The KOTA Lesson Plans

As the founder of The KOTA Foundation and a conservation research scientist I wanted to inspire kids to learn science in a way that I never did. My entire life I flunked nearly every science or math class I ever took. Yet, even at a young age I had a mind for science. My parents were both educated and my father was even a scientist himself.

Animals were always completely fascinating to me. I liked to take things apart and find out how they worked. I questioned the rules and concepts of things and enjoyed finding alternative work-arounds. But I never made the connection between any of the things I found so intriguing and…science. So I flunked those classes over and over again. And my frustration grew.

Debbie Ethell letting a young group of students touch and feel and elephant bone.

Debbie Ethell letting a young group of students touch and feel an elephant bone.

It wasn’t until I went back to school at the age of 35 with a passion for elephants so great I couldn’t ignore it any longer that the connection between the subjects I found so scary and the one thing I found so fascinating was finally made. Once I was able to apply statistics and biology, chemistry and calculus to the study of elephants the classes came easy. I never flunked a science or math class again. In fact, applying a subject that I wanted to study enabled me to get A’s in all of them.

This made me wonder: What if I had been able to make that connection as a kid when I was learning about science in school? Would I have been more successful at a younger age instead of finally figuring it out when I was 35?

Debbie teaching the difference between Asian and African elephants to a group of middle school students

Debbie teaching the difference between Asian and African elephants to a group of middle school students.

With this idea in mind I recruited the help of teachers, fellow scientists, school board members and young students. We found specific biological concepts that young students need to learn and began applying them to elephants.

Working together we developed each lesson plan that incorporates the four learning styles: Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic and Tactile (hands-on learning) in order to engage every student. We use audio equipment of elephants communicating using infrasound for the auditory learners, actual videos of elephants showing the concept in “real life” and each lesson plan comes with a box of hands-on materials for the kinesthetic and tactile learners.

More importantly every time an instructor downloads a lesson plan “a scientist shall appear.” We felt that having an actual scientist on hand to discuss any questions that the students or instructors have is extremely important to making the connection. Scientists will either appear in person or via Skype and be available for the end portion of the lesson plan.

Debbie letting a future young scientist lift an elephant bone all by herself.

Debbie letting a future young scientist lift an elephant bone all by herself.

We launched our pilot project into 13 schools across Oregon and have received an overwhelming amount of support. Currently, the KOTA team is revising the lesson plans and will re-launch into Multnomah and Clackamas counties. Once this has proven successful we look forward to bringing these into every classroom that wants them, not just in Oregon but across the nation.

Please contact us at info@kotafoundation.org if you would like to be added to our waiting list.

* All pictures are owned by Debbie Ethell and have been used with permission by the students and the schools they were taken in.