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Can Time in Nature Inspire Young Innovators?

Published:
2018-02-21

Can Time in Nature Inspire Young Innovators?
By Marilyn P. Arnone

Introduction

Fifty children who were recognized inventors were interviewed for The Young Innovators Project (http://theinnovationdestination.net) funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. These youngsters have developed innovations in areas that include health care, safety, and household improvements; most have been technological in nature. This is not surprising as these children were born digital and they are more comfortable with technology than their grandparents and even some of their parents, although it is often at the expense of spending more time with electronic devices and less time in nature.  Innovation spaces, STEM programs, and invention conventions across the country provide guidance and support for children to innovate. Yet, this author wonders if part of children’s preparation to innovate should also include both free and guided nature exploration and play. Can time spent in nature actually increase creativity and problem-solving so critical to innovation? The research suggests that this may actually be the case.

What the Research Says

Exposure to nature is important to creativity, problem-solving, and even intellectual development. In his acclaimed book “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age,” author Richard Louv discusses how creative people are often “drawn to the outdoors for refreshment and ideas” (2012, p. 35). There is a growing body of research that also suggests that being outdoors may be conducive to getting our creative juices flowing.

 A study by Atchley, Strayer and Atchley (2012) found that a team of young adult backpackers scored higher in a test of creativity after spending four days on a trail hike as compared to a control group. Proximity to nature was also found to increase cognitive abilities, specifically a child’s ability to focus (Wells, 2000).  This enhanced “focus” was also found in another study of outdoor play and learning (Nedovic & Morrissey, 2013). Even simply exposing high school students to nature imagery can enhance creative performance according to a study by van Rompay (2016). With several conditions that varied the unpredictability and spaciousness of the imagery, high school students who were exposed to imagery with the highest degree of unpredictability and spaciousness scored the highest on a measure of creative thinking.

Nature-based risky play is play in which children experience some degree of uncertainty or challenge and is positively associated with exploration and an understanding of the world. In one recent study, researchers examined the effects of an intervention to increase nature-based risky play; the intervention involved the redesign of an outdoor playspace to maximize natural materials and opportunities for exploration. The early childhood educators who participated in the study reported improvements in both problem-solving and creativity among other results such as a decrease in boredom and stress after the intervention (Brussoni, Ishikawa, Brunelle & Herrinton, 2017). Wells and Evans (2003) also found that life stress was lower in children with exposure to nearby nature. Kiewra & Veselack (2016) found that pre-school children’s creativity in terms of problem-solving and ingenuity were increased when outdoor classrooms included predictable spaces, ample and consistent time, open-ended materials, and caring and observant adults who support creative play and learning.

With the above studies in mind, it hardly seems like an intuitive leap that adding an element of nature to children’s innovative thinking activities might contribute to increases in their innovative thinking.

Getting Started: Promote Inventive Thinking in School and Public Libraries Through Connections with Nature

You can certainly start small by bringing what nature you can into your library. From a “nature loose parts” station (natural outdoor materials like stones, twigs, pinecones, shells, and more for children to combine, take apart, or design with) to providing visual stimulation influenced by nature throughout the library. Bring children outside to explore in nearby nature, take a nature walk, observe natural patterns and color, practice “reading” the clouds, collect natural artifacts, create a journal, draw what is seen. These and other simple outdoor activities will help open creative pathways in the brain and set the tone for more inventive thinking exercises.

There is another benefit to exposure to nature as part of an inventive thinking curriculum; it may trigger creative ideas in students for solving environmental problems in their own communities. Additionally, it has often been stated that children need to develop an appreciation for nature before we can expect them to become its future stewards. In fact, some research has shown that positive direct experience in the outdoors guided by a trusted adult is an important factor in later involvement in protecting one’s environment (Chawla, 2007). It stands to reason that this very connection to nature may inspire future young innovators to create the inventions that will protect and sustain our precious planet.

Conclusion

The benefits of spending time exploring in the natural environment have been shown to have dramatic benefits to both children’s and adults’ health and well-being. There is now ample empirical support for the potential to increase students’ creative performance by spending time in nature. Additionally, spending time exploring the outdoors also helps to develop an appreciation of nature in our children such that they are motivated to invent solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing environmental problems, locally and globally. All this is worth educators’ consideration as they develop innovation spaces and programs that inspire creativity and inventive thinking.  Consider making just a few small changes to get started and if you see results, do some creative thinking yourself to see how you can expand your efforts to connect children to nature and, in so doing, unlock their creativity.

Dr. Marilyn Arnone is co- director of the Young Innovators Project, a professor of practice at Syracuse University’s iSchool, and a certified environmental educator in the state of NC. This blog post is the basis of a book chapter that the author is currently preparing.

REFERENCES

Atchley, R.A., Strayer, D.L., Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS ONE, 7(12), 1-5.

Brussoni, M., Ishikawa, T., Brunelle, S., Herrington, S. (2017). Landscapes for play: Effects of an intervention to promote nature-based risky play in early childhood centres. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 54, 139-1550.

Chawla, L. (2007). Childhood experiences associated with care for the natural world: A theoretical framework for empirical results. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144-170.

Cszikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Harper & Row.

Kiewra, C., Veselack, E. (2016). Playing with nature: Supporting preschoolers' creativity in natural outdoor classrooms. The International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 4(1).

Louv, R. (2012). The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with life in a virtual age. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

Nedovic, S., Morrissey, A. (2013). Calm, active and focused: Children’s responses to an organic outdoor learning environment. Learning Environments Research, 16(2), 281-295.

van Rompay, T.J.L., Jol, T. (2016). Wild and free: Unpredictability and spaciousness as predictors of creative performance. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 48, 140-148.

Wells, N. M., Evans, G. W. (2003). Nearby nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311-330.


Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature: Effects of 'greenness' on children's cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795.
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Educator Spotlight: Heidi Pruess

Published:
2018-02-06


Heidi Pruess just completed the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Heidi credits the program with helping her start an “encore” or post-retirement career. Heidi owns Outdoor Experiences, LLC and hosts guided walks and hikes in urban and suburban settings throughout Mecklenburg County.

In addition to her work with Outdoor Experiences, Heidi is a trip coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Great Outdoors University. She is also an appointed Park and Recreation Commissioner for Mecklenburg County.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Heidi says it was the breadth of experience from both her instructors and fellow classmates. “Learning by exposure and then trial and error, as these courses are organized, really imprinted the lessons and accelerated my understanding so much farther than a traditional classroom training. Those going through this certification process are such a brilliant group of educators!”

Heidi says the conversation during the certification about the Tbilisi principles was an experience in the program that stood out for her. “The Methods of EE and the ethics portion around the Tbilisi Declaration was such a refreshing reminder of why we do what we do as environmental educators.”

