The Polistes Foundation

Our mission is to encourage
nature based learning and discovery research
to improve public awareness of environmental issues
and protect the diversity of life on Earth.

Conceptual Plan
The Polistes Foundation

Irven DeVore, John Pickering, & Kevin Weick

January 30, 2002


The major goal is to develop a program that will greatly increase the number of people gathering reliable data on species and their distribution. Such information will be integrated into our existing technology that will be far more accessible to scientists, students, and the public than any other. A very important aspect of this program is to train a cadre of young people who can not only contribute to this data gathering, but who will also learn the basic principles of scientific inquiry in the process and contribute to the long term goals of improving and maintaining the conservation of our environment.


Despite the efforts of many scientists, there is still nothing close to an inventory of the species on our planet, much less an understanding of their behavior and adaptation. Millions of species are yet to be discovered, named, and studied. An especially urgent task is to mobilize the large number of people it will take to assemble the essential knowledge necessary to save many species from extinction.

We see this effort proceeding on many fronts simultaneously: trained scientists, naturalists, concerned citizens, and children from early elementary through high school. Such "citizen scientists" can be guided to understand the environment, set up study sites, and contribute findings that are scientifically valid. From these efforts will flow photographs, illustrated guides, school activities, nature expeditions, and fundraising efforts.

Strategic Goals: Science - Conservation - Education - Enjoyment

We believe that by using Polistes and Discoverlife, the technology and resources will be made available to disseminate information that is useful in resource management, science, conservation, education, and recreation. By taking an active role in the research, school and community participants will get hands-on experience with scientific methods and state-of-the-art technology. Students will use science and technology to learn valuable skills such as how to collect, process, and present information in a meaningful way.

To achieve this goal, lesson plans will be developed that depend in large part on the species and the environmental features that exist in the student's own community. Our aim is to develop curiosity about the natural world, and to introduce scientific ways of coming to an understanding of it.

Beginning in kindergarten, study plans will progress to Grade 12 in reasonable steps. We believe that by Grades 9- 12 students will to do high-quality, discovery-based science of the world around them. Lesson plans, research protocols, teacher training, and logistical and technical support plans will be developed around the environmental concerns at issue in the local area.

Goals for Grades K-3 - Beginning the Process of Discovery

  • Teachers will begin with a planned activity that is focused on local plant and animal species and their relationship to environmental issues in the community.

  • Students will be encouraged to explore their school yards, local parks, gardens, and their own back yards to find their local "feature creatures," bring them in for show-and-tell, and rear them to study metamorphosis, germinating seeds, and generally develop an interest and love of nature around them.

  • As appropriate, teachers will introduce charismatic species (tigers, pandas, strangler figs, dandelions, etc.) as a means of learning the basic principles of climate, environment, adaptation, and conservation issues. The aim will be to explore these principles in major habitats that lend themselves to easy understanding: tropical forests, savannas, tundra, etc. Once these principles are understood, the teacher would then narrow down the study to the micro habitats of the species the students are beginning to study in their own community.

Goals for Grades 4-8 Learning the Principles of Scientific Inquiry

  • Curricula will focus on learning the most basic principles of scientific inquiry: discovery, posing questions, experimentation, and how to fit information gained into a larger web of the other species in the environment.
    • Who eats whom? How far up and down can you trace the predator/prey chains?
    • What condition determines blooming and seed times in plants? Why do most plants thrive only in certain places?
    • Where should I go to enlarge my personal collection of species?
    • How do I collect and document these species in a way that will be of genuine scientific interest?
    • How do we tell a birch leaf from a maple? Or one bumblebee from another?

  • Lessons will be built around skills such as measurement, mathematics, graphing, mapping, elementary probability theory and statistics. The questions raised through nature studies will feed into skills being taught in other classes.

  • The goal here is to build on student interest to take them from unstructured observations towards the principles of inductive and deductive reasoning. At the least we anticipate that the students will begin to have an appreciation of simple experiment and the comparative method. It is even possible that some will begin to distinguish ultimate and proximate causation.

  • Above all, at every stage of discovery, it will be fundamental to maintain and build upon the joy of hunting caterpillars (and watching them metamorphose), discretely watching bird nests from courtship through egg laying to fledging, looking at pond-water and other hidden worlds through a microscope. Recent discoveries about human infants have revealed that, even in the first weeks of life, they are inquisitive and have "basic hypotheses" about the world around them. To appreciate how this deep curiosity can be developed in early years, we would supply readings to teachers, e.g., sections of E. O. Wilson's Naturalist.

Grades 9-10 Guided Research

    Students will participate in class research projects that provide information of value to local land managers and the broader scientific community. These structured studies will develop additional scientific and technical skills.

  • At this stage, the major goal will be to teach data quality, management, analysis, and ethics. A goal will be build a knowledge base that will be needed to progress to independent research in later grades. For this level of research to be most effective, it would be ideal to build new networks of teachers, environmental educators, scientists, mentor naturalists, land managers, and other citizens and support organizations.

  • Providing support, training and funding for teachers will be critical. Implementing nature research in the curriculum should be perceived by teachers as challenging and fun - not something to be feared, or seen as an additional burden on their already pressing workloads.

  • Throughout all of these years, it is essential that curriculum developers work closely with testing and teacher-training organizations. Revolutionary as we would like this approach to be, it would be foolish to ignore the reality that most teachers are constrained by mandated textbooks and lesson plans. For this reason (and many others), Master Teachers will be recruited to guide and inform every stage of curriculum development.

Grade 11-12 (and college) -- Independent Discovery Research and Analysis

  • By this stage, it will be clear which students are becoming dedicated naturalists. Ideally, they would be gathered in small seminars of three or four members, taught by a high school teacher, and whenever possible supplemented by one or more experts in the community. We anticipate that their long exposure to the biology and conservation of the natural world will carry over for many of these students into the college years, influencing their choice of major, term papers, etc.

  • Scientific methods learned can be realized at state Science Fairs, college term projects, and undergraduate theses. It is our goal to extend the educational benefits of independent, original scientific inquiry into high school and undergraduate curricula, preparing students to develop their skills as problem solvers and thinkers.

Specific Implementation Goals

  • Within 5 years, develop at least 10 statewide programs that implement major features of the curriculum as described above.

  • Within 10 years, expand to most school systems in the Americas practical methods for them to contribute valuable data to their local land managers.

  • Extend "Nature Days" from the Massachusetts model spearheaded by Peter Alden into international outreach events to celebrate nature, collect extensive data, and "hook" society on our goals; --involving and training nature mentors (e. g., Master Naturalists) and providing support to both school programs and "Nature Days".

  • Continue to further develop Polistes technology to provide the capability for all web users to identify species (with IDnature guides) and report their observations electronically (into personal "Life Lists").

  • Continue to enhance <> as a gateway to associated web sites and databases that will serve the information needs of land managers, scientists, teachers, students and other citizens seeking knowledge about nature.

  • Pioneer the endorsement of both Linnaean and "Easy Names". Implement unique Polistes "GNEET" identifiers where standardized tracking of specimens and information is required.

  • Polistes will make detailed information on the natural history and ecology of all species available to the wider non-specialist audience. Free interactive identification guides and Web pages for each species will be developed and available through Discoverlife's All Living Things. Methods will be developed, personnel trained, public and private partnerships formed, that will facilitate the link between school systems, community groups, and inventories of other parks and conservation areas.

  • Strengthen the public's appreciation of nature, conservation ethics, and enjoyment of outdoor recreation through the education and scientific activities described above.

Discover Life | All Living Things | IDnature guides | The Polistes Foundation | Conceptual Plan