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Educator Spotlight: April Boggs


April Boggs, a graduate research assistant at North Carolina State University, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. She is currently working on her master’s degree in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology. Her hobbies include reading, hunting, kayaking, fishing and hiking. Participating in this program has helped her as a research assistant and in her everyday life.

 “Through the environmental education certification program, I learned that I need to be more conscious of how I teach others,” said Boggs. The program opened her eyes to see that there was more to learn about environmental education.

Boggs mentioned that as a biology research assistant, she tended to only focus on the facts. Being in the Environmental Education Certificate program made her realize that you shouldn’t solely focus on facts that are already known, but you should also have an open mind by promoting ideas and exploring.

“The certification experience that stood out for me was the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop, as it brought up points about environmental education that I hadn't really considered.” The program is full of workshops and projects designed to increase environmental literacy as well as provide practice in environmental education teaching methods to all educators. Boggs also noted that receiving her certificate helped her to change her perspective on environmental education and showed we need to promote more critical thinking to solve issues.

“My community partnership project was to set up bird houses at the elementary school I attended as a child. As part of the project I also taught a lesson about birds, helped the students build pine cone bird feeders and provided bird watching and lesson supplies to third grade teachers for their classroom,” said Boggs. “My hope is that it helped instill curiosity about the birds and environment in the third graders I worked with and provided a resource for future classes.”

Bogg's experience shows that the program encourages a fun learning environment for both the educators receiving the certificate and the students who participate. “My favorite part of earning my certification was working with the students during my community project. It was great building the pine cone bird feeders with them and seeing how interested they were in birds.”

The environmental education certification program enhances the ability of all educators and organizations to provide beneficial programs and resources, helping local communities while educating students about their environment. Educating North Carolinians on how to preserve our resources is an important step to investing in the future of North Carolina’s environment.

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Educator Spotlight: Renee Pagoota-Wight


Renee Pagoota-Wight, a kindergarten teacher at Sherrills Ford Elementary in Catawba County recently completed the Department of Environmental Quality’s N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Renee has worked in education for 23 years and has a passion for marine life, specifically coral reefs.

Renee holds a Master’s degree in Classroom and Clinical Reading for K-12 and her teaching style focuses on education through experience. “My favorite part of teaching is instilling a love of learning to read and learning through play.” When she is not teaching, Renee enjoys photography and traveling.

Renee says her most memorable experience of the program was visiting Yellowstone National Park as part of a N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences Educators of Excellence Institute. She also says that attending a workshop in Wilmington was a notable part of the certification process.  “I thoroughly enjoyed the Methods of Environmental Education which I participated in at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington. It was a real eye opener as to the number of non-formal educators that seek Environmental education certification alongside formal educators. It was a fun class!”

In addition to gaining hands-on experience in nature and making new connections with formal and non-formal environmental educators, Renee utilized the certification program to construct an outdoor classroom at Sherrills Ford Elementary. As her community partnership project she led a community group to design and build a short trail and an outdoor classroom called the “Nature Nook.” The outdoor classroom was recently featured in a story by the Hickory Record. 

 Renee also credits the program with enhancing her ability to teach students about natural science and helping her narrow down her post-retirement career. “I feel confident in taking groups outside and starting with a simple concept like using our senses to discover. We Skyped a scientist this year and he explained that observation is one of the most basic, yet important skills in scientific discovery. I feel that in the future when I retire as a formal North Carolina educator I will seek opportunities to teach outdoors or in natural spaces.”

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Educator Spotlight: John Caveny


John Caveny recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. John works as the Natural Resource Management Specialist for Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation in Linville, NC.

His major job duties as the Natural Resource Management Specialist consist of managing and overseeing the natural resources through the park, patrolling and maintaining the trail system and providing environmental education and interpretive programs to guests of the park. When John is not working the park, he enjoys fly fishing, hiking, and experiencing nature with his two small children.
John says his favorite part of receiving his certification was “traveling all across the State of NC [to] explore different parks and connect with environmental educators from all backgrounds.”

An experience that stands out to John was attending Project Aquatic WILD at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. There he went electroshocking in the Davidson River and pulled out a lamprey.

John’s community partnership project was developing a new interpretive sign display along the Woods Walk Trail on Grandfather Mountain. He partnered with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and Appalachian State University Trail Crew. The project “will provide the visitors to the park a chance to explore nature in the park that was previously unavailable to them,” says John.

Due to the certification, John has gained a large range of knowledge and materials to help visitors connect to nature in a deeper way. He has also been able to meet an extensive community of partners to provide him assistance. Before the program, John was a little hesitant with how people would receive information about environmental issues. He says, “Many people have vastly different views on the issues at hand. I learned that you just need to provide them with the facts and scientific data to back up the facts, while presenting it in a way that can be applied to their daily lives.”

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Educator Spotlight: Amy Long


Amy Long, an instructor at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, recently received her certificate for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Program. Because of this program, Amy says she was able to attend many workshops, environmental education centers, and learn more about North Carolina. Her teaching style has also expanded, allowing her to create new lesson plans.

“I have taken so many of the environmental education curriculum lessons into my own college teaching! And many of my colleagues have now as well. The certification process and curricula have reinforced that science is fun because it is hands-on,” said Long.

Long is a full-time lecturer and teaches environmental education and interpretation in UNCW’s Master of Science program. She also teaches undergrad courses ranging from introductory non-major courses to senior capstone research courses, specializing in restoration ecology as well as science communication and education.

“Even though my title is lecturer, I do anything but lecture! I have learned that you can take lessons like ‘Just Passing Through,’ ‘A Drop in the Bucket,’ ‘The Incredible Journey’ and ‘Pass the Jug and connect to young adults in a formal classroom. What is designed for younger learners is still fun and engaging to older learners,” Long says.

Long also coordinates the environmental workshop series and introductory lab courses at UNCW. Outside of the classroom, she is involved in public outreach. She is the coordinator for TreeFest, an annual Christmas tree event held in Bloomsburg, P.A., and is on the Wilmington Earth Day committee.  

The Leopold Education Program workshop and facilitator workshop within the program both stood out to her. She also recalls a nighttime hike she used for outdoor instructional credit. During this activity, the participants were blindfolded and linked closely together while walking the trail. The purpose was to observe nature around you by silently listening to the nighttime creatures. 

“I am afraid of the dark! So this left a huge impression on me. I was terrified, but simultaneously loved the experience. I will never forget how intensely I could smell the trees around me and hear the wind rustle the leaves.” According to Long, this made a huge impression and is one that she continues to do this type of activity with campers at Blowing Rock Conference Center.

Completing the program has improved her thought process as an instructor and outreach participant by making her more aware of how she presents information. The EE certification also gave her the courage to use a different approach in her university setting.

“I am more keenly aware of presenting fact without advocacy. I am very aware of how I present information and allow the learner to do with it what they wish. Participating in the program didn’t change how I feel about any particular issue, but it impacted my teaching and I learned/honed more from the certification process.”

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DEQ Secretary Regan Recognizes Park Ranger Jacob Fields


DEQ Secretary Michael Regan was in Cumberland County last week and visited Carvers Creek State Park to recognize Jacob Fields for completing the department’s Environmental Education Certification Program. Fields took Regan on a tour of the park’s longleaf pine habitat and the historic Rockefeller house. Like most park rangers, Fields wears many hats. In addition to leading educational programs for school groups and the public, he is also responsible for trail maintenance, law enforcement, prescribed burns, search and rescue and other duties.  

When asked about the program experiences that stood out for him, Fields cites the Basic Interpretive Training provided by N.C. State Parks at Singletary Lake and a herpetology training offered through the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Fields says the certification exposed him to a lot of different programs offered by a variety of instructors. “The diversity helped strengthen my knowledge about conservation and why programs such as these are vital to our future,” said Fields.

In addition to recreation and conservation, Carvers Creek State Park has a mission to educate the community and visitors about the importance of the longleaf pine ecosystem that once was prevalent in the sandhills region. Fields incorporated this educational focus into his community partnership project that is required for the certification program.

For his project, Fields led a wiregrass conservation effort which involved transplanting native wiregrass on a park road that was scheduled to be widened. He worked with Boy Scouts, volunteers and staff to restore the wiregrass in an area visible to the public near the park office. 

“Educators like Jacob are essential for preserving our rich ecological heritage and for educating the public about the significance of our state’s unique ecology such as our longleaf pine ecosystem,” said Secretary Regan. “Our state park rangers manage these important lands while providing important educational opportunities for students and the public.”

By providing a readily accessible area that contains wiregrass and other native plants, it provided Fields the opportunity to teach and lead programs for the public and school groups on the longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystem. This area is burned on a one to two-year rotation providing a unique opportunity for park staff to educate the public about the importance of prescribed fire and how restoration through fire is possible. 

“Many visitors were unaware of this unique habitat that is slowly diminishing in size due to human development and fire suppression,” said Fields “Featuring this restored plot of land allows visitors to better understand the importance of wiregrass and prescribed fire to the longleaf pine ecosystem.”  

Fields says the program changed his approach to teaching. “My approach to teaching others has incorporated more of an outline and list of objectives, which is much more organized than the programs that I taught before. At the end of my programs I have begun tying everything to the bigger picture of why we teach. If Mr. Rockefeller had let his land become developed instead of the state park that it is today, then we could not have been able to have this unique experience.”

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Educator Spotlight: Janet Harrison


Janet with Sam Trogdon, Director of Bond Park, Andrew Marsden, Boat House Manager at Bond Park and John Donachie who works at Boat House with a Dogwood Tree and sign in front
Janet Harrison recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Janet works part time at Walnut Creek Wetland Park developing and leading nature programs for all ages. Janet credits the certification program with allowing her to change careers.

When Janet isn’t teaching or preparing lessons, she interacts with park visitors, helps maintain the park's nature center, its trails and bird feeders. She also cares for the wide array of animals at the center including a corn snake, king snake, box turtle, blind frog and Madagascar roaches.

Janet’s favorite part of earning her certification was going to the classes, networking with other educators and experiencing different teaching methods. Janet said everyone worked together to enhance the experience of each participant. 

Working on a tree identification project at Bond Park in Cary for her community partnership project was the experience in the program that stood out for Janet. “Each person I talked with asked different questions and expressed both interest and excitement for the project. As I took pictures and analyzed them, I loved the challenge of playing with sunlight at different times of day to gain the best effect.” 

For her tree trail project, Janet used a section of trail at Bond Park that has a good sampling of the native trees in the area. She identified the trees and developed a brochure that provides key facts about the trees, their roles and benefits. Each tree was identified with a sign giving the common name of that tree. The Tree ID Trail will be centrally located along an existing trail that is close to parking, the boathouse, a picnic area and one of the existing shelters making it convenient for both organized programs and self-guided observation.  

“Many visitors come to Bond Park to enjoy walking, running and biking the trails through the trees.  With a Tree ID Trail at the center of their paths we can open a door to enhance visitors’ awareness, knowledge and understanding of trees, the role they play and where and how they are best planted to thrive.”

Janet says participating in the certification program changed her approach to teaching others. “Experiential education has always been one of my favorite ways to teach and the process of participating in the environmental education classes taught me a multitude of new techniques to add to my portfolio.  I am relishing the opportunity to apply these techniques as I develop new classes in my new role.”
Find out more about Fred G. Bond Metro Park in Cary. 

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Educator Spotlight: Corinne Rizzo


Corinne Rizzo recently completed the Department of Environmental Quality’s N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Corinne is a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association of Interpreters and works as an environmental educator with a focus on homeschool audiences.

Corinne says the favorite part of earning her certification was getting to see all the different host sites for our classes and meeting people from all over the state who are working toward the same goal. She does note an experience in the program that really stood out. “The experience that stands out for me is the opportunity to work closely with Tanya Poole, Emily Walker and Michelle Pearce at the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education in Chimney Rock. Being able to learn from them and then immediately turn around and receive feedback on facilitating the MOTEE workshop was very fulfilling. We are even working together again in May to co-facilitate the MOTEE program for the Central Carolina Master Naturalist Program.”

For her community partnership project, Corrinne created NatureCache, a geocaching program that focuses on nature at a local nature preserve. “The preserve was lacking a program where technology is incorporated into an experiential learning environment. The center now has a geocache rich trail, under one mile, where participants can use earth science related clues in conjunction with GPS devices to find caches and cache cards.” In addition to activities for the public, the program has modifications for school groups which includes connections to North Carolina’s curriculum standards and activities for field trips,” says Corinne.

Corrinne says the certification changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I think the thing that resonates with me more than anything about the program is the idea of not taking the role of advocate, but instead as the informer. Taking this role encourages conversation. Understanding that by presenting information and facilitating an outdoor experience goes beyond advocacy and is more impactful than any other approach to understanding/resolving environmental issues.”

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Mapping Tech Tools: NC River Basins


What comes to mind when you hear the word “map”? 

You might picture a globe or a paper road map. Maybe you think of GPS on your phone. But, do you ever hear "map" and think GIS?

GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, let us see, ask about, examine, and understand data - especially relationships and patterns in the data. (Learn more about GIS here). GIS can be utilized by educators to teach and learn. They are interactive, informational, and can be accessed virtually anywhere.

