Monday, December 14, 2015

NC Department of Public Instruction Hosts 5th Annual Meeting for Nonformal Educators

A group of 75 nonformal educators from all regions of North Carolina met last week in the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Research Center in what has become an annual event. Hosted by the Science Section of the Department of Public Instruction, the meeting is part of a broader partnership between the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI) to support nonformal educators who provide environmental science to school-age children and families across the state. 

This marks the fifth year for the meeting. Educators representing a wide variety of nonprofit and city, county, state and federal agencies and facilities, including, nature centers, science museums, gardens, arboretums, aquariums, state parks, the N.C. Forest Service, the Wildlife Resources Commission and Soil and Water Conservation Districts attended. The participants shared ways they can improve standards-based program offerings for schools and partner more effectively with teachers, school administrators and the Department of Public Instruction. “North Carolina has a unique partnership that encourages collaboration between schools, school districts, NC DPI and the nonformal education community to support science learning and environmental literacy,” said Debra Hall, elementary science consultant for the Department of Public Instruction. 

 The meeting provides an opportunity for educators to get updates on curriculum standards for NC DPI and instructs them on how to access support documents and resources to help them align their educational programs and field trips with the state’s essential standards for science. Participants heard from several guests speakers, including Renee Strnad with Extension Forestry at North Carolina State University who gave an overview of the North American Association’s Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education. These guidelines set professional standards for environmental literacy and work in concert with both national and state level educational standards. 

 Chris Goforth, the head of citizen science with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, spoke to the group on how citizen science can be used to engage classroom teachers and students in authentic science experiences. Tom Randolph, lead interpretation and education ranger with Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, discussed best practices for curriculum-based programs and field trips emphasizing hands-on, outdoor experiences for students and their connection to better classroom performance. 

 The meeting was held on the same day that the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act was signed into law. The Every Student Succeeds Act includes language that supports environmental education and environmental literacy programs. The act also supports hands-on learning” and “field-based or service learning” to enhance understanding of STEM subjects which will provide additional opportunities for environmental science education programs. “North Carolina has one of the strongest nonformal environmental education communities in country and the inclusion of field-based environmental science support in the Every Student Succeeds Act will further enhance the already diverse and effective environmental science programming in our state,” said Lisa Tolley, program manager with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

NAAEE Hails History-Making Opportunities for Environmental Learning in Congressional Education Bill

North American Association for Environmental Education sees passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA) as big win, opening avenues for students and teachers in environmental and nature literacy.

(FROM nAAEE Press Release) 
The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) applauds the Senate passage of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind. The much-anticipated bill includes language that, for the first time, supports opportunities to provide students with environmental education and hands-on, field-based learning experiences. A companion bill overwhelmingly passed the House last week.
“The inclusion of environmental education language in the Every Student Succeeds Act signifies an important step forward for teachers and school systems who know what a rich and engaging context the local environment is for learning,” said Judy Braus, Executive Director of NAAEE. “We congratulate Congressional leaders for recognizing the role that environmental education can play in providing students with a well-rounded, 21st century education and preparing them for a lifetime of success.”
Under Title IV of the new bill, environmental education would be eligible for funding through grants to states for “programs and activities that support access to a well-rounded education.” Environmental literacy programs are now also included among eligible programs for funding through 21st Century Community Learning Center grants. Additionally, the inclusion of Title IV funds for hands-on, field-based, or service learning to enhance understanding of science, technology, engineering and math subjects provides a potential boost for environmental science education programs.
The gains for environmental education come as a result of years-long work by champions of the bipartisan No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act, which sought to secure federal dollars to support states’ efforts to implement environmental literacy plans in K-12 public schools.
“Environmental education can have a positive impact on kids’ health, academic achievement, and understanding of the natural world. This bill represents a major step forward, giving schools new opportunities to engage students through environmental education. I first introduced NCLI back in 2007, and since that time, thanks to the advocacy of coalitions and organizations like NAAEE, we’ve made real progress in elevating the importance of environmental education and getting more schools to develop outdoor, hands on learning as part of their curriculum. And that has a tremendous benefit for students and our communities,” stated U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the chief Senate sponsor of the NCLI Act.
Congressman John Sarbanes (MD-3) has sponsored NCLI in the House. “ESSA is a tremendous victory for advocates of environmental education who’ve fought long and hard to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards with outdoor, hands-on learning programs,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passing a comprehensive education reform package that has immense benefits for students, teachers and schools across the country.”
NAAEE serves as the backbone organization for the field of environmental education and is dedicated to advancing environmental literacy and civic engagement through the power of education. NAAEE supports a network of more than 20,000 educators, researchers, and organizational members in more than 30 countries through direct membership and 50 state, provincial, and regional affiliate organizations. Through community networks, publications, signature programs, NAAEE provides leadership, professional development, and resources for professionals working in all areas of the field. For more information, visit

Friday, December 4, 2015

New K-12 Education Bill Passes House, Will Strengthen Environmental Education

Bipartisan Legislation Includes Key Provision from Rep. Sarbanes’ No Child Left Inside Act, Which Would Allow Schools and Teachers to Expand Environmental Learning Programs for Students Across America

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 8, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan bill that replaces the widely-criticized No Child Left Behind Act and includes numerous policies to improve K-12 education across the country – including one provision introduced by Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) that would bolster environmental education programs for young students.

“ESSA is a tremendous victory for advocates of environmental education who’ve fought long and hard to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards with outdoor, hands-on learning programs,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passing a comprehensive education reform package that has immense benefits for students, teachers and schools across the country.”

The environmental education provision contained in ESSA comes from the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI), a bipartisan bill authored by Congressman Sarbanes that is designed to enhance American students’ environmental literacy. First introduced in 2007, NCLI was reintroduced this year in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Sarbanes and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) with the support of 41 original co-sponsors. It was also reintroduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

NCLI would provide federal grant funding for teachers who design and implement environmental education programs in, and importantly, outside of the classroom. By encouraging new environmental curricula, the bill would also cultivate partnerships and strengthen relationships between school districts, colleges, environmental nonprofits, parks and other community-based organizations.

ESSA is expected to pass the Senate next week and advance to the President’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law. In addition to improving environmental education, the bill contains a number of reforms that will help provide American students with a high-quality, twenty-first century education, including:
  • Helping states improve low-performing schools and enhance teacher quality;
  • Setting higher standards and improving learning outcomes for all students;
  • Dedicating more funding to bolster STEM education, student health and literacy initiatives and afterschool programs;
  • Identifying and acting on ways to close the achievement gap;
  • Strengthening access to, and the quality of, early childhood education programs;
  • Maintaining important information about student performance; and
  • Providing greater funding flexibility to better support students and school.
For more information about the bill, visit:  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Partnership Assists Migrating Monarch Butterflies in Western North Carolina While Educating the Public

Chelsea Rath, an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, is already making a difference in the community she serves. Chelsea worked with a local landowner to plant a 382 plants, such as milkweed and Joe-Pye weed, on his property creating a way station for Monarch butterflies passing through Horse Shoe in Henderson County. 

Chelsea worked with Nina Veteto, the founder of Monarch Rescue, Tom Fanslow with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and other AmeriCorps Project Conserve members to establish the patch of milkweed that will aid the monarchs during fall migration.

The habitat is located on property managed by Super-Sod, a sod farm in Horse Shoe, North Carolina. It is protected by a conservation easement on about 340 acres, and a buffer easement on about three miles of the French Broad River. The property includes a common area that is not currently being utilized and is mowed regularly into a lawn. “This area provided the perfect location to plant a pollinator habitat. As monarchs lose habitat around the country, it is important to create new areas for them to feed, mate, and grow,” said Ms. Rath.

Dave Shaffer, the property manager at Super-Sod, readily stepped forward to volunteer his assistance after hearing Ms. Veteto speak about the risks to monarchs and their need for habitat at the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy Landowner Appreciation Picnic.

The project will become certified as a Monarch Way Station and will have educational signage on site in the future. This signage will educate on the life cycle of monarchs, their habitat needs, and their migration habits and will highlight the unique partnership created between Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Super-Sod through this project. This site will also serve as a milkweed repository to provide seeds to many different groups in the community as more pollinator patches are planted.

“In addition to providing an important habitat for Monarchs and other butterflies and fall nectar sources for migrating Monarchs, the project has become an incredible opportunity to involve the community and educate visitors about the need for these pollinator habitats and why they are so important,” said Ms. Rath.

Chelsea is among several AmeriCorps members with Project Conserve enrolled in the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Two AmeriCorps programs in North Carolina, Project Conserve and Project GEOS (Growing Environmental Opportunities through Service), a program of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, have members enrolled in the certification program.

For more information about AmeriCorps Project Conserve, visit or AmeriCorps Project GEOS, visit

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Make That Viral Animal Video a Teachable Moment

Recently a visitor to Falls Lake State Recreation Area made this amazing video of Northern Water Snake taking a catfish. Jason Dickerson of Rolesville sent the video to Raleigh CBS affiliate WRAL TV, who posted the story on their website, social media and on their local broadcasts.

Not surprisingly, the video went viral on social media and has been featured on several news outlets, even as far as Australia.  However, no stories identify the snake or give any information about its behavior or habitat.

We consulted with herpetologist Jeff Beane to confirm that it is a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon). Northern water snakes are found in all parts of the state except for the southeastern coastal counties. It is amazing to watch it catch the catfish in this video. This is normal behavior and they do often eat catfish, though Jeff notes that this catfish “is a little larger than usual for a snake this size to handle.” Northern water snakes' main diet consists of fish and amphibians, and Jeff tells us they can hunt in fairly deep water and also hunt and scavenge in shallows as well. The Davidson College Herps of North Carolina website explains that their coloration can vary widely. As a result of this, these non-venomous snakes are sometimes mistaken for cottonmouths or copperheads. 

It’s easy for environmental educators to get frustrated when these videos go viral, as they can result in a lot of “NOPES!*" as well as incorrect information about the animal.
 (*Remember the infamous Jennette's Pier lancetfish?)

However, these can be good opportunities for environmental educators to provide the public with good information and outreach about nature, as well as dispel misunderstandings about our state’s amazing wildlife. 

So when one of these viral videos arises, consider doing a little homework, consulting an expert, and then Tweet away...or Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram or Blog or Email... 

Monday, September 21, 2015

A New GIS River Basin Map Available to Educators

The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs now provides an online GIS River Basin map for educators. The new interactive map allows you to explore your river basin or learn more about any of the 17 river basins in North Carolina. You can click on each basin to learn about the diversity of plants and animals found in our beautiful state.

A version of the map that focused on the Tar-Pamlico River Basin was used by teachers during UNC’s Institute for the Environment’s EGRET (Exploring the Geographical Region and Ecosystems of the Tar-Pamlico Watershed) Fellows Program this summer. The summer institute was held for 5th grade teachers at Goose Creek State Park in Washington and A Time for Science in Greenville.

“The interactive GIS river basin map is an excellent tool for educators to use with students or anyone who wants to better understand the ecological features and important resources in their river basin,” said Sarah Yelton, Environmental Education Coordinator with the institute’s Environmental Resource Program. “We used it specifically with 5th grade teachers in our EGRET Fellows Program who are exploring the natural and cultural resources of the Tar-Pamlico River Basin. The teachers liked having the ability to turn on and off layers of information and target in on a specific basin. We created a web scavenger hunt, or web quest, for the Tar-Pamlico River Basin to go along with the GIS based map and the teachers loved it,” she said.

The map is now available online at The online map has many potential uses for schools that utilize electronic tablets and other multi-media tools in the classroom. The office hopes that more educators will use the map in the classroom to help students make connections to the rivers and streams in their own communities.
There are more North Carolina River Basin resources at, including river basin lesson plans developed by North Carolina classroom teachers, nonformal educators and office staff. The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs welcomes new lesson plan or activity ideas based on the new GIS map or existing river basin materials. Please share your ideas with us on Twitter, Facebook or email Tracy Weidert, River Basin Education Program Manager at 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Celebrate Take A Child Outside Week

Celebrate Take a Child Outside Week September 24-30

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 held in conjunction with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and partner organizations throughout the U.S. and around the world. The program encourages all citizens to participate in outdoor activities from September 24-30, 2015.

Organizations and agencies across the state including parks, nature and science centers, museums, aquariums, botanical gardens, etc. are hosting events during the week. There are many opportunities to take your child, grandchild or students outdoors. You can visit the North Carolina Environmental Education Calendar to search for Take a Child Outside activities being offered across the state.

You can also participate by making a pledge to take a child outside and help them experience the natural world on the 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.

Many state attractions and other environmental education centers have events planned. You can view all the events and programs going on during the week on the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website.

Here are a few highlights of some of the Take a Child Outside Events hosted by state agencies:

N.C. State Parks will feature special events and ranger-led programs including fun hikes and nature education programs that introduce children and families to the outdoors. Children will be working towards earning their North Carolina Junior Ranger certificate and patch at some parks. State Parks offer many activities for memories to be made including picnicking, canoeing, camping and hiking. Check out all of the Take a Child Outside events happening at State Parks online at

The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher is hosting a Salt Marsh and Crabbing Program for ages 7 and up. This hands-on, outdoor program introduces participants to the challenge of catching blue crabs. Lessons in crab biology and crabbing equipment prepare participants for an exciting expedition through the salt marsh to catch and release crabs. For more information, visit

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is hosting seven Wildlife Expos and other events to celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day on September 26, at various locations from Corolla to Brevard. There will be free, family-oriented events that highlight the state’s extraordinary hunting and fishing heritage and remarkable wildlife conservation efforts through the years. Interactive activities and demonstrations vary for each event, but all provide unique opportunities for participants of all ages to connect with nature and test their outdoors skills. For more information visit the commission’s website at

The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences' Prairie Ridge EcoStation invites families to explore the outdoors on Saturday, September 26, 2015. Come at any time during the event to visit the Nature PlaySpace to enjoy some hands-on nature activities. Activities also include: 10:00 am, Nature Stories, in the amphitheater; 10:30 am, Citizen Science Saturday walk, entrance kiosk (best for children 8 years+); 11:15, Nature Stories-Music, in the amphitheater. For information contact: Cathy Fergen at or 919-707-8878.

The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is proud to join with the Museum of Natural Sciences in this effort, and believes children want to embrace and explore their world. This exploration shapes their lifelong relationship with their parents and the environment. Stress reduction, greater physical health, more creativity and a sense of play are just some of the many benefits for a family when it invites nature into their lives. Take a Child Outside is held annually, September 24-30.

Be sure to check out the environmental education calendar for events going on near you on the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs' website. You can search the calendar using your zip code or city. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kelsie Armentrout to Receive Governor's Conservation Achievement Award for Environmental Educator of the Year

Kelsie Armentrout, a former Wake County teacher and Kenan Fellow will be awarded with the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award for Environmental Educator of the Year on September 12.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation presents the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards each year to honor individuals, associations, businesses and others who have exhibited an unwavering commitment to conservation in North Carolina.

“These are the highest natural resource honors given in the state. By recognizing, publicizing and honoring these conservation leaders – be they professionals, volunteers, young conservationists or life-long conservation heroes – the N.C. Wildlife Federation hopes to inspire all North Carolinians to take a more active role in protecting the natural resources of our state,” said Tim Gestwicki, chief executive officer with the N.C. Wildlife Federation.

Kelsie is being honored for her innovation as a classroom science teacher and for connecting her students with wildlife in North Carolina. Before leaving the classroom this year to pursue a master’s degree, Kelsie taught middle school science at Hilburn Academy, a Wake County Public School in Raleigh and was a 2014-2015 Kenan Fellow.

Kelsie worked on “Students Discover,” a cooperative mammal research project with the Your Wild Life program at N.C. State University and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences that that is helping citizen scientists survey the animals in their region with camera traps (trail cameras). Working with Dr. Roland Kays and Dr. Stephanie Schuttler from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Kelsie also participated in the eMammal program as a way of bringing citizen science into the classroom.

As part of this experience, Kelsie traveled with the team to Mexico to train with teachers in Guadalajara. Kelsie applied this knowledge as soon as the school year began, and had her students use camera traps at Hilburn to do their own research. Kelsie helped created lesson plans for using the camera traps in the classroom and aligned them with middle school curriculum standards. These lesson plans are now online on the Students Discover website in addition to a short video of Kelsie’s experience in the program. 

Kelsie says her experiences with the eMammal program helped engage her students in science. “Having the opportunity for the students to see their research and their data collection directly impact actual scientists can really open a whole new door for them,” she said.

Kelsie earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certification in 2012 and was featured in a short video on the program in 2014. She had demonstrated an ongoing enthusiasm for bringing the environment into the classroom and credits the program with providing her with resources to successfully teach science.

“Getting my environmental education certification during undergrad really shed new light on science. I ended up becoming a science teacher and wanting to be a science teacher because I saw the importance of student discovery and open-ended questions,” said Kelsie.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

As school begins, let’s keep children in touch with nature

From Amber Veverka, a master naturalist and N.C. certified environmental educator in Charlotte:

The kindergarteners that day were wide-eyed.

We’d gathered in a courtyard outside their Charlotte classroom for a hands-on lesson in investigating the natural world. I was a volunteer, eager to explore alongside them.

“What is nature?” I asked the kids seated around me. They peppered the air with their answers. But the one I can’t forget was from the little girl in ponytails who said, solemnly, “Nature is something you should never, ever touch.”

If I ever needed confirmation that we – and our children – are alienated from the natural world, that little girl’s response supplied it.

School is back in session, and families like mine are again swept along in a rush of drop-offs, bus rides and after-school activities. If we aren’t intentional, the school year tide can pull all of us into an indoor life. It’s dark in the morning. Kids are loaded down with homework at night. In between, they’re in classrooms and we’re in offices.

We’re born loving creation, recognizing instinctively that we belong in the grass, under the trees, within earshot of birdsong. But the entire arc of our culture – particularly the culture of an overscheduled, urban center such as Charlotte – veers away from these first loves. We get jobs. We get busy. We live our days in cubicles and cars.

I urge all of us to make this school year one in which we and our children spend more time in nature. It’s not always easy. But it’s possible...

Read the rest here:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Across the Spectrum: Resources for Environmental Educators - Now Available

The second edition of Across the Spectrum: Resources for Environmental Educators has been released through the North American Association for Environmental Education, the University of Florida and Cornell University.

Edited by Martha C. Monroe and Marianne E. Krasny, this publication is a resource to help nonformal environmental educators learn more about the field of environmental education, gain skills to improve their practice, and over time, build a community of practitioners to advance the field.

The publication begins by examining five interrelated societal trends that are providing new opportunities for the field of environmental education. These trends include concern about the psychological well-being of people with limited access to nature, urbanization, social stresses including those brought on by climate change, and the academic achievement of students. The authors emphasize that all of these trends pose significant challenges to the field of environmental education but at the same time, present exciting and innovative opportunities for the future of the field:

Environmental educators are joining forces with youth and community development professionals; museums, zoos, and botanical gardens; and urban green space managers and planners to come up with new practices that reflect societal concerns. Many of these practices occur outside of the classroom, involve youth and elders working together, and engage a diversity of professionals and participants in urban as well as suburban and rural communities.
Across the Spectrum helps newcomers to the field orient their practices within a body of knowledge and experience that has accumulated since the formal launching of environmental education in the 1970s. It also introduces readers to environmental education methods that reflect recent societal trends highlighting seven approaches that address environmental and social challenges through communities, agencies, nonformal programs, and schools. Finally, the authors hope this publication will help create a community of interested professionals working in diverse settings but sharing common concerns.

The authors also note the importance of citizen science and service learning in engaging learners in real-world activities that provide benefits to the learners, communities and researchers. 

New chapters may be added as new practices emerge and opportunities for public online feedback on individual chapters are planned.

Across the Spectrum is now available for download at

Friday, August 7, 2015

Young NC Citizen Scientist Donates Valuable Specimen to Museum of Natural Sciences

Here's a great story that proves how valuable the observations of citizen scientists and environmentally-minded individuals can be. This specimen will help scientists study and track this invasive species of shrimp, which has ecological and economic importance as this non-native could have negative impacts on native shrimp populations. Thanks to Dr. Bronwyn Williams, Research Curator of Crustaceans at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, for sharing this story and allowing us to use the text and photos. 

 Last Friday (7/31/2015), the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences Crustacean Collection received an exciting and important donation: an Asian tiger shrimp, Penaeus monodon. The donation was made by Jimmy Epps, who caught the shrimp in autumn 2014 in his casting net in Bogue Sound, Carteret Co., NC. Jimmy officially recorded his catch via the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database.

The specimen is a rare red-striped morph, which, in combination with its fantastic provenance data, is an invaluable addition to the Collection as it provides critical data for conservation efforts, and will undoubtedly play an important role in education and outreach about invasive species at and beyond the Museum. 

The Asian tiger shrimp is native to tropical marine habitats of the Indo-West Pacific, but as a staple of global aqua-farming beginning in the late 1960s, has been widely introduced beyond the bounds of its native range. The species was first reported from coastal waters of the southeastern U.S. in
1988 following the escape of ~2,000 shrimp from a SC aquaculture facility. Hundreds of Asian tiger shrimp were captured in trawl nets during the first couple of months post-escape. Interestingly, the species subsequently went unreported from coastal U.S. waters for an 18 year stretch, resurfacing off the Gulf coast of Alabama in 2006. Reports since the 2006 Alabama sighting indicate that the Asian tiger shrimp has spread extensively along southeastern and Gulf coasts of the U.S., from North Carolina to Texas (

Thursday, August 6, 2015

State Parks, Museum of Natural Sciences Partner to Make Kids "Dragonfly Detectives"

(Re-posted with permission from the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation blog)
Just above the surface of an old farm pond at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, the airspace is buzzing with dragons. It’s the perfect spot for young researchers to test their agility by balancing on logs while swinging their nets.
dragonfly detectives 1Dragonfly Detectives is an innovative partnership of the state parks system and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences that trains 4th and 8th graders as dragonfly citizen scientists at five state parks – Jordan Lake, Merchants Millpond, Lake Waccamaw, Cliffs of the Neuse and Goose Creek. During six separate field trips to a state park, students learn how to identify species, how to describe dragonfly behavior and how to capture and mark them on the wing.
An important lesson for the kids is that science requires a lot of patience and careful record-keeping. The students sit in total silence for multiple three-minute sessions while they count their study species, the crimson red Carolina saddlebags.
Read the whole post about this great partnership on the N.C. State Parks Blog

Monday, August 3, 2015

Wake County Teacher Uses N.C. Environmental Education Certification to Benefit School and Community

Bill Mulvey, a teacher at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, recently completed his North Carolina Environmental Education Certification.

Bill collaborates with other Athens teachers in all departments on student projects and focuses on student-centered research. He has made a large impact on the school and community through his community partnership project which included creating an arboretum and adjoining outdoor classroom at the school. The community-based project is a requirement for environmental education certification.

When considering options for his project, Bill noticed that there were a lot of people using the high school from the community.  “The school is a traditional high school but also houses a public library, night classes and summer classes creating a very active community use situation,” Bill said. He saw this as an opportunity to educate people about the plants and landscape of the school while providing a place to teach students about native plants and their uses.

The community around Athens Drive High School is very diverse. During the school year, the building is bustling with 9th through 12th graders, people attending evening classes through Wake Technical Community College, and patrons of the public library.  During the summer Wake County Public Schools holds summer science programs, the community college has evening classes, and the public library continues to use the facility so locating the arboretum at the entrance to the school was a great opportunity to educate people about plants and their importance.

Placards were used to label the plants and include the common and scientific names and information about how the plants are used by both people and animals. An outdoor classroom area was also constructed for teaching in the arboretum and for use by Athens Drive and Wake Technical Community College teachers. The classroom area is adjacent to the walkway and provides a quiet place to learn and teach.

