Amazon Apprentices: Mentoring Inquiry in the Rainforest Canopy


What do one tropical canopy researcher, a Minnesota teacher, and a bunch of teenagers have in common? On the surface, not much. But dig a bit deeper, or rather, climb a bit higher, and you will find a shared passion for exploring and understanding the intricacies of the Amazon rainforest canopy!

Canopy Meg and DC Randle. From Amazon Apprentices: Mentoring Inquiry in the Rainforest Canopy

Meg and DC

Researcher Dr. Meg Lowman and high school teacher DC Randle have joined forces to mentor the next generation of rainforest researchers - and in the process, are transforming the lives of Minnesota high school students. Many of DC’s students have traveled with him to the Amazon and with the help of Meg, they have engaged in all sorts of inquiry-based projects including herbivory (plant and animal feeding interactions) assessments, long term plant studies (leaf tagging), bromeliad and epiphyte studies, and more! DC has given his students the opportunity to become apprentices to a top scientist like Meg and engage in authentic inquiry as they participate in important research in tropical ecology and biology.

It all began when Meg and DC met deep in the neotropical rainforest as guest faculty on a Jason Project, a virtual field trip which streamed live into classrooms around across the US. Their mentoring partnership has had an enormous trickle-down effect and has made the Amazon come alive for hundreds of students!

For DC, having Meg as a mentor has allowed him to grow as a scientist in his own right. He has participated in numerous field research projects, worked side by side with a diverse array of scientists, served on scientific committees, and co-authored papers on tropical ecology. Ultimately, DC says, “I have become a better educator as a direct result of Meg. My students have become better students of science and education as a result of me mentoring them in the same way Meg has mentored me.”

What does a professional ecologist like Meg gain from this relationship? Her work with DC has opened her eyes to the importance of engaging students in the real work of scientists and giving them first-hand experience with the magic of scientific inquiry. Over the course of her partnership with DC, Meg has shifted part of her professional focus to K-12 education and is now incorporating this new understanding into her work as the Chief of Science and Sustainability for the California Academy of Sciences

The ripples of this amazing partnership don’t stop with Meg, DC, and a handful of select students. Through their collaborative efforts, they are able to share and amplify their first hand experiences with research in the Amazon rainforest.  As DC and Meg will attest, in order to sustain these forests for future generations, the first key in doing so is education. “Students and other interested people need first hand experiences and opportunities to see, investigate, and understand how the system works to better provide the information to sustain them for years to come,” says DC. Fortunately for all of us, Meg, DC, and their students are doing just this as they spread the word through their schools, communities, and the greater scientific network!

Amazon Apprentices: Mentoring Inquiry in the Rainforest Canopy

For more information on how you can be a teacher leader like DC, please contact Amazon Rainforest Workshops director, Christa Dillabaugh at christa[at]

Want to see more of the rainforest canopy? Untamed Science was in the field with Meg last summer and shot these great videos of their experience.

A virtual field trip of the Amazon canopy:


10 things to do in the Amazon:




Christa Dillabaugh is our Education and the Rainforest Editor.  A former middle school and high school science educator, she coordinates experiential field programs for educators and students in the rainforests of Central and South America.  She currently serves as education director for Amazon Rainforest Workshops and loves traipsing through rainforest mud in search of teachable moments!  You can read her Amazon field notes at

Photo Credits:  ©Christa Dillabaugh, Amazon Rainforest Workshops