The North Carolina Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is putting GIS to good use. In this GIS blog series, we are going to teach you to use our GIS features, to discover benefits for GIS both in the formal classroom and informal settings, and to explore the topics that our GIS maps and apps cover: river basins, environmental education resources, and your ecological address.
In the first part of our GIS series, we will focus on river basins.

So, what is a river basin?

A river basin is the land that water flows across or under on its way to a river. Just as a bathtub catches all the water that falls within its sides, a river basin sends all the water falling on the surrounding land into a central river. From there, it goes out to the sea.


Everyone lives in a river basin, even if you don't live near the water. The land that we live on eventually drains to a river or estuary or lake, and our actions on that land affect water quality and quantity far downstream. The topography of each basin determines where it drains to. For North Carolina, the water flows into either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. 

To help you explore your river basin and all the river basins in N.C., we created nineteen (!) GIS features:

1. One App (aka – an interactive map)
2. Eighteen Story Maps (aka – an interactive text)

Let’s start with the app: North Carolina River Basins. I recommend clicking the link or photo below to follow along in our GIS app. You can also access this on our website by going to Resources > River Basin Program > River Basin App.

When you open the app, you are greeted by a welcome screen with some background info, a disclaimer, and information about how to use the app.

Zooming in, we see there are three icons in the upper left blue bar: About, Legend, and Layers.

About is pretty self-explanatory: learn more here. 

You probably remember that a legend on a map is where all the information about represented features are compiled (rivers are blue lines, etc). So, for our river basin app, we see all of the river basins are color-coded to match with their location on the map. 

Layers might be new to you. Layers allow you to choose what you see on the map (and what shows up in the legend). In our layers, some are unchecked – so these are not currently in the map view or on our legend. But, if you check the box for public schools…

…then that layer appears on the map. Easy enough.

But - what do these icons on the map mean?

It’s well and good you can see these things on the map, but part of what makes an app great is that it is interactive. The legend tells us that the black and white icons are public schools – but what else can we learn? There are a couple ways to find out more:

1.) Click on the map feature you want to know more about

This pops up a box that gives you tons of info as well as links to other material. For our public schools, we learn its name, address, total number of students and teachers, type of school, and highest grade level.

But, what if you meant to select the river basin layer– not the public school? 

Just hit the arrow on the right of the top bar (outlined in red) to view the other features you selected. The numbers in parentheses in the upper-left of the box will let you know how many pages you selected (ex., 1 of 3). 

2.) Search in the search bar

This one is easier. Type in what you want to find in the search bar in the upper right of the screen and a box pops up for that feature. 

You may be thinking: But… this is a river basin app. Where is the river basin-specific information?

Use the skills we just went over - select what you wish to know more about! Want to learn about the river basin for Raleigh? Just click it. 

Within the box, you can select the photo to access our river basin brochures that have a ton of info about each basin’s history, ecology, recreation activities, and more!

What about those Story Maps?

Still want to learn more about river basins? Check out our Discover North Carolina's River Basins story map. This interactive-text will give you a good overview of basin basics. All you need to do is click through!

We also have seventeen other Story Maps that talk about each N.C. river basin in-depth. Find them all - from Broad to Yadkin-PeeDee - here!

Remember, when it doubt - click it out. The best way to get familiar with a GIS feature is to use it! So, make some time to learn about the GIS app and discover how you can utilize it to learn and teach about N.C. river basins.
To learn more about our GIS resources, contact the Office or visit our GIS page. To find out about other things the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs does, check out our website, Facebook, or Twitter.

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NAAEE Launches New Environmental Education Research Library


The environmental education field does amazing work: connecting people to nature, supporting community development, increasing student outcomes, and much more. But, most of us know an initiative or program that needs funding, support, or new tactics.

Research can help you access that.

Research gives you examples of best practices, inspires new curriculum and initiatives, and helps you get funding. Best of all, it can give you the proof you need so that you can do what you are passionate about: whether that be launching a new program for seniors or getting your students outside during the school day.

Unfortunately, finding, accessing, and understanding research can be hard. It takes time, expertise, and - many times - money to get at the research articles.

We are happy to say - there is a new way to get environmental education research!

The North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) has created a research library to help you get access the abundance of environmental education research. In collaboration with the Children & Nature Network and with support from the Pisces Foundation and Duke University, NAAEE has gathered over 1,200 research articles and crafted research summaries and syntheses on almost all of these. The summaries break down the technical articles and highlight key findings and results.

NAAEE has created a tutorial video to help you best utilize the tool.

The tutorial video walks you through how to use the research library. It shows the unique tools to search for and find data that you need – whether that’s by the age of learner it pertains to (from infancy to senior) or the year it was published.

The research tool is set up to align with the key words funders look for. Each article is assigned to one of five broad categories: education, conservation, health, social justice, human development.

The NAAEE research tool can also highlight some of the environmental education research being done in North Carolina! Our search of "North Carolina” gave us 11 results, covering topics like outdoor preschools and environmental literacy.

Have an idea on how to make this library better? Click here to share with NAAEE.

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Women’s History Month: Perspectives of Women in STEM


In recognition of Women’s History Month, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will host a panel discussion with four inspiring North Carolina women working in STEM.

Although women make up half the U.S. college-educated workforce, they only comprise 29% of the science and engineering fields. This Monday, Mary Schweitzer, Gwen Belk, Caitlin Burke and Elizabeth Snider will discuss their diverse careers in STEM and share their perspectives and experiences. 

Our Panelists: 

Dr. Mary Schweitzer is a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University with a joint appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences as a research curator in paleontology. Dr. Schweitzer is well known for her groundbreaking work in paleontology. Bio

Gwen Belk, a chemist, worked at Research Triangle Park for 10 years, and then continued her career at the Department of Environmental Quality (formerly the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) until retiring after 21 years of service. Bio

Caitlin Burke is the associate director for Conservation Trust for North Carolina. Caitlin has a BS in Wildlife Science from Virginia Tech, and a Ph.D. in Forestry and Environmental Resources from North Carolina State University Bio

Elizabeth Snider, forest manager for the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University has a Masters in Forestry. Bio

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Educator Spotlight: Alayna Schmidt


Alayna Schmidt, a non-formal educator at Mountain Trail Outdoor School, just completed the North Carolina Environmental Education program. Alayna credits the program with helping her get a job where she not only teaches programs to students visiting the Mountain Trail Outdoor School but also cares for animals in the nature center, improves lessons, and maintain grounds and facilities. When she is not being a jack-of-all trades at work, Alayna enjoys nature photography, hiking, and knitting in her spare time.

Alayna’s favorite part of earning her certification was going to the various workshops. She not only learned a lot but also actively engaged with the environmental education network at these workshops. “I met some inspiring individuals in our community of educators,” Alayna notes. In particular, Alayna says that one workshop stood out to her as an important part of her certification experience, “The experience that stands out most to me was when I went to the Methods of Environmental Education workshop and had the opportunity to network with someone who would later offer me a work-study position.

In addition to using the program to make new connections and locate job opportunities, Alayna also designed and constructed an exhibit at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education for her community partnership project. Alayna made an animal track display in their exhibit hall. “Visitors from all over come to the center to find out more about the local wildlife, and my exhibit allows visitors to interact with what animal tracks in a local stream bank might look like.

Participating in the certification program strengthened Alayna’s self-confidence and changed her approach to teaching others: “Through this program, I have gained confidence in my ability to teach EE effectively. I am now aware of the incredible resources available to me, not just information and curricula, but also the community of passionate environmental educators I can reach out to in our state.” This community of educators was a key part of this program for Alayna. She recommended growing this support for future educators. “By having certified environmental educators in leadership or supervising roles volunteer to be mentors for people pursuing the certification, it could help individuals who are not currently working as an educator achieve their teaching hours, present an opportunity to gain valuable experience and networking, and strengthen our community of educators.

The program also altered the way Alayna thinks about environmental issues. She gained awareness of the complexities involved in solving environmental problems. However, Alayna also realized the important role environmental literacy plays in handling these complex problems. “I work to increase environmental literacy in our current and future decision-makers so that there will be an ever-increasing number of people with the knowledge and resources to make well-informed decisions regarding the environment.

To find out more about Mountain Trail Outdoor School, head to their website: To find out more about Pisgah Center for Wildlife, check out their website at To learn more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and our certification program, visit us at
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Can Time in Nature Inspire Young Innovators?


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


Fifty children who were recognized inventors were interviewed for The Young Innovators Project ( 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.


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.


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


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


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
EENC Board of Directors
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Educator Spotlight: Cathleen Reas


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


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

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Educator Spotlight: Kim Kelleher


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


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: To learn more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and our certification program, visit us at

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Educator Spotlight: Beverly Owens


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 To find out more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, visit us at

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Educator Spotlight: Anganette Byrd


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

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Educator Spotlight: Ashley Hamlet


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

For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program visit

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


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.
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DEQ leader meets with students from Salisbury Academy, a North Carolina Green School of Excellence


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


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


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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