The Nature Camp Solution – Why, How, and WOW!

Author: Dr. Mariana Altrichter – Photographer: Peter Sherman

As an environmentalist and conservation biologist, I have been growing aware of the lack of interest among the adult population to make daily choices based on the welfare of environment. People seem to know about our pressing environmental issues, but do not translate this knowledge behavior change. At the same time, as a mother of two young girls, I became more educated of the pervasive effects of screens and the importance of outdoor play for the overall health of children.

I realized that my girls had few opportunities to play outdoors with other kids. In our daily family excursions outdoors, I was surprised by the absence of young teens walking in the woods, biking on mountain trails, kayaking, or playing in the rocks (things that I definitely did when I was that age!). Where are they? I wondered… 

I decided to start a nature-based environmental education program in Prescott to inspire love for our natural world, love for outdoor adventures, and love for biodiversity. If these kids have fun in the woods now, I thought, in a few years from now they will be the teenagers enjoying the woods that I don’t see now; and my daughters will have a community of nature-loving friends. 

Nature Camp: “All Children in the Woods” started in October 2014.  My underlying principles that permeate all activities we do in camp are respect and care for nature and each other, cooperation instead of competition, and nature is amazing. I design daily schedules based on a theme (i.e. “trees” or “monsoons” etc.) and follow a loose routine where I mix play, exploration, art, creativity, group games, songs, building, quiet solo time, journaling, and free time. I often bring a book related to the theme to read during quiet time.

 

We start with an opening circle where we greet each other and the woods, sing, and play big group games. Then we separate in two age groups: Bobcats 5-7 yrs old and Cougars 8-10 yrs old (although the 7 and 8 yr olds kids can choose what group to join). Each group has one or two instructors, called at our camp, “coyotes”.

Each camper creates a special spot which they can decorate, build, and make personal in any way they want. I reduce the number of unnatural things I bring to camp to a minimum: shovels and buckets, toilet paper, bandannas and sometimes a rope. All other activities use only nature. We sit on the ground, eat our lunch on the ground or up in trees, go potty in the woods, play with dirt, pine needles, rocks. Thus, we spend 7 hours in the forest without hearing or seeing human infrastructure other than what we build ourselves.

The “learning” at camp often occurs organically, rather than directed, embedded in everything else. Although I create a schedule by the minute with detailed activities, I tell my “coyotes”, we have to be open to improvise or completely change course, based on the children’s lead.

This is the advantage of not being tied to a curricula, or meeting standards. Just keeping the underlying principles, with basic “no hurting feelings, bodies, or nature” rules, the kids have plenty of space, time, and freedom to be creative, imaginative, and playful.

Indeed, often the most amazing, creative, and fun activities have come up spontaneously from the kids (not my detailed program!).  For example, while I was reading a book about settlers developing a town next to a river and polluting it in the process, one of the kids was fidgeting with the dirt and moving sticks and pebbles around. Although I was a little annoyed that he was “distracting the group away from my reading” I allowed him to continue and by the end of the book he said, “Look, I am building here a settlement where people and nature live together. Do you want to help me?”. This became the most epic group building cooperative project ever! The whole day they built homes, created miniature forest among the houses, made lakes and rivers, built a “community center,” all while talking, negotiating, deciding as a group, cooperating. I was at the verge of tears the whole time, feeling, “This is it; this is magical!”

Since I started this program, we have had about 190 days in the forest and about 300 children have participated. Several of the older kids who “graduated” from camp have been coming back as helpers. They help the younger group and provide excellent role models as respectful, caring and outdoors-loving preteens.

As a college educator, I also recognize the importance of hands-on experiential education for students. Thus, I opened this camp to Prescott College students who want to participate in any way: as an independent study, for a senior projects, for a course assignments, or just for gaining experience. Many classes have done field trips with their students to visit Nature Camp. All my instructors are or were college students who became interested in working at my camp after being introduced to it in one way or another. Some of them are now elementary or college teachers, bringing to their jobs the conviction of the importance of nature-based environmental education.

To learn more about Nature Camp: All Children in the Woods or to reach Dr. Altrichter, check out Educational Expeditions’ Facebook page — Observation, internship, and volunteer opportunities are always available!

 

 

 

Higher Education Collaboration Boosts Exemplary Certified Environmental Educators in Arizona

As many of you know, the Arizona Association for Environmental Education’s (AAEE’s) environmental educator certification program has been growing for over a decade now. Beginning in 2007 & 2008 with knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers (Lisa Herrmann, Julie Gidley, Karen Schedler, and Lynn Fleming), the first pilot program ran in 2010. After the release of the program’s online platform in 2015, the number of certified environmental educators in the state grew to 40 by the end of 2016. Since then, enrollment and excitement for Environmental Educator certification has steadily increased.

 

And, so does awareness of this opportunity. Currently only 13 states offers EE certification pathways.  As a result, AAEE increasingly finds itself responding to national inquiries from other state’s looking to our program as a model template. As the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) asserts, “Professional certification ensures that individuals are fully prepared for work within a specific field of expertise. Certified environmental educators meet stringent requirements for proficiency in both the interdisciplinary content and pedagogy necessary to develop and deliver high quality, effective EE programs.”  This is exactly what AAEE’s program delivers. Here in Arizona, AAEE’s accomplishment has been drawing increased attention from higher education institutions as well.

Early in 2018, Prescott College environmental education instructor and AAEE board of directors member, Ellen Bashor, pointed to this clear opportunity for collaboration between Arizona institutions. Prescott College, a small and mighty college with the mission, “to educate students of diverse ages and backgrounds to understand, thrive in, and enhance our world community and environment,” quickly agreed to launch a pilot program. Their institutional goals clearly aligned with AAEE’s vision of, “a vibrant and ecologically sustainable future for Arizona with  a well-informed and engaged population comprised of socially and ecologically responsible institutions.” Then came the challenge: how does one unite a year-long, self-paced, online course with a semester-long, experiential, & place-based curricular framework?

With collaboration and input from AAEE board members, the certification committee, and Prescott College faculty, the Prescott College Environmental Educator Certification course was born. This course combined critical readings, field trips (comprised of observations, lectures, and service learning across the state) in-class discussion & activities, and AAEE’s certification assignments & portfolio-building online platform. Other organizations that partnered in this experience include Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, the Desert Outdoor Center, Educational Expeditions LLC, and Fountain Hills Charter School. The resulting pilot program was an enormous success. As final reviewing wraps up in January, AAEE & Prescott College aim to graduate their first class of 11 certified environmental educators from this new collaboration.

Students that enrolled in this class ranged in age from early twenties to thirties, with a spectrum of backgrounds and life experiences, and degree focuses in a variety of departments from Adventure Education, to Environmental Science, to Education, to Human Development. In their Capstone essays, many wrote of their educational journey through this pilot program. One Adventure Education student noted that this course, “reaffirmed and excited me to bring EE more into my Outdoor Education practices. Although the Outdoor Education setting lends itself well to be a part of environmental practices, many people do not take advantage of it and choose not to incorporate it full into their curriculum, instead only having some nature lessons as a side to the technical skills being taught.”

Other students spoke to a truly comprehensive learning experience. An Education and Human Development student explained that becoming an exemplary environmental educator, “takes form with the growing proficiency of environmental literacy, understanding the foundations of EE, professional responsibilities (i.e linking standards, navigating complex environmental issues through education not advocacy, staying current, and seeking out and maintaining growth-oriented relationships), planning and implementing (meeting learner needs, use of outside resources, identifying and utilizing diverse settings, and curriculum/lesson planning), fostering learning, and knowing how to use proper techniques in the field of EE for assessment and evaluation.”