For her partnership project, Heidi worked with the Girl Scouts at the Dale Earnhardt Environmental Leadership Campus developing outdoor activities specific to their site. “Having received a Duke Energy grant, the Girl Scout facility was well stocked with sampling and discovery supplies. I utilized the resources available in the Environmental Leadership Campus to develop experiences that explored the outdoors with data gathering and nature exploring activities for camp counselors and campers themselves. Each Girl Scout troop that visits the Environmental Leadership Campus at this camp will have these activities available to them.”

Heidi says the program led to change in her approach to teaching by providing her with environmental training and curriculum. “I did not previously have exposure to educating all age groups and now, through both the suite of trainings and the environmental education program in general, I have both learning experiences and the tools to practice EE for pre-K through adult audiences.”

When asked if the program changed the way she viewed environmental issues, Heidi says, “Environmental issues have always been a part of my life, as a Certified Environmental Professional for more than 26 years and now as an encore EE non-formal educator. The EE certification program has provided me with a broader perspective for addressing the intersection of environmental issues and the human experience.”


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EENC Hires Executive Director

Published:
2018-01-30


The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is pleased to welcome Lauren Pyle as the new Executive Director for Environmental Educators (EENC) of North Carolina. Below is the announcement from EENC's Board of Directors. 
Environmental Educators of North Carolina is thrilled to announce the hiring of an Executive Director, Lauren Pyle. A former board member and professional life member of EENC, Lauren has been active in the environmental education community in North Carolina for over eight years. Lauren has worked as part of the education team at the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, where she wears many hats. She has wrangled teen volunteers, helps the public navigate the online registration system, leads public wildlife demonstrations including feeding otters, and has experience writing grants to fulfill "pie-in-the-sky" programs. 
Previously, Lauren worked with youth education at The North Carolina Arboretum, has contributed to strategic planning processes with three different organizations, simultaneously taught college freshman biology/8th grade physical science/telemark skiing during her undergraduate and masters programs at Cornell University, and spent five summers catching bats as a wildlife biologist for an environmental consulting company. 
The Board of Directors have been working towards this goal for many years to help build the capacity of our organization, and Lauren is excited to help advance the mission and vision of EENC. The Executive Director position is currently part-time, with the intent to become full-time through additional grant funding. We are so excited to be taking this step to help our organization be a leader in the field of environmental education within North Carolina, the southeast, and the nation.
Please join us in welcoming Lauren. She can be reached at eencexecdirector@gmail.com
EENC Board of Directors
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Educator Spotlight: Cathleen Reas

Published:
2018-01-26


Cathleen Reas recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification while working on a Master of Science in Environmental Education (MSEE) Degree at Montreat College. Cathleen serves as a  4-H volunteer on the development team for the Clemson Extension Service’s 4-H Junior Naturalist Program and works as a part-time assistant naturalist at Table Rock State Park in South Carolina.

In addition to her education roles, she is involved with many conservation organizations including Foothills Trail Conservancy, S.C. Master Naturalists, S.C. Native Plant Society, Friends of Jocassee and Lake Hartwell Association. “I am a Leave No Trace Master Educator and love to hike and backpack especially with my family and friends.”

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Cathleen has a difficult time choosing just one. “My favorite part was all of it! I loved learning the foundations of environmental education, the workshops and outdoor experiences, visiting environmental education centers, my community service project and my teaching hours. “This program provided the elements to help me learn, grow, and refine skills to be the best environmental educator I can be.”

Cathleen attributes a lot of her success in the certification program to the support of her professors at Montreat. “I gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the Montreat College MSEE professors for all the exemplary education, support, and guidance through this process. My path was made clearer with the goals to reach for this certification with rich and deep education thanks to MSEE.”

Cathleen says that the instructional workshops were an experience in the program that stood out for her. “I enjoyed learning from inspiring teachers alongside amazing educators taking the workshops with me; we were all learning together as colleagues in environmental education. The diversity and depth of the workshops helped me improve my knowledge and teaching methods throughout the certification experience.”

For her community partnership project, Cathleen developed a Water, Wildlife and Wildflower program to protect water quality and restore wildlife habitat in the Lake Keowee watershed and Keowee-Toxaway State Park located in the foothills of South Carolina. As part of the program, community members volunteered for multiple projects which included planting a native plant pollinator garden, installing a rain garden/bioswale, removing invasive plants, maintaining trails for erosion control and installing habitat homes. “This day brought community groups and individuals together to protect and restore watersheds and habitats. Friends of Jocassee, S.C. Native Plant Society, Upstate Master Naturalists, Friends of Lake Keowee Society, and Foothills Trail Conservancy came out to help with environmental projects at Keowee-Toxaway State Park, home to the Jocassee Gorges Visitor Center. These projects addressed erosion, pollution, habitat restoration, and providing for wildlife!”


Cathleen says the program changed her approach to teaching. “I now better understand not only what I am teaching, but why I am teaching and how to best connect students to the environment." She feels the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I think more evenly and impartially on issues. I also now work to understand the many pathways of why people think what they do about environmental challenges. This helps me to make personal connections about what I think and feel, which helps me as an educator.”
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North Carolina Adapts NAAEE Guidelines for Excellence to Create AmeriCorps Program Development Toolkit

Published:
2018-01-16



The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has established guidelines for developing balanced, scientifically accurate and comprehensive environmental education programs and materials. These guidelines were made possible through the National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education.
In addition to using the Guidelines
for Excellence to assess new instructional workshops for its Environmental Education Certification Program, North Carolina recently adapted the guidelines to create a toolkit for AmeriCorps members who are tasked with creating environmental education programs in their service areas.

The toolkit was adapted from the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Guidelines for Excellence - Nonformal Environmental Education Programs and serves as an aid to AmeriCorps members who develop and administer environmental education programs in North Carolina.

The toolkit was developed through a partnership between the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and AmeriCorps programs hosted by Conserving Carolina (Project Conserve) and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC AmeriCorps). These AmeriCorps programs are supported by grants from the N.C. Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in the Office of Governor Roy Cooper.


Both AmeriCorps programs have extensive reach into underserved regions of North Carolina and address community needs in education and environmental stewardship. Their training equips members to be successful in their current service and in future careers in conservation and education. 

To download the AmeriCorps Program Development Toolkit, visit the North American Association for Environmental Education's website through eePRO at https://naaee.org/eepro/resources/north-carolina-adapts-naaee-guidelines



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Educator Spotlight: Kim Kelleher

Published:
2018-01-08


Kim Kelleher, a retired school counselor and educator, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

Kelleher says one of her favorite parts of earning her certification was traveling the state to visit environmental education facilities and the people she met along the way. She also credits the program with helping her start an “encore” or post-retirement career.

“I retired on July 1st after a forty-year career as a school counselor and educator. I am now being asked to speak at schools, meetings, community events and colleges to describe the positive impact environmental education programs and events have had on my students and school. I have been traveling since July 1st to New England, to Florida for deep sea fishing and we went to Shenandoah National Park three times for hikes and educational programs.” Kelleher is currently volunteering for multiple programs in her community and has enrolled in Duke University’s Lifelong Learning Institute.

When asked if the program led to changes in her approach to teaching, Kelleher says she saw a positive change in her students when she began taking them outdoors. “ I have been a school counselor for many years and have used various approaches in helping children, staff members and parents. When I started taking the students outside to build a nature trail, grow plants in our greenhouse and lead interpretations for other children and visitors, it changed my students in positive ways. We had an increase in attendance, a decrease in office referrals and improved academic performance, motivation and attention.”

For her community partnership project, Kelleher wrote and taught a 16-week environmental education curriculum for students at her school. “Twenty students in grades 3 - 5 participated in my program I called The Great Outdoors. My club was extremely popular and many children wanted to participate. I am currently working on publishing my program for other educators to use in their settings.”

Kelleher was awarded the N.C. Wildlife Federation’s Environmental Educator of the Year and was recognized at the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards Banquet in September 2017. She also recently accepted the award for Environmental Educator of the Year from Environmental Educators of North Carolina.

“I learned a lot from all the classes that I took. I have a better understanding of environmental issues than ever before. I myself did not receive the best science instruction growing up and therefore was never interested in many science fields as a career. I have a much better understanding of environmental issues now and the way science should and should not be taught,” says Kelleher.

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Educator Spotlight: April Byrge

Published:
2018-01-03

Non-formal educator April Byrge recently completed the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification program. April is a seasonal National Park Service ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In this role, she delivers curriculum-based environmental education and citizen science programming for students of all ages – both within the park and in the classroom. She also holds interpretive programs for park visitors.

April’s favorite part of earning her certification was the community partnership project. Through this project, certification candidates get practical experience applying what they have learned. They lead partnerships that have positive and lasting effects on communities and increase environmental awareness and understanding. For her project, April started a birding program with 3rd and 4th graders at New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee language immersion school in Cherokee, NC. 

Working with the student’s science teacher and fellow NC Certified Environmental Educator, Jessica Metz-Bugg, April developed several days’ worth of activities including birding in the field and setting up a feeder station on campus. April even coordinated a live Bird of Prey program performed by Balsam Mountain Trust. April reports that the activities went over well with the students. “The students are very excited to go birding and talk about birds and have even taught me the Cherokee names for several species.” April particularly liked that her community partnership project allowed her to spend extended time with a group of students, rather than just doing one program a year or semester with students. 

Through participating in the EE Certification program, April gained new tools that influenced how she plans for programs: “Learning about the EE curriculum guides that are available has really helped me in planning for certain programs. Now, I can look up the grade's curriculum, then find a guide like Project WILD or Project Learning Tree and find cool activities that will correlate with what they are learning in the classroom. Going through the program has given me the knowledge of many different tools that are out there that can really enrich EE programming.”

While the program reinforced April’s wildlife knowledge, it introduced her to new information about water and water conservation: “Many of the wildlife topics I was already pretty familiar with, but Project Wet was really enlightening for me. I had no idea how much water I used on a weekly basis. Going through that workshop really made me take a look at how and why to conserve water.”

To find out more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, check out their website: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm. To learn more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and our certification program, visit us at www.eenorthcarolina.org.

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Educator Spotlight: Beverly Owens

Published:
2017-12-18

Beverly Owens, a middle school teacher at Kings Mountain Middle School, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Beverly teaches 8th grade science and also works part-time at the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia conducting professional development programs for teachers.


Beverly says that her favorite part of earning her certification was twofold. She was able to learn about new, engaging activities to use in the classroom and also was able to network and learn from others. Looking back on her certification process, Beverly recollects that getting to see different environmental education centers was a certification experience that stood out for her. She especially liked visiting ones she had not been to in years, such as Grandfather Mountain.

For her community partnership project, Beverly created a pollinator garden at her school in Cleveland County. She even reached out to a plant nursery to get the proper plants donated. Beverly was impressed by the enthusiasm the project brought out in her students. “I was really surprised at how much the kids enjoyed getting outsides to do the project! I think many of them felt ownership in the garden because they were involved in getting it established.” Beverly also seeks to continue to grow the pollinator garden beyond her project. “I’m hoping to add to it every year!” 


Beverly feels that the program gave her a unique perspective as a formal educator. The Environmental Education Certification helped to change her approach to teaching. “It has given me new ideas on how to integrate more environmental education activities into the curricular instruction that I currently do. And, I have always seen a benefit in partnerships between formal and informal educational mindsets, and environmental education helped to solidify that.” 


The lessons learned from formal and informal education partnerships continues to affect her. It has influenced how Beverly thinks about environmental issues and their integration in the formal classroom. “Networking with environmental education colleagues through some of the workshops gave me some ideas on how informal educators instill a respect for the environment. I hope I might be able to do that as well, being a formal educator.” 


To learn more about the Schiele museum of Natural History, visit them at www.schielemuseum.org. To find out more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, visit us at www.eenorthcarolina.org.







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Educator Spotlight: Anganette Byrd

Published:
2017-11-28



Anganette Byrd, education coordinator with Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. As an education coordinator, Anganette works with both classroom teachers and nonformal educators throughout the year and is responsible for promoting and coordinating contests and programs such as North Carolina Envirothon and the Resource Conservation Workshops.

Anganette says her favorite part of earning her certification was learning about bears and spiders. “I enjoyed learning in an outdoor setting because it really opens up the mind. When I attended school, it was very structured and we only went outdoors for recess. I also enjoyed learning how to customize presentations to appeal to specific audiences such as students with learning disabilities or autism.”

When asked about the certification experience that stands out for her, Anganette says it was a raptor workshop at Grandfather Mountain during which she had to cross the mile-high swinging bridge. “Sharon Becker (the district interpretation and education specialist for N.C. State Parks) had already warned everyone in advance that if you have a fear of heights it might be best that you not attend. I made up my mind that this was my opportunity to overcome my fear of heights. With the help of my fellow classmates encouraging me I made it safely across the bridge and back! What a great experience and I plan to cross the mile-high swinging bridge again someday.”

For her community partnership project, Anganette completed a storm drain stenciling project and litter pickup in her community. Her focus was to educate community members about the connection between the storm drains and the neighborhood creek and how allowing grass clipping, debris, and other pollution to enter the storm drain affects the health of our local creeks and rivers.

Anganette says learning the instructional vision of environmental education and three important concepts: systems, interdependence and the importance of where one lives, shaped the way she approaches education. “We, as educators must take a balanced approach to instruction.”  

