum workshop.

The goal? To teach teachers how to get others – whether students in the classroom or park and nature center visitors – excited about North Carolina’s reptiles and amphibians.

Five years ago, researchers from UNCG, UNC Pembroke and Elon University received a $2.7 million informal science education grant from the National Science Foundation [grant no. DRL-1114558] for the HERP Project, which stands for Herpetology Education in Rural Places and Spaces.

The grant focuses on igniting a passion for North Carolina’s herps, or reptiles and amphibians, developing a connection to the local environment, engaging people in conservation and field ecology experiences and promoting the public’s participation in scientific research. Additionally, the grant focused on educational research on students’ science identities.

“The purpose of the grant was to look at instructional techniques,” said Dr. Catherine Matthews, principal investigator and professor in UNCG’s School of Education. “People tend to know very little about herps in general, especially the herps in their own back yard.”

Matthews and her team have developed a curriculum centered on reptiles and amphibians for teachers, science center educators, informal educators and park rangers. The curriculum is available online for free, but in an effort to disseminate the materials more widely, they decided to host the weekend workshop to share their work.

“The program is mostly about doing science, not talking science. We had them out in the field. If you’re actually out doing science, it’s much more interesting,” Matthews said.

Using large net funnel traps and turtle sniffing dogs, the educators captured, studied, marked and released frogs, snakes, turtles and lizards in the wild. They also learned valuable lessons to take back to their students.

“We were able to put tools in the hands of nature center directors, park rangers and teachers,” Matthews said.

 

Story by Jeanie McDowell, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications