Elgin High School environmental science students help bring global experts virtually into the classroom as part of the third annual National Biodiversity Teach-In this month.
The series of free webinars feature more than three dozen scientists discussing topics, including wildlife poaching, coral reef conservation and the plight of killer whales.
"Our vision for the Teach-In this year is to connect as many classrooms as possible with scientists, authors, filmmakers, lawmakers, grass-roots organizations and science heroes," said Deb Perryman, Elgin Area School District U-46 coordinator of K-12 science and the planetarium.
The webinars are open to the public and run 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays. Speakers lead lectures on environmental topics and allow time for discussion. A special Feb. 14 session for Valentine's Day will focus on children's authors who have written books about biodiversity and nature.
Feb. 2 webinars attracted more than 13,000 viewers from 21 states plus the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Spain and Russia, Perryman said.
"On any given day we have 20 or 30 other (U-46) classrooms tuned in," Perryman said. "Some teachers signed up for multiple presentations on one day."
Last school year, the event attracted more than 26,500 registered participants from 36 states and 19 other nations. Perryman hopes this year's registration will surpass the all-time high of more than 30,000 reached two years ago.
So far, more than 70,000 visitors have accessed the registration site.
Perryman, who previously taught environmental science at Elgin High, started the teach-in with science teacher Brigid Trimble as a class project to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity. Students' interest was sparked after learning about the story of Martha, the last known living passenger pigeon within the ecosystem.
Students help organize the webinars, which teaches them skills such as written and oral communication, technology, web building, and using Google forms for registration.
For a schedule of webinars or to register, visit nationalbiodiversityteachin.com.