To learn more about the Mecklenberg County Soil and Water Conservation District, visit their website. To find out more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, visit www.eenorthcarolina.org




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Educator Spotlight: Ashley Hamlet

Published:
2017-11-16


Ashley Hamlet, an education coordinator for Sylvan Heights Bird Park, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Ashley teaches programs on birds, ecology and wetland conservation, coordinates the park’s summer camp, leads guided tours, and does outreach in eastern North Carolina.
Ashley says the favorite part of the certification program was learning from other educators from all over the state. “I’ve met some incredible people and everyone brings their unique experience to the table.” Of her experiences in the program, Ashley says that the knowledge of resources component stood out for her. “It required me to get out and visit some of our wonderful Environmental Education Centers I don’t always get a chance to see. I love traveling to EE centers to see the work that others are doing and after I experience these wonderful places, I can recommend them to others!”

For her community partnership project, Ashley partnered with the City of Rocky Mount Parks and Recreation Department to create a pollinator habitat within the Rocky Mount parks system on an area of unused green space near the community gardens to attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects. “The pollinator habitat was designed to not only increase the biodiversity of the park, but to also give park visitors and local organizations access to the habitat for use in educational classes, activities, and citizen science projects. I enjoyed being able to create a project reflecting my interests and also creating a beautiful habitat in a vacant space. Several of Rocky Mount’s parks have designated open space that was acquired through the FEMA buyout program after the severe flooding damage the community received during hurricane Floyd. These areas, including a portion of Sunset Park, must remain as open space as a part of flood hazard mitigation and are routinely mowed to maintain only grass. As I learned this information, creating pollinator habitat seemed to be a beneficial way to utilize some of the park’s green space, provide habitat for pollinators, and beautify a portion of the park.”
Ashley says participating in the certification program helped her expand her “teaching toolbox.” “Through the classes I’ve taken in the certification program, I’ve learned teaching techniques for environmental education that incorporate science – but also reach into other areas like art, math and language arts. The flexibility of environmental education is the fun part! You can employ any number of different active and hands-on teaching strategies to reach your audience.”

Ashley says the program also changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “The certification program has expanded my view on environmental issues, not only in gaining a better grasp on the science behind the topic but also on the interpretive side. As science-minded professionals, I think we can sometimes struggle to explain complex data to the public. The certification program has made me more aware of the need for interpretation and given me the tools to tackle those issues. The training helps you to see both sides of the issue.”

For more information about Sylvan Heights Bird Park visit http://shwpark.com

For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program visit http://www.eenorthcarolina.org



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How I Use Project WET: Whetting Kids’ Appetites for STEAM

Published:
2017-11-07

In North Carolina, Project WET is coordinated by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources. Project WET workshops provide educators with credits towards the department’s EnvironmentalEducation Certification Program, administered by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. Jason Vanzant is currently enrolled in the EE Certification program.

How I Use Project WET: Whetting Kids’ Appetites for STEAM

By Jason Vanzant, STEAM lab educator, Newport, North Carolina

Editor’s Note: In a recent post on his Vantaztic Learning blog, Jason Vanzant (a.k.a. @MrVantaztic on Twitter) called his new job as a science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) instructor a dream come true. It’s a dream he’s worked hard to achieve, applying for and winning a grant for just over $50,000 from Lowe’s Education Toolbox earlier this year. The grant allowed him to turn a classroom in Bogue Sound Elementary School—a K-5 school in Newport, North Carolina, where he had been teaching fourth grade—into a functional STEAM lab. After we contacted him via Twitter, he wrote a guest post telling us how and why he uses Project WET, as well as why water education is important to him. 




Water is and has been important to me since I was a kid. I remember watching Sesame Street's snippet on brushing your teeth and why turning the faucet off was important. When I was in 5th grade, I began to consciously select water instead of soft drinks as my beverage of choice, and that has remained a constant in my life to this day.
As a kid I swam in quarry ponds, and now I live in an area of estuaries and Atlantic waves. Water is part of our life force: Nearly three-quarters of our planet is covered with water, and our bodies are made up of 60 percent water. It's important for our future that young people be aware of how much water we have to share, compared to the increasing population it must provide for, and know what responsible measures we must take to ensure its continuous use.  

I have been fortunate in many aspects of my career. Receiving a grant through Lowe's Toolbox for Education to renovate a classroom into a full functioning lab encompassing areas of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics has been an incredible opportunity. The STEAM lab serves as the hub for all elementary grade levels, offering students an opportunity to create, explore through hands-on experiences and develop critical thinking skills. The lab also provides educators the opportunity to co-teach and gives students alternative methods to learn from one another.
In the lab, all students have access to various forms of technology that allow them to voice their findings and discoveries on social media platforms, learn to code, operate robotics and track and record data. They can apply the data that they track and record to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program, while also being able to explore by means of interactive digital labs and supplement as a resource for research.
Overall, the goal of the STEAM lab renovation project is to have each student increase their appetite for one of the many fields science has to offer, and pique those interests by supplying young minds with an environment that engages and stimulates. 

As a full-time STEAM instructor, my role allows me to co-teach with grade levels K-5, meeting their science content, assisting as a math coach and leading students in engineering, problem-based and project-based learning activities. Project WET, Project WILD and Project WILD Aquatic play large roles in many of the lessons I integrate into our learning. All of these resources are my "playbook". What I love about Project WET's activities is that they cover an array of skills and topics within a lesson. The integration of math skills, tied with environmental science, tied to problem-based learning and critical thinking is incredible. What I love above all else is that the activities are hands-on. They reach those students who are the “do-ers”.

There are so many activities to choose from that picking my favorites is tough, but here are three of my particular favorites:

A Drop in the Bucket: This activity is a great way to make students conscientious about water while also showing metric volume measurement and practicing basic subtraction facts. Students can create graphs to match the visuals from the graduated cylinders and can compare how much water is on our planet versus how much water the human race actually has at our disposal. With an ever-increasing population, this one's a wake-up call to my students.

The Incredible Journey: I love that this gets the kids outdoors and moving. It’s an awesome way for students to move through the water cycle and learn important vocabulary, like evaporation, transpiration and sublimation. I use this activity as a precursor to discussing physical changes for fifth graders. Students roll the dice, keep a record of the stations they travel to (groundwater, glaciers, the ocean, clouds, animals, plants, rivers, soil) and then we gather back to analyze the data and compare results. 

What’s the Solution? This one's a forensic investigation, as students use their knowledge of water's solvent properties and chemical changes. They read a case and explore through three hands-on stations (Dissolving Solids in Water, Dissolving Liquids in Water, Dissolving Gases in Water) to figure out that the butler might actually have done it (or not).  It’s another great critical thinking lesson.

Thank you, Project WET.  Thank you for the cross curricular lessons, the hands-on experiences you provide, the awareness of why water is so vital to our existence and the fun that comes with learning.  You've made my job that much easier and more enjoyable.

