Thursday, July 28, 2016

CTNC AmeriCorps Member Larissa Lopez Making A Different through Education

By Reilly Henson  Source: Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC)

Larissa Lopez is serving with AmeriCorps, a ten-month national service program with positions offered by community and non-profit organizations. CTNC manages an AmeriCorps program that has placed 18 members with conservation and environmental groups throughout North Carolina.  The program’s goals are to connect thousands of people to the outdoors and to develop future leaders in conservation. To learn more about CTNC’s AmeriCorps program, click here.

Larissa Lopez is serving as Educational Outreach Coordinator for Balsam Mountain Trust, a non-profit that manages and protects the Balsam Mountain Preserve in Sylva, NC. Through the Adopt-A-School program, the Trust is able to provide educational programming to local elementary school students.

Larissa teaches kids about wild animals and pollinators. What makes her programs special is that her students get to see live animals, and participate in real citizen science. Her younger students in the 1st and 2nd grades get to learn about pollinators, especially monarch butterflies, while her older students in the 4th and 5th grades get to see snakes and hawks.

“We visit classrooms multiple times during the year and at different grade levels,” says Larissa. “This format allows for deep student engagement with Balsam Mountain Trust staff and our animal ambassadors. It is a unique opportunity to observe the students’ change in knowledge and behavior over time.”

 Although teaching hasn’t always been one of her primary interests, Larissa has come to realize how important outreach and education are for environmental non-profits. She already had plenty of experience in land management and resource stewardship, so she sought to use her AmeriCorps service term as an opportunity to round out her knowledge in an educational capacity. “Working in the non-profit sector often means being a ‘Jack-of-all-trades,’ so I feel strongly about assuming a variety of responsibilities.”

Education may be only one of many components of environmental work, but it does have its own rewards. “Being an informal educator allows me to engage directly with the public, spark a curiosity and passion for conservation in children, further my knowledge of the natural world, and polish my attentiveness to detail in planning, all important and rewarding experiences.”

After she completes her service term, Larissa hopes to find a career that combines her interests in land management and public engagement. “I am passionate about sustainable and ethically derived foods, so I have been looking to get involved with community gardens and school garden projects. These projects get students outside to observe nature and learn about the importance of caring for our natural resources.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Gonna Catch EE? Augmented Reality Games and Environmental Education

Pokemon Go has really taken off, but how are North Carolina's parks, gardens, forests, trails, zoos, aquariums, nature centers, museums and other outdoor sites for exploration reacting to this new phenomenon?

Probably like many others in environmental education and related fields, we had not heard that much about Pokemon Go until a few weeks ago. Then suddenly we were scrambling to learn more about it and how it may affect educational facilities and programs.
It all started on July 8th with a #NCNatureFriday tweet about the N.C. Museum of Art Park. We had no idea what a Pokestop was...So we looked it up and thought, "Hmmm, what effect will this game have on nature centers, parks, science museums and environmental education programs?" Will it be the next geocaching?" We had no idea it would catch on so quickly.

The following Monday, probably half or more of the Tweets in our feed were about Pokemon Go. And it didn't take parks, museums, gardens, nature centers and other sites associated with environmental education and outdoor exploration to recognize the potential of, or at least the need to address, the new phenomenon.

Many sites are trying to work with the Pokemon Go craze in positive ways - keeping within their mission and combining the interest in the game with connections to real nature. But of course, there are the obvious concerns of even more technology coming between individuals and the natural world. Also, what will be the impact of visitors coming to parks, nature centers, and other outdoor educational venues to play the game?

We wanted some perspectives on the game from some North Carolina venues, so we did an informal survey of North Carolina environmental education centers (which includes parks, museums, botanical gardens, etc).

Read our storify to find out more about how the Pokemon Go phenomenon emerged in North Carolina (from an environmental education perspective), to learn more about how it and other augmented reality games may impact environmental education and to see how environmental education centers feel about this new reality. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Educator Spotlight - Erin Apple

Erin Apple recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Apple works as a park technician of programs at Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail designing, marketing and leading a full calendar of public and group programs, outreach efforts and special events in Wake County.

In addition to her programming, Apple works with volunteers and assists with park operation, customer service and natural resource management such as removal of invasive species and prescribed burning. When she isn’t working, Apple enjoys hiking, kayaking, yoga, writing and gardening.

For her community partnership project, Apple designed, built and narrated an interactive public display on plant photorespiration for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Natural World Investigation Lab. The project, which is still on rotating display in the museum, added to their archive of public displays and educates museum visitors (homeschoolers, school groups and the general public) about the botany and the complexity of plants on both a cellular and environmental level.

Apple had many valuable experiences during her certification process. “Traveling to workshops was always such a rewarding experience, it's hard to pick just one favorite part, but I would have to say I enjoyed the Advanced WILD (offered through the Wildlife Resources Commission) workshops and especially the Rare Plants of North Carolina workshop (offered through NCSU) the most," noted Apple. While I teach kids more than any other group, I thoroughly enjoy working with adults, and I most enjoy attending workshops that teach more advanced scientific material - it's refreshing and important to continually expand my ecological knowledge after completing my degree.”

Apple also mentioned the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop, which is required for all enrollees. “I really felt like I was going somewhere with my certification after completing the Methods workshop and that I had gained a lot of the valuable insight this certification aims to provide. I brought what I learned into my teaching,” she said.

In addition to the benefits from instructional workshops such as Project WET which focuses on the way people use water resources, Apple noted that the practical applications were valuable. “Practicing activities at workshops with other educators and learning their methods, trials, failures and successes helped me to see where I needed improvement and how to better myself as an educator. I was also able to share my own experiences thus far in my young career, and I believe the certification helped me to learn the best ways to more effectively reach a variety of audiences,” said Apple.

For more information about Harris Lake County Park visit the park's website . For more information about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs or the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program visit