Hands-on science: Destin Elementary students explore E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center

Jennie McKeon
Chloe Hoang and William Denney are all smiles during the Tortoises class with Bob Walker, a.k.a Turtle Bob. Students got to hold and feed turtles while also meeting a few types of snakes in the class.

The fourth-graders at Destin Elementary recently went back to nature.

The kids were treated to their second full day of learning and fun at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center.

Kids poured in to rooms throughout the center learning about recycling, the natural environment and, of course, they got to hold snakes and turtles.

Because of the size of the center and its in-depth curriculum that coincides with Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and the National Common Core Standards, Biophila field trips are broken up in to different days. Kids might feel like they're getting a vacation from school, but they're actually learning valuable lessons.

"We've been coming here now for several years," said teacher Patty Carr. "It's important to make students aware of our own nature. We need to protect it."

Nestled in the longleaf pine ecosystem, which is considered the sixth most bio-diverse area in the continental U.S., the Biophila Center allows students to explore a different side of Florida apart from the beaches they may be more used to.

"There's so much about the ecosystem kids have to learn," she said.

The most popular event of the field trip was the animal close encounters with Bob Walker, a.k.a. Turtle Bob.

"The baby turtle was so cute," said student Chloe Ledlow.

Ledlow loves to learn about science and math in school, she said. When she grows up, she'd like to be a veterinarian.

Because the Biophilia Center is only open to the public on certain days, many students only experience the center through school trips.

"We've been wanting to go for years," said Jolinda Williams, one of the parent chaperones. "I really liked the recycling class; they covered it very well."

The class, appropriately called "Talking Trash," explains the importance of recycling and donating, what items can be composted and how to separate recycled items. The class ends with a three-minute game in which groups of kids are challenged to separate a bag of items between a recycling, compost, donate and trash bins.

The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center teaches 6,500 students in a six-county area every year and averages 140 students at the center everyday. Environmental educators like Turtle Bob and Director Paul Arthur, a.k.a Pinetree Paul, make science accessible and fun to the students.

On a hike through the Longleaf Pine Trail, part of the center's 50,000-acre conservation, Arthur engages with students, asking them questions and playfully joking with the group. He points out the trees like the turkey oak and insects such as the purseweb spider.

Walking through the gopher tortoises' burrows, Carr points out how the center has changed in the years she's been visiting with students.

"We never go to see tortoises burrows before," she said excitedly. "Hopefully, the school will continue to come here for field trips."


The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center will be open this summer to the public. Open June and July, but closed in August, the center will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pricing is $8 for adults and $5 for children 3-12 years old. Admission is free for those under 2 years old. There is an additional $2 fee for the new exhibit, World of Wonder, a 6-foot, 4D interactive sphere that takes participants virtually into outer space and shows the world from that perspective.