Jason was also featured on WNCT 9 video and story Bogue Sound teacher gets grant to turn classroom into STEAM lab:





This post appeared on the national Project WET website and is posted here with permission.  http://www.projectwet.org/media/blog/how-i-use-project-wet-whetting-kids-appetites-steam
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DEQ leader meets with students from Salisbury Academy, a North Carolina Green School of Excellence

Published:
2017-10-27


Secretary Michael Regan recently met with 4th-grade students visiting Raleigh from Salisbury Academy in Salisbury, NC. Students, their teacher, and parent chaperones arrived by train and toured the State Capitol, the Museum of History, the General Assembly, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Executive Mansion. Their final stop was the Department of Environmental Quality’s Green Square building for a visit with Secretary Regan.
Salisbury Academy was named an N.C. Green School of Excellence earlier this year, so the opportunity for the students to visit a LEED Certified “green” building and meet the leader of the state’s top environmental department was a special opportunity.
Salisbury Academy has developed many environmental initiatives. Some include a zero-waste recycling policy and a large-scale LED lighting upgrade where they replaced existing lights with LED lights and equipped restrooms with motion sensors, all which contribute to energy savings.
The students are involved in school energy audits and helped design an outdoor learning space for the school. In addition to the school’s commitment to a sustainable campus, the students perform outdoor science investigations that incorporate the school grounds including an on-site garden. The Green Schools Program is administered by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College.
“It’s inspiring to meet with a group of students who are engaged in using their school and school grounds to study science,” said Secretary Regan. “These students are knowledgeable about how their school is connected to natural resources and they have experienced first-hand how they can make a difference in their school and community.” 

The highlight of the visit was when Secretary Regan asked one student what he did at the Executive Mansion and the student replied, “We visited your boss.” The event culminated in a group photo and Secretary Regan signed a few autographs.
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Educator Spotlight: Jennifer Fenwick

Published:
2017-10-03




Jennifer Fenwick, an interpretation and education specialist with North Carolina State Parks, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification, a program of the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality. Fenwick conducts educational programs for school groups and the public and assists with special projects. Some of her programs include pond dipping, owl prowls, birding, moth nights, canoeing and butterfly and tree identification.

In her position with State Parks, Fenwick serves as the coordinator for Neighborhood Ecology Corps, a partnership between N.C. State Parks, the Center for Human-Earth Restoration, N.C. State University, Raleigh Parks, Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department and the National Park Service. “My role is to take kids to various parks across the state, engaging them in activities that create a better understanding of the natural world and their place in it. We’ve canoed the serene swamps of Merchant’s Millpond State Park, learned about water quality by catching macroinvertebrates at Eno River State Park, fished and viewed eagles at the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, “eaten clouds” off the summit of Mount Mitchell, witnessed the boisterous waters of Linville Gorge and my favorite, camped for the very first time while exploring the multi-state views of Grandfather Mountain State Park.”



Fenwick has been able to take teens from the Neighborhood Ecology Corps to the mountains, swamps, and coasts of North Carolina. The Neighborhood Ecology Corps is an afternoon middle school program focusing on nature and community. The program is designed to develop environmentally literate citizens and help students create a holistic view of their community. Activities include outdoor introductions to state parks, the ecology of the local community, and eco-restoration activities. This program is led by CHER (Center for Human-Earth Restoration) and offered at no cost to students or their families. “These trips increased their knowledge of our state's rich natural history along with equipping them with recreational skills in the outdoors. However, many of the participants stayed in the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program for a second and third year and needed something more advanced. From this group, the Outdoor Leadership Academy was born.” 

Fenwick’s community partnership project involved developing the Outdoor Leadership Academy which provided the Neighborhood Ecology Corps with an enhanced leadership experience through a week-long camp at Haw River and Hanging Rock State Parks. The students participated in interactive leadership discussions, increased their outdoor skills (camping, campfire cooking, canoe basics, orienteering, CPR certification, and learning the fundamentals of leading a hike), and spent ample time preparing and teaching a nature lesson. Through this camp, participants were empowered to become counselors for younger kids within the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program.




In addition, Fenwick has led a week-long overnight Outdoor Leadership Academy for the past two summers for the program participants and also she also serves as the coordinator for Wake Audubon’s Young Naturalist Club. “In North Carolina, there’s a gap in much of environmental education for kids who are ages 12-18 who are interested in the natural sciences. This club presents kids in Wake County opportunities to explore the state through visiting parks and learning from experts in the field." 

Fenwick says her favorite part of earning her certification was the workshops with experts in different fields. “I was impressed with the amount and breadth of workshops available to North Carolina educators. Reading a book is helpful but to learn from an expert in the field is invaluable.” When asked about the experience that stands out for her she says it was the HERP Project (Herpetology Education in Rural Places and Spaces), a project led by Catherine Matthews through UNCG's School of Education in partnership with Elon University and UNC Pembroke and supported by the National Science Foundation. “The HERP Project was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been to.” 

Fenwick says the certification has changed the way she views environmental issues. “Through the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education and other workshops I have attended through the certification program, I learned that environmental issues are best discussed when encountering the issues at hand. For example, water quality is more easily approached when participants are catching and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates in a river. Through this fun activity and handling these small creatures, they learn that some need clean water to survive. As an extension, we begin to discuss water quality for humans. If you go straight into the environmental issues without having a shared experience, then discussion usually falls flat with people stating their ready-made responses. I am now more comfortable introducing environmental issues in my programs. Before it felt as if environmental issues were too polarizing/political. But I found that if you leave space for discussion and not just right and wrong answers, then the program is more enriching for everyone.”

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Educator Spotlight - Chelsea Sloggy

Published:
2017-09-26


Chelsea Sloggy, a conservation education specialist with Union County Soil and Water Conservation District, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

Chelsea provides educational programming and information centered around natural resources conservation topics to the public in Union County. She notes that her job "looks different every day, but includes presentations at schools and libraries, information for landowners, professional development for students and adults alike, and so much more.” She is currently working to grow their N.C. Envirothon program and conservation contests for students as well as the environmental education opportunities they offer educators. 

Chelsea’s favorite part of earning her certification was networking with other educators and the opportunity to visit new places. “My favorite part of earning my certification has been meeting amazing people from across the state and being inspired by the work of people who share my passions. The EE certification program has taken me to places I may have never gotten the chance to see and introduced me to people who I now call good friends. I have met people who I now work closely on exciting projects with and get to share ideas and gain new knowledge alongside. I am extremely grateful for the new people and partnerships it has brought into my life!”

When asked what experience in the program stood out, Chelsea says it was participating in the Children and Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp. “This workshop opened my eyes to the importance of introducing our youth to the outdoors and the value of not only being an educator but a mentor. It was during this workshop that I realized that the knowledge and experiences that I had weren't worth much if I didn't share them with others. This experience opened my eyes to the possibilities that environmental education and nature hold for people from all walks of life, and made me realize that EE wasn't just an interest of mine but a passion.

