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Are Science Teachers Spreading Invasive Species?

By guest blogger Ellen Wexler

According to a new study that surveyed 2,000 teachers across the United States and Canada, one out of four science teachers who used lab animals in their classrooms released the organisms into local environments after they were done using them for instructional purposes.

The study, funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that only 10 percent of those teachers released the animals as part of a planned release program—which suggests that the other 90 percent of teachers released animals that could potentially cause harm to native environments.

The researchers—mostly part of a university coastal-conservation collaborative known as Sea Grant—found that around 1,000 different organisms had been used in classrooms, and many of them were potentially invasive aquatic species, such as crayfishes and amphibians, that carry diseases or parasites. The findings also revealed that teachers sometimes ordered organisms that weren't local to their areas, which can contribute to the invasive-species problem.

"It is a complex issue," said Sam Chan, an Oregon State University invasive-species expert and a principal investigator for the study, as quoted in a press release. "We don't want to discourage the use of live organisms in teaching because they can provide focus, enhance student interest, and foster responsibility and care. But there are consequences to using them and both teachers and suppliers should consider what will become of these organisms when the classroom lessons are over."

Chan also said that the way to start moving forward is by making educators and suppliers aware that the problem exists in the first place, and to encourage them to use native species in lessons whenever possible.

According to Chan, many of the teachers were "mortified" when they learned that they could be creating an invasive-species problem in their local surroundings.

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