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Exploration Nation: Expedition Central America

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In two days I leave with a team of three middle school kids, three Special Forces veterans, four international surgeons and a motley film crew to embark on a 12 day series of scientific explorations culminating in deploying a mobile medical facility for the Rama Indians deep in the heart of Nicaragua’s Indio Maiz Biological Reserve.

Follow our three kid explorers (Enzo, Emma and Haley) as they work side by side with experts to uncover the secrets of how innovation improves lives and sustains communities. And every day, we will broadcast the Expedition live by satellite to over five million young students across the country.

No pressure….

It’s been twelve months since I started planning this epic trek. And while it never seemed like an easy trip, the challenge of getting this far has been far greater than I could have imagined. If it were not for the generosity and hard work of many people and companies like Keen Footwear, Dole and Rice University, the Expedition would have been impossible.

I am the executive producer of a very special, independent elementary and middle school instruction program called Exploration Nation. We feature a team of tweens who travel the world doing authentic science research. We film these adventures and produce integrated instruction programs that include teacher materials, student materials and hands on activities designed to engage students and make teaching science more manageable for educators.

The State of America’s Future Innovators

Over the last 5 years of producing Exploration Nation, we have come to the realization that our message to our future innovators (students ages 6-14) regarding careers in science is falling flat. We attempt to reason with fifth graders to convince them they will be able to score a better career with higher pay if they pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

The response from a 10 year old is usually something along the lines of “I’m not getting how this increases my gaming time…” or “You’re a dork, dorkface.” or “That’s boring.”

The most wired generation in history sees science as irrelevant to their lives. They are immersed in rich media on television, the Internet, in gaming and our approach in the classroom is to stand up in front of them (requiring them to sit still, be quiet and hang on our every word) and lecture.

No wonder they are turning away from science in record numbers.

I’ve talked to hundreds of these kids over the last two years and I’ve found two threads of consistency in terms of what kids actually care about. Here’s a hint: careers and money are not among them.

Our future innovators desire:

- To help people
- To have a voice in shaping their world

It turns out, a career in STEM deliver exactly these benefits. This is why we are going to such great lengths to show students how innovation saves lives and impacts communities.

About the Rama

The Rama Indians in Nicaragua are an example of a culture with no access to innovation. However, they are a robust and generally healthy people who sustain themselves partaking of everything the rain forest has to offer. As sustenance farmers, food is abundant and life is simple. In the time I’ve spent with the tribe, they are happy, gracious and welcoming.

Young Rama Girl

Young Rama Girl (photo: Pete Monfre)

Under this simple but seemingly idyllic lifestyle runs a current of misery. The tribe has almost no access to medical care or medicines. The nearest medical treatment is a four hour boat ride up the Indian River. To us, this may not seem like an insurmountable challenge. The ride costs an average of $450. The average wage of the Rama is ten cents a day. It would take a family over twelve years to pay for that ride alone – not to mention the cost of treatment.

Exploration Nation is literally bringing innovation to improve the lives of the Rama people. Along the way we will learn how Dole is innovating sustainable agriculture to provide opportunity for the local population and how Rios Tropicales is employing methods to reduce their carbon footprint though reforestation. We’ll learn first hand from the Tribe’s last shaman how he combines plants from the jungle to treat illness and what it takes to survive the night in the rain forest.

Finally, we will meet our Rama friends and treat hundreds of people from surrounding areas who have no other choices when it comes to healthcare.

Our team will be filming the entire expedition for use in a series of lesson programs for elementary and middle school students across the nation to bring this experience into the classroom and extend the educational opportunity for millions of kids.

Each day from 2:00 pm – 2:10 pm central we will broadcast live by satellite special, behind the scenes features. Follow Team XN as we trek through central America to inspire and teach American students about innovation and conservation.

Previously in this series:

Kids Lead Crowd-Funded Scientific Mission to Nicaragua: Science Education Is the Tide That Lifts All Boats

Pete Monfre About the Author: Pete Monfre is a twenty five year veteran of the advertising and marketing industry serving Fortune 100 and 500 technology clients. He is also an accomplished educator, photographer, award winning musician, writer, consultant, videographer and producer. In recent years, Mr. Monfre dedicated himself to improving the future for our children and nation through engaging science education, as demonstrated by his vision and success as CEO of Enzoology Education. Follow on Twitter @petemonfre.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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