Bill’s enthusiasm for nature and the outdoors isn’t new. He discovered his love for the outdoors at an early age through his parents. “I learned to love the outdoors at an early age camping with my parents at Julian Price Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We often took weekends to camp, hike and canoe. My parents were both avid birders and my dad took me on canoe trips all through my teens. I credit my folks with my love of the outdoors and educating people about the need for preserving it,” he said.

Bill mentioned that there were many experiences during his time in the environmental education certification program that stood out. “There are so many that were so good it’s hard to pick one! I remember going for a mountain stream invertebrates class with Tanya Poole and electroshocking fish in the Davidson River as well as catching invertebrates from the substrate in the stream. It was such a fun and informative class in a great place,” he said.

Moving forward, Bill hopes to begin a new career in environmental education when he retires from teaching. He plans on using his environmental education certification to seek seasonal positions with the National Park Service and State Parks throughout the U.S. teaching environmental education related topics.

To read more about Bill go here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Professor's Project Provides Environmental Education to Children and Families in Watauga County

Laura England
Laura England teaches environmental science courses at Appalachian State University. She was already involved with mentoring and outreach to teachers and students in her community, so working with undergraduate students to establish a new student organization for environment education was a logical fit for her environmental education certification project.

Laura led a group of ASU students in founding a new organization, the Sustainability andEnvironmental Education Club. “As an instructor and academic advisor, every semester I had a number of students from various majors tell me that they were interested in environmental education.” The club’s membership now includes more than 100 university students from twelve different departments within the university, including students majoring in education, recreation management, sustainable development, appropriate technology, environmental science, biology, geology, geography, anthropology and more.

The club reaches children throughout Watauga County and has partnered with a variety of community-based organizations such as Kiwanis Kids, The Children’s Playhouse (the local children’s museum) and the Valle Crucis Extended Learning Center to engage youth in the community and increase environmental awareness. Last year alone the club reached two thousand local children and families.

Some of the ASU club members
In addition to giving students hands-on environmental education experience, club members are involved with community-based projects such as installing a learning garden at a local preschool. Members engaged the students with lessons throughout the process of planning, building and caring for the garden. Laura also helped the student leaders secure a small grant to expand the learning garden initiative.

When asked what certification experience stands out for Laura, she said, “I was fortunate to earn many of my hours for outdoor experiences through the museum’s Yellowstone institute. It was such a once in a lifetime trip and learning opportunity that renewed my passion for environmental education.” The trip to Yellowstone National Park is one of the Educators of Excellence Institutes offered to outstanding educators by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

Laura said that participating in the certification program had led to changes in her approach to teaching. “Much of my teaching has been, by necessity, lecture-based and in the classroom. But just this summer I taught a new watershed protection course that was all outdoors and hands-on. I hope to do more of this kind of teaching in the future.”

“I am even more committed to education and outreach on environmental issues than before. I feel buoyed by the growing network of educators who share this commitment, and feel more optimistic that we are collectively making a difference.”

To read more about Laura, visit the website here.

Friday, July 17, 2015

North Carolina Student Receives President’s Environmental Youth Award

Congratulations to Sharon Chen from Durham on receiving the President’s Environmental Youth Award!

Today, the White House Council on Environmental Quality together with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the winners and honorable mentions of the annual President’s Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA) and Presidential Innovation Awards for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). Sharon Chen, a junior from Durham, N.C., was among the 44 students and 27 teachers from across the country who were honored during a ceremony at the White House for outstanding contributions to environmental education and stewardship.

“To solve our future environmental challenges, young people need to understand the science behind the natural world—and create a personal connection to the outdoors,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “These teachers and students are demonstrating the important role of environmental education, and showing how individual actions can help address climate change, protect the air we breathe, and safeguard the water we drink.”

Chen was the recipient of a PEYA award for her project, “A Green and Novel Technology for Recovering Copper and Wood from Treated Wood Waste—Part 1.” The PEYA awards celebrate student leadership in service projects to protect the environment and build a livable, sustainable global community. The technology Chen developed has the potential to save millions of tons of wood and copper from the landfill—protecting the environment, saving natural resources, and benefitting generations to come. Chen, now a junior at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, completed the project while she was a sophomore at North Mecklenburg High School.