For her community partnership project, Chelsea created environmental education resource boxes that can be checked out by educators. The boxes are aligned with the N.C. Envirothon curriculum and include a box for each of the Envirothon subjects including wildlife, aquatics, soils and forestry. “These resource boxes have everything an educator needs to help their students study natural resource topics through hands-on activities. I hope that these boxes will allow educators to more easily integrate environmental education into their lesson plans and programs and expose more children to the wonders of the natural world.”


Chelsea says participating in the program helped her become a more understanding, prepared and creative educator. “Throughout the program, I learned that environmental education can impact everyone, regardless of the walk of life they are coming from. But for a presentation or activity to make the greatest impact possible, you need to be the best educator that you possibly can. This means being prepared to give any participant the best program you can, whether they be young or old, from a rural area or an urban area, or they spend every day outside or rarely get to experience nature.”

She also says the way she thinks about environmental issues has been shaped through the certification program. “I now see issues from a much fuller perspective than I did before. When thinking about or discussing environmental issues, I consider more heavily how someone from a different background than my own might feel about or be impacted by those issues. The program has definitely broadened my horizons in this way, reminding me to bring people from all walks of life into the conversation about environmental issues. We all have something to learn from one another, and being mindful of this has helped to shape my programming, as well.”

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Educator Spotlight - Creeden Kowal

Published:
2017-09-20


Creeden Kowal recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program. Creeden is the Education Coordinator for Swain Soil and Water Conservation District and works closely with teachers, other Soil & and Water Conservation Districts and agricultural/environmental agencies in Western North Carolina to deliver environmental education through hands-on activities.

Creeden says her favorite part of earning her certification was all the time she spent outdoors exploring new places and the networking with fellow educators. “The certification experience that stands out for me would be camping overnight at Purchase Knob during the Air Quality workshop. The sunset and sunrise were unforgettable.


For her community partnership project, Creeden converted a trailer to a mobile soil exhibit. The exhibit is a hands-on experience for children to learn about the importance of soil as a natural resource highlighting soil as an ecosystem, causes of soil erosion, best management practices and agricultural commodities in Western North Carolina.

Creeden feels the certification program provided her with valuable skills for teaching. “I had zero experience with teaching or leading groups and had never taken any education classes. The program gave me tons of ideas to incorporate into my programs and helped me feel more comfortable teaching all ages.”

She also describes ways participating in the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “The certification program has a strong emphasis on understanding more so than calling people to action. I have definitely incorporated this into my teaching style allowing students to develop their own unique understanding of the environment and their role.”


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Educator Spotlight - Martha Bizzell

Published:
2017-09-15


Martha Bizzell, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Martha is working on her Master’s in Elementary Education and has taught math and science in elementary and middle school. She also provides science and engineering education programs to schools as a nonformal educator. In her free time, Martha loves to visit state and national parks and enjoys painting.

Martha says her favorite part of earning her certification was "hands-down" meeting amazing instructors and classmates. “The environmental education community is a wonderful group of passionate people concerned for the sustainability of our world and the education of our future leaders and decision-makers.”

Two of the experiences that stand out for Martha was the Project Food, Land and People workshop and the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education at Haw River State Park for the excellent teaching skills of the facilitators. “These were two outstanding classes which covered a wealth of material in a memorable, inquiry-based and reflective manner.”


For her community partnership project, Martha created a tree identification trail at Fox Road Elementary School with an accompanying guide. “On the second day of school, the students noticed the plaques and begged for a tour! It will be used by the afternoon science club and during classes when the teachers need/want to take their students on a nature hike.”

Martha noted that the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop also included new pedagogy in teaching that are skills and techniques also taught in her graduate education classes. “It is nice to see both programs on the same page. A positive trend, I believe, in education. 



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Celebrate Take A Child Outside Week September 24- September 30

Published:
2017-09-11


The N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs invites you to take part in a nationwide effort to connect children to the natural world. “Take a Child Outside” is designed to help children develop an appreciation for the outdoors by giving parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers information on nature activities and places to visit.

Take a Child Outside Week is coordinated by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences with participation by partner organizations throughout the U.S. and around the world. The program encourages all citizens to participate in outdoor activities and occurs annually from September 24 to September 30.

You can find ideas for outdoor activities to do with children of all ages on the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Take a Child Outside website. The program is designed to help break down obstacles that keep children from discovering the natural world, and to provide resources and recreational activities for exploring local habitats.

Organizations and agencies across the state including parks, nature and science centers, museums, aquariums, botanical gardens, and other environmental education centers are hosting events during the week. There are many opportunities to take children, grandchildren or students outdoors. Events include nature hikes, story walks, bird calling, hawk watching, fishing, spider sniffing and pond explorations. You can visit the North Carolina Environmental Education Calendar to search for Take a Child Outside activities being offered across the state.

And don’t worry if you are new to exploring the outdoors with children. The Kids in Parks program has installed a network of hiking trails throughout North Carolina that are designed to get kids and families outdoors for both their health and the health of our parks and public lands. Each of their TRACK Trails has a series of self-guided brochures children kids can use to learn about and connect with the resources that make that place unique, converting an ordinary hike into a fun-filled, discovery-packed adventure. Kids that complete TRACK Trails can register their adventures through the program’s website and earn prizes designed to make their next outdoor adventure more meaningful and keep them engaged in the program. For a complete list of TRACK Trail locations, and for more information about the program, please visit their website kidsinparks.com.


Do you and your kids wish you had more opportunities to play outside when TACO week is over? Then consider signing them up to become a NC State Parks Junior Ranger! (Geared for kids ages 6-12). Earn unique park patches at each of the state parks by completing the self-led activity guide, attending park programs, and helping with a kid-friendly stewardship project. See if you can collect all 41 patches!  Or sign up for the quarterly Junior Ranger e-newsletter for fun activities and articles to stay on top of the latest with NC State Parks. Learn more about NC State Parks Junior Rangers on the website.

North Carolina has many environmental education centers and other public lands that are great places for children to explore September 24-30 (and year-round). So, whether it is at a national, state or local park; your neighborhood or your own backyard--Take a Child Outside!

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Educator Spotlight: Sandy Fowler

Published:
2017-08-31


Sandy Fowler, a former middle school teacher, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Sandy has been teaching science for the last 15 years and last year she started an Envirothon Team 
at High Point Friends School that qualified for the N.C. State Competition. When she is not teaching Sandy loves to hike the Mountains to Sea Trail and she hopes one day to teach at an environmental center or park. 

