In the first five minutes that Jacqueline (Jacque) Christian, an intervention specialist at Olentangy High School, ventured into the rain forest of Costa Rica, she saw a sloth, an iguana and a crocodile.

In the first five minutes that Jacqueline (Jacque) Christian, an intervention specialist at Olentangy High School, ventured into the rain forest of Costa Rica, she saw a sloth, an iguana and a crocodile.

"It was insane," she said. "It was stimulus overload."

Christian -- who was participating in a hands-on research and education program known as Earth Expedition through the Cincinnati Zoo and Miami University -- will help students grasp science by understanding methods of inquiry and environmental conservation as a result of the experience.

In Monteverde, Christian said, they stayed in the research center rather than a hotel.

"It was a big deal to do that," she said of one of the world's leading tropical research centers. "In Monteverde, we were staying on the park premises. Since it is a research center, we had the whole place to ourselves at night."

At night, after everyone was gone, they took hikes.

"We saw an ocelot," she said. "One walked right across the path during a night hike in Monteverde."

She laughed as she admitted that it was frightening to see the wild cat.

"Your heart stops," she said. "It is scary."

Tarantulas also were a common sight in the rain forest.

One of the guides, according to Christian, was a cinematographer for National Geographic. He was knowledgeable about the plant life, pointing out specimens such as a chocolate tree.

"There were things you would only see on Dora the Explorer," said Christian, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter named Katie.

Despite her hectic schedule and the distance involved, Christian said she was able to talk with Katie on three different occasions.

"Getting to speak with her actually made being gone harder," she said, "but I think it's worth it to show your kids that setting and working toward goals is important and lifelong learning is even more important. She always asked if I was in the rain forest like Dora. Cracked me up!"

The trip was both mentally and physically exhausting, according to Christian.

"We were going from sunup to 10 p.m. most days with hiking, class activities, discussions and, of course, some great food," she said. "Still, nobody wanted to be caught sleeping because we might miss something. It was worth it."

While they were in Costa Rica, she said, they visited the Cloud Forest School.

"It would be like a charter school here," she said, explaining that the students range from pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade. "The whole school is giving back to the community. They are learning the curriculum as well, but they do things like plant trees as part of the reforestation. They converted a bus to biodiesel."

Some of the people in the group knew Spanish, but most Costa Ricans know English since the schools are bilingual.

Christian asked her hosts if it was a little presumptuous to assume that the people speak English, but they want to be bilingual because tourism has become a lucrative trade.

"I wouldn't have minded if I had been in a little bit of a crunch not knowing the language," she said.

In addition to what she learned during the daily hikes of five to 10 hours in the rain forests, Christian said it was interesting to see the Arenal Volcano.

"It is the second most active volcano in the world," she said. "It was spewing lava at night."

Forty years ago the volcano fully erupted.

All of the hotels were built on the side of the volcano.

"There were hot springs all over, but we did not get to try them out," said Christian.

"That was a little luxurious for what we were doing. We were taking cold showers and doing lots of hiking. The last night we stayed in a real hotel and my body didn't know how to react when we had hot water."

Back at Olentangy, her students will have an opportunity to take organic soil and compare it to the soil in the court yard at the high school to determine differences. Then they will follow up with dialogue about reducing waste, using compost and organic gardening.

She hopes they will be able to follow through with planting tomatoes, collecting data and possibly doing other conservation techniques with the approval of her principal.

"I was inspired and hope that feeling carries over to my students, friends and my daughter," said Christian. "We need to realize that just because something we are doing may seem small and insignificant doesn't mean it isn't making a difference and that it can't grow into an even bigger project."