Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Collaboration Between Departments Attracts Record Number to 6th Annual Nonformal Educators Meeting

Educators from all regions of North Carolina gathered at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center last week for the 6th annual meeting for nonformal educators. The meeting reached its highest attendance to date with more than 90 nonformal 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, 4-H, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and others.

The meeting is a collaboration between the Science Section of the Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) and the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs to support nonformal educators who provide environmental science to school-age children. This unique partnership encourages collaboration between schools, school districts, NCDPI and the nonformal education community to support science learning and environmental literacy.

The meeting provides an opportunity for educators to get updates on curriculum standards from NCDPI and resources to help align their educational programs and field trips with the state’s essential standards for science. Participants shared school program and teacher professional development success stories.

The highlight of this year’s meeting was a panel of classroom teachers that included Kerry Piper, an earth/environmental science teacher at Apex High School, Alexandra Shadroui, a middle school science teacher at Salisbury Academy, Terry Denny, a music teacher at Lacy Elementary School in Raleigh and Jennifer Fine, elementary science senior administrator with Wake County Public School System. Panel members addressed a variety of questions including how nonformal educators and can connect with teachers, what resources teachers need from nonformal educators, i.e., field trips, lesson plans, etc. and what professional development programs or opportunities teachers find most helpful.  

Lisa Tolley, program manager with the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs wasn’t surprised by the high numbers of attendees. “North Carolina has one of the strongest nonformal science communities in the country and these educators and facilities provide a wealth of programming to students and profession development to teachers across the state. These partnerships as a way to ensure students are exposed to hands-on, field-based learning that enhance student’s understanding of STEM subjects and meet environmental literacy goals, which are specifically noted in the new Every Student Succeeds Act.” 

The two departments plan to continue to build on this partnership and look forward to future collaborations. 

Check out the storify of the meeting. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Winter Lunchtime Speaker Series Kicks Off Next Week

The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs kicks off its lunchtime speaker series next week with John Gerwin, research curator in ornithology with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with a presentation on attracting and caring for backyard birds, December 7 at noon. 

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds representing local and state agencies, colleges and universities and other organizations throughout the state.

John Gerwin, NC Museum of Natural Sciences
The lecture series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to gives attendees the opportunity interact directly with some of the best experts in their respective fields. Some sessions even head outdoors to explore urban nature, local architecture and green rooftops!

Lectures are usually held on Wednesdays in the office’s Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center from noon until 1:00 p.m. The upcoming series includes several interesting presentations, including Amy Comer with the Division of Marine Fisheries on artificial reefs in North Carolina, Dan Gottlieb and Rachel Woods with the NC Museum of Art on the NCMA Park’s new landscape and sustainability features and Alexandra Mash with NCSU talking about the Candid Critter citizen science program and its statewide camera trap survey.

On January 26 there will be two special presentations. DEQ has partnered with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the NC Aquariums to bring Chris Fischer, the Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader for OCEARCH to the Daily Planet Theatre to talk about his organization’s research and their work tracking sharks off the North Carolina coast and around the world. Fischer will also be speaking at a Science CafĂ© that evening in Daily Planet Restaurant in addition to the lunchtime lecture. 

Go here for the full Lunchtime Discovery line up. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Educator Spotlight: Lindsey Purvis

Lindsey Purvis recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Purvis works with N.C. State Parks, formerly at Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve and currently at William B. Umstead State Park.  Purvis has maintenance duties including trail upkeep and special projects. She staffs the visitor's center, teaches environmental programs and leads educational hikes for the public.

Purvis said that attending workshops and getting valuable resources to take back to the park, such as program ideas, lesson plans and increased knowledge of citizen science projects was her favorite part of the certification.

When asked about an experience that stands out for her, Purvis mentions a workshop at Raven Rock State Park. “The herpetology workshops were my favorite. I had one day for herps at Raven Rock State Park where we learned about the various snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs in North Carolina. The educators had 21 more different herp species that we then had to identify through our notes and ID books. It was awesome and very hands-on! They really went the extra mile and you could tell they all loved their jobs.”

For her community partnership project, Purvis built a wildlife garden at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve which is in her hometown of Southern Pines. The garden includes bird feeders for hummingbirds and year-round, migrating species and a variety of native plants to provide habitat and nectar for pollinators. “It brought together the community by way of the various volunteers and donations received towards completing the project from individuals and businesses. The garden will continue to grow outside of the Weymouth Woods museum which is being renovated and will give park visitors a close-up view of the native wildlife of the Sandhills to foster a more intimate experience with nature.”

When asked how participating in the certification program changed her approach to teaching, Purvis said that it influenced her teaching techniques and approach. “I learned a lot about teaching techniques in terms of little things I didn’t think about before which can be as simple as not wearing sunglasses during outdoor presentations because eye contact is important. And how the teachable moment is better than a strict schedule for hiking. It was also useful to be reminded you should “dip-stick” with your group to know what they are learning and whether you should adjust your approach to keeping them engaged. I learned that there are citizen science projects and way to get involved in any natural history subject you could want to teach! The EE resources out there are boundless and I’m thrilled that the certification program exposed me to so many of them by offering diverse workshops in locations all across the state.”

Purvis feels that education is a much more valuable tool for helping to address environmental issues than people realize. “Even when you’re not outright changing a person’s behavior by telling them about the effects of X and Y on the environment, you’re changing their attitude towards nature by giving them a positive educational experience. What feels like a simple lesson to you might inspire a child to pursue a career in the natural sciences – you never know if that future environmental scientist, ecologist or engineer may go on to do great things for the world. Those special moments in teaching matter. Going the extra mile as an educator to excite your audience matters.”

For more information about Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, visit their website . To learn more about William B. Umstead State Park, visit their website. To find out more about the NC Environmental Education Certification Program visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website.