Sandy says the N.C. Envirothon Leadership training was the certification experience that stands out for her. She says the training helped her understand the expectations and objectives of the competition and curriculum and therefore, helped her students become a successful team. 


For her community partnership project, Sandy worked with Kelsie Burgess, a stormwater specialist with the City of High Point, to create backpacks for the Piedmont Environmental Center in High Point and learning boxes for Salem Lake Park. Kelsie was the lead on the Salem Lake Park project while Sandy spearheaded the Piedmont Environmental Center project. “The Piedmont Environmental Center has already put their backpacks to use during a camp this month. They will loan them out to families and teachers to use while they are at the center. Salem Lake is starting up their educational program and will be using theirs to jump start that program, as well as loan them out to families and teachers. These learning packs make it easier for the public to gain a better understanding of the environment.”

Sandy says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching others. “Environmental education has been a tremendous help in my methods of teaching. I have always been a hands-on teacher. The workshops have provided me with countless activities and resources to incorporate into the classroom and outside. It has also increased my knowledge on many topics. I started the Envirothon Team and the team placed 6th in the region and competed in the state competition. This team will continue to work together to improve their knowledge and scores.” 

Sandy says she is also more mindful of her how her actions affect the environment. She feels the certification program needs to be heavily promoted among teachers. “It would be so beneficial to teachers, students, parents and schools if the majority of the teachers were certified. 



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Fall lunchtime lecture series promises some “spooky” surprises

Published:
2017-08-23


The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is offering several engaging and in some cases “spooky,” topics for their fall lunchtime speaker series.


With a nod to the season, October’s sessions include “Soring Talons of Death,” “Oddities from the Vault,” “Our Mysterious Night Flyers,” “Spooky Spiders” and “Howling Misconceptions.” Today's talk, “Ghosts Forest of the Sounds” with Marcelo Ardon Sayao of N.C. State University, will feature a unique citizen science project to investigate the changing shorelines of North Carolina.

Other presentations in the series include how to safely eat locally-caught fish, how living shorelines are helping control erosion, Raleigh’s efforts to “green” the Capital Boulevard corridor, the role of rivers in art and history and a tour of the Oakwood Cemetery featuring several of the cemetery’s conservation and green initiatives.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Dept. of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds. These folks represent local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

Check out the entire schedule and the incredible lineup of experts the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is excited to welcome this fall. We look forward to seeing you there!
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Educator Spotlight: Mandy Nix

Published:
2017-08-18


Mandy Nix is a nonformal educator who had a very busy year. In addition to working in several seasonal positions, Mandy used her training and experiences to complete her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. She worked as an environmental education instructor at Mountain Trail Outdoor School in Hendersonville where she actively engaged 2nd to 8th-grade school groups in high adventure and discovery-based curricula throughout 1400 acres of southern Appalachian bogs, ponds, streams and forests. She taught a hands-on, “minds-on” natural science curriculum on native flora and fauna for the Nature Explorers Camp at the N.C. Botanical Garden. In September, Mandy will begin a year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Trout Unlimited. She will serve as a West Virginia Volunteer Restoration and Monitoring Organizer engaging volunteers from local communities in the restoration, monitoring and protection of the cold, clean water in our Appalachian waterways.


When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Mandy points to the teaching resources. “I’m laughably greedy about new curricula - books, educational posters and advanced field ID training - and the environmental education certification program left me breathless with such invaluable teaching resources. I’ve never felt more equipped to forge daily connections between communities and backyard flora/fauna.”

For her community partnership project, Mandy developed the Lemur S.C.O.U.T. Patch Program at the Duke Lemur Center to engage local youth, ages 6 to 12, in lemur science and conservation. The program gave the participants a toolkit of skills during the five-step program to “Study, Conserve, Observe, Understand and Teach.” The program also allowed her to create connections between the program and the Piedmont Girl Scouts and Y Guides.

Mandy says the program changed her approach to teaching others. “The program was hugely transformative for both my teaching and my perception of environmental education. It reinforced that we’re not teaching our communities to be scientists; we’re teaching them to be science lovers and science literate, thus empowering them to be intimate participants in conservation.”


She feels that the program further supported her views about the importance of working with communities and engaging youth early-on. “The certification program fortified my belief that conservation is rooted in deep, personal connections in and with nature. My own relationship with the natural world was born from sticky summers in the North Carolina Piedmont, where Kerr Lake was a quick hop-skip through the mixed hardwood and pine forests I called my backyard. But while I was lucky to have a childhood that kept dirt under my fingernails and between my toes, many lack my own experience and exposure. It’s important that I play an active role in growing that accessibility and engaging our communities in wild, green spaces. Moreover, those connections should begin early – with our youngest citizens.”


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Educator Spotlight: Cheryl Michalec

Published:
2017-08-14

Cheryl Michalec, a 2nd grade teacher at Sandy Ridge Elementary School with Durham Public Schools, recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Cheryl teaches reading, math, science, social studies and writing. Her school has a visual and performing arts focus and the students often enjoy the outdoor space on their campus and use art and writing to reflect on their experiences outdoors. 




Cheryl credits the certification program with helping her start an “encore” or post-retirement career. She says that there were two favorite parts of earning her certification. One was going on the educator treks offered by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “My experiences on educator treks taught me so much about the beauty of our state. I could not believe that I grew up in North Carolina and had never seen the snow geese and swans migrating.” Her other favorite part was creating a pollinator garden at her school. “I loved planting the pollinator garden with our second grade students. They demonstrated amazing teamwork and commitment to providing a habitat for bees and butterflies. I cannot wait for them to come back this fall and see how it has grown.”

The trip Cheryl took to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center at Topsail Beach was the experience that stood out for her. “I was inspired by the work of the turtle hospital and by Karen Beasley herself who took the time to speak with us. It is still difficult to believe the amazing experience. We saw a nesting mother, a nest boil and a Kemps Ridley hatchling that was still in a nest. To have seen one of these events would have been wonderful but all three in one trip just beats the odds.”

For her community partnership project Cheryl received a grant from the Keep Durham Beautiful: Healthy Bee, Healthy Me program which provided plants, soil, mulch and expert advice she need to install the pollinator garden on the school’s campus. “It is a beautiful sight, and is already blooming and covered in bees and butterflies. In addition, we have a blue bird living right there in a house that a student painted. The garden has an abundance of life on the ground and in the air. The project made me more aware of the resources available in our community. The people from Master Gardener Program, Soil and Water and Keep Durham Beautiful in addition to our school community all worked together to make this an amazing project. Our students learned from experts and have access to extra resources.”


Cheryl feels that participating in the program changed her approach to teaching. “I feel that I am more relaxed teaching about the natural world. I do not feel as pressed to give the students facts and figures. I want them to become active observers and questioners. My focus is to give them some background on a topic and let them run with their new knowledge. For example, "Create Your Own Butterfly," has become one of my standard lessons.”