From the EPA press release. Go here for the full press release and to read
more about Chen’s project and about all the recipients visit EPA’s website 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Brunswick Community College To Offer Nature & History Interpretive Guide Program

Did you know the BCC mascot is the Dolphins?
Here is another community college partnership related to environmental education! Brunswick Community College's Continuing Education and Economic and Workforce Development Program is offering several classes this fall that focus on ecotourism. One of the new offerings is a 114-hour course that provides a Nature and History Interpretive Guide Certificate. The program is designed for job seekers looking for employment in nature-based tourism and for those interested in starting ecotourism businesses. 

The college also plans to encourage their program participants to enroll in the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program. The college has worked with the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs to ensure that most of the individual ecotourism classes, as well as most of the hours in the Interpretive Guide program, can also count as credit hours toward N.C. Environmental Education Certification. 

For more information on the programs or to find out how to enroll, see the Brunswick Community College CHOICES publication (page 6, under "EcoTourism) or contact Marilyn Graham, Coordinator of the Sustainability through Innovation Leadership Center. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What a Hoot! Texas Park Ranger Completes Her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification

Kate Boysen served as an AmeriCorps member for North Carolina State Parks doing education and outreach for adults and children. While she was working on her environmental education certification in North Carolina, Kate was hired as an park ranger at Blanco State park with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Kate continued to earn credits towards her certification after relocating to Texas and as part of her community-based project, she became the leader of the Owl Watch Program at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The center needed someone to develop and lead programs about the great horned owls that nest on a ledge near the entrance to the gardens.  

The owl had nested at the center in the past, but the center did not have the staff to provide regular programming. Kate not only led some of the programs but she developed interpretive materials and trained volunteers to lead programs on their own. “The program educated and gave the public an opportunity to see an owl raising her owlets. It taught the community to respect wildlife and how to observe wildlife properly,” Kate said.

When asked how participating in the Environmental Education Certification Program led to changes in her approach to teaching, Kate said, “One way my approach changed was now I always relate my program to the audience. Before going through this program I would get caught up in giving too much information. This certification has also taught me about themes and organization.”

To read more about Kate’s experiene in the program, go here

Community College Partners with N.C. Zoo on Outdoor Learning Course

Randolph Community College’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education Division is partnering with the North Carolina Zoo’s Playful Pedagogy program to offer “Play, Learning, and the Outdoors,” a class for teachers and other professionals who work with children to acquire fresh perspectives on their approach to engaging with young people outdoors.

Participants will explore the importance of wondering alongside children as a way of encouraging and guiding exploration and discovery of the outdoor environment. The primary focus of the 5-hour course is to connect theory with practice using hands-on activities and informal discussions.

The course will meet from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the North Carolina Zoo. Participants can choose one of the following dates: Friday, June 26; Friday, July 10; Friday, July 24; Friday, Aug. 7; or Monday, Aug. 10. The cost is $25.

To learn more and to preregister, contact RCC at 336-633-0268. Preregistration is required.

Playful Pedagogy, part of the North Carolina Zoo’s Education Division, functions as an umbrella for the Zoo’s play programs.

(reprinted with permission from the RCC website) 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Teacher with Orange County Schools Earns Certification

Eric McDuffie recently completed his N.C. Environmental Education Certification. In addition to being an eighth-grade science teacher at C.W. Stanford Middle School in Hillsborough, Eric describes himself as an environmental scientist, nature lover, and avid fisherman. "I also consider myself a conservationist and naturalist who is working hard to reconnect our children to their natural world in every way I know how," Eric says. He recently finished his master's degree in Environmental Management at Duke University and this summer he will begin pursuing a doctorate in Environmental Studies from Antioch University New England.

Highlights from Eric's experience in the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification program include a Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop held at at Fort Macon State Park and working with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences UTOTES (Using the Outdoors to Teach Experiential Science) program. Through the UTOTES program, teachers at his school discovered how to get their students outside on their school grounds to learn while having fun. "I enjoyed learning from the museum staff and seeing our butterfly/hummingbird perennial garden come to life here on our school campus for all to enjoy and become more connected to nature," Eric says.

Read more about his experience in the certification program here.