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Biologist opens scientific doors

Teachers will have advanced science training and access to a video lesson library.

By Steve Lyttle
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

Biologist and television host Jeff Corwin brought a bit of show business glamour to a pair of northeast Charlotte schools last month, giving hundreds of students a chance to talk with someone they can see on cable TV every day.

But Corwin's visit launched what could be a much more important development for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools – giving teachers new resources for their science lessons.

“These kids are raised in a digital era,” said Coni Rech- ner, vice president of Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, which operates a number of popular cable TV channels. “Our partnership will open up the classroom like never before.”

Corwin, host of a popular program on the Animal Planet channel, spent Oct. 30 in Charlotte, meeting with students at Cochrane Middle and Morehead Elementary schools.

He also participated in a panel discussion at Discovery Place, helping promote his upcoming special, “The Vanishing Frog,” which will air for the first time Thursday on Animal Planet.

But his visit also marked the announcement of a partnership between Discovery Education and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The partnership will give CMS teachers advanced science curriculum training and access to Discovery Education's huge library of video lessons.

“Discovery Education can provide content which is tied to the North Carolina science curriculum standards,” said Steve Wakefield of Discovery Communications. “When a student asks a teacher, ‘What does a frog look like?' the teacher will be able to go to our library and call up a two-minute video, rather than reading something from a textbook.

“It's done in a format that today's students understand and can relate to.”

The videos do not contain commercials, although they might mention Discovery Channel or Animal Planet personalities' names.

Corwin's visit to Morehead Elementary, a science and math magnet school, was proof of how the partnership can help.

“Discovery Education sent us information before Jeff came,” Morehead Elementary Principal Crystal Agurs said. “So when he came to meet our students, they had very good questions prepared for him.”

Corwin kept the crowd of about 250 students fascinated during his 30-minute talk. He told the children that amphibians, the subject of his upcoming TV special, are disappearing from the earth rapidly because of climate change and destruction of rain forests by people.

He said Morehead Elementary's students can play a role in protecting the species.

“North Carolina is one of the most importance places in the country for amphibians,” he said. “As students, you can make your voice heard in protecting these creatures.”

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