Cheryl says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “Making small changes of my own have been difficult, and I feel that I do care about the environment. So, reaching out to help others notice how they can make a positive impact is not going to be instantaneous. Working with children is an opportunity to build that relationship with the environment, and then I hope that when they see opportunities to care for the world around them, they will take them. My students were beginning to look around OUR community and thinking of what they could do.” 

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Educator Spotlight: Teresa Andrews

Published:
2017-08-01


Teresa Andrews, a stormwater specialist in Randolph County, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Andrews is responsible for managing NPDES (
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Phase II Permit Programs for several municipalities in the Piedmont. The Phase II Permit Programs require stormwater education for all ages and Teresa coordinates, plans and implements environmental education programs for the citizens in the communities where she works. In her personal time, she loves to fish, garden and quilt and has been a beekeeper for five years.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Teresa says she enjoyed the community partnership project and the workshops she attended. “The partnership project allowed me to utilize the skills that I gained throughout the certification and to create something that has a positive lasting impact on my community. All of the workshops I was able to attend were so creative and inspiring, whether through the materials and lesson plans I received or new ideas, they helped me become a better educator.”

For her community partnership project, Teresa built a pollinator garden in Fair Grove Park in the City of Thomasville. She partnered with the City of Thomasville Parks and Recreation Department, Watts Lawn and Garden, and Piedmont Environmental Center for the project’s location, materials, and native plants. “The Thomasville Parks and Recreation summer camp kids came out to the garden where we had a lesson on pollinators and why they are important and how creating habitat and food sources for our pollinators is very important, then the kids helped plant all of the native pollinator plants in the garden. This pollinator garden will reach many citizens of Thomasville, whether they are driving by the garden, or stop in the park and read the signage around the garden, I hope it educates people on the importance of pollinators, and encourages them to plant their own pollinator garden.”


Teresa says participating in the program led to changes in her approach to teaching. “I definitely learned different ways to teach different topics. Not being a formally trained teacher I think that the EE Certification program helped me figure out different ways to teach different types of audiences, which is extremely helpful for my position. Whether it's adults or children I feel confident in my ability to adapt a program to suit the needs of my audience.”


Teresa found the Basics of Environmental Education Independent Study helpful when considering environmental issues. “In the Basics of Environmental Education workshop, I found all of the articles to be very inspiring and their messages extremely important to environmental educators everywhere. The way that the articles discussed how to handle teaching about environmental issues and the different ideas of the goals of environmental education inspired me to focus my topics and remember to help maintain the difference between education and advocacy.”


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Educator Spotlight: Suzy Greene

Published:
2017-07-24


Suzy Greene, a teacher at York Elementary School in Wake County, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Greene, who teaches 2nd grade, serves as the head coach for the school’s N.C. Science Olympiad Team and is the lead teacher for York’s after school service club, the CreekKeepers. Greene credits the certification program with increasing her knowledge base and enhancing her teaching.

Suzy says learning to correctly identify macroinvertebrates in creeks and streams was the experience in the certification program that stood out for her. “I knew nothing about these creatures before and never believed that I would gain enough experience or knowledge to be able to correctly identify them. After a few environmental education courses that got me in the creek working with experienced individuals, I can say that while I am no expert, my skills have vastly improved. Possessing this skill is very important as a leader of the CreekKeepers and this is probably the experience I am most grateful for.”

Suzy’s community partnership project was leading the York CreekKeepers as an after school service club. The club prides itself on committing to projects that help to increase the ecological knowledge of the immediate community and to do their part in making sure the little stream behind their school--a tributary of the Neuse River Basin--is in good health. The club's projects so far include monitoring their creek, composting in the school’s cafeteria, speaking to a local gardening club about ways they can help protect the watershed and holding a drug take-back event at the school in partnership with the Raleigh Police Department.

Suzy says she never thought about the distinction between environmentalism and environmental education before the certification program. “It helped me to understand that when addressing an audience, it is best to be prepared and knowledgeable about facts, allow for discussion and remain calm when faced with dissent. Offering avenues where further learning can take place is paramount when educating others about the environment.”

She says the program had an impact on her teaching. “I have become more motivated as an educator to increase the hands-on experiences in nature for those that I instruct. This I know will help them to become better environmental citizens.”


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Educator Spotlight: Erin Staib

Published:
2017-07-17


Erin Staib, a park ranger at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Goldsboro, completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification this summer. In addition to her law enforcement duties, Erin has lots of opportunities to create and teach educational programs and conduct natural resource management at the park. She also enjoys incorporating her hobbies beekeeping and paddle boarding into some of 
her programming.

For her community partnership project, Erin worked with the Arts Council of Wayne County to create a new arts festival with nature focus for Cliffs of the Neuse. “It was a rewarding experience creating a space for local art in the park and it helped connect people to parks who may not otherwise go out into nature often.”

Erin says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching others. “I realized it was more important to create a sense of wonder in my audience. Facts are great but you don’t have to be an expert on a subject to inspire someone.”



Erin says she also thinks differently about environmental issues after completing the program. “If you want people to care about environmental issues you have to encourage them to invest in their community. One of the best ways to do this is to get kids outside early. They’ll notice what spaces are naturally wonderful and which spaces are not. They’ll gain an appreciation for nature and years from now, when they are running things, they’ll make better decisions than we did.”

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Collaboration + Good Coffee = Connected Science Learning Success - State Agencies Partner to Unite Formal and Informal Educators in North Carolina

Published:
2017-07-12



The Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and the N.C. Public Schools Science Section have coauthored an article that touts the unique collaboration between the two agencies to unite formal and informal educators in the state. The article, Collaboration + Good Coffee = Connected Science Learning Success was published in the spring edition of the Connected Science Learning journal, a publication of the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The journal highlights Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education experiences that bridge the gap between in-school and out-of-school settings. 



Beginning in 2011, the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (N.C. DPI) began hosting a meeting that allows educators from environmental education centers and science museums, as well as other informal science education providers, to meet directly with N.C. DPI science curriculum specialists and a panel of classroom teachers. The collaboration has encouraged in-school and out-of-school educators to share knowledge, engage students in learning opportunities and develop learning communities to advance science education in the state. The impacts of the collaboration are highlighted in the article about success stories from partnerships between classroom teachers, schools, school districts and informal science providers across the state.


The article also highlights the office’s efforts to provide teachers with access to professional development opportunities offered by informal educators and facilities throughout North Carolina. As one science teacher from Northwood High School in Chatham County put it, “All the coastal ecology that I know, I learned by going out into the coastal environment with informal educators and getting dirty. This allows me to bring a rich experience into the classroom when I can’t take the students to the coast.”


The agencies plan to continue their collaboration to support the outstanding formal and informal educators in the state and their efforts to improve science education for K–12 students.

Read the article


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