In their Capstone assignments, all the students emphasized their increased understanding of, and respect for, the skills necessary to navigate complex, and sometimes controversial, environmental issues with learners of all ages and backgrounds. As one summarized: “a big lesson for me this semester was the importance of education and not advocacy.” Overall, it was truly inspiring to witness these students move through this process and both Prescott College and AAEE are proud of their expanded knowledge of, skills in, and dedication to the field of environmental education. With certified environmental educators like these heading out into the world, our future is indeed bright.

Are you interested in becoming a certified environmental educator?! Click here for to apply today!


Evaluating the Long-Term Results of Environmental Education Curriculum in Traditional and Non-Traditional Educational Settings

There are many lesson plans and program activities available to teach students and participants about environmental issue analysis. But how often do educators go back and evaluate whether learners have processed the results, formed their own opinions, and potentially experienced a behavior change? The environmental education field would benefit greatly from the documentation of the evaluative results from these lessons and program activities, using shared concepts and language.

Most traditional and non-traditional educators who work to communicate environmental concepts to their community scour the internet or look to colleagues for ideas when teaching a new concept. A quick internet search on issue-based lesson plans and activities returns more entries than can be processed in a short period of time. Sometimes these lessons appear in blog posts like this describing their immediate application results. Often the discussions about learning outcomes are anecdotal based upon the educator’s experience with their participants during the activity itself.

Many environmental issue-based lessons are written for K-12 teachers or higher education faculty but there are other professionals who engage learners in non-formal learning about environmental or natural resource concepts. The language used to describe formal lessons or programs contains jargon specific to formal or non-formal learning environments but the methodology for evaluating learning outcomes is the same. Non-formal and non-traditional educators more often evaluate their programs, not just for participant learning achievements but for value-added and behavior change results due to expectations from funding organizations. Can all educators can benefit from measuring long-term results of our applied lessons and activities?

Following the Guidelines for Excellence EE Materials by NAAEE, foundational environmental education materials are:

  • Fair and accurate, considering a diversity of opinion and background experience
  • Conceptually deep, considering awareness, feelings, values, and attitudes
  • Hands-on activities for people of all ages designed to build life-long skills
  • Action oriented, a call to action via civic responsibility
  • Instructionally sound, using learner-centered concepts and include assessment
  • Useable and replicable by others for similar results

These concepts are broadly applicable to both formal/non-formal and non-traditional educators and should be considered when developing any content designed to teach issue-based, controversial environmental topics, especially when seeking behavior change.

Many models, including NAAEE’s Guidelines, recommend remaining unbiased, refraining from inserting emotive language, and using science-based concepts and data to communicate effectively. No matter the age of your students or participants creating a space that is safe where people can freely share their thoughts and values without judgement is important.

Discussion should be designed to:

  1. find common ground
  2. focus on facts and data supporting all viewpoints
  3. engage participants using hands-on and action-oriented activities
  4. evaluate and revisit the big picture.

The last step is critical to checking for understanding. If time has elapsed since the lesson delivery and the evaluation is specific to the issue-based engagement, educators can often determine if the activity had lasting effect.

Research-based literature describes methodologies for teaching controversial environmental topics, including those that have a strong human-centric influence and involve an understanding of how humans are part of the issue and potential solution.  These are difficult to teach because more often than not students of all ages are influenced by many external factors such as family values, morals, economics, other complicated ethos, or nihilism. Examples of controversial topics include:

  • climate change
  • animal production practices
  • nutrition
  • forest management
  • pesticide use
  • water quality

Despite nuance, presenting content grounded in scientific fact and identification of all possible perceived values can lead to sound decision making.

Formal educators can benefit from thinking beyond the curriculum and 5E lessons being taught during the current academic year with the current students. Developing a programmatic model for evaluation beyond testing current students for achievement of learning outcomes involves thinking about the lasting benefits both to current students as well as the application of curriculum in the future. Documenting these results and sharing them are excellent strategies for moving the field of environmental education forward, making it a valued part of foundational learning and state-wide department of education strategy.

Construct lessons and activities designed to achieve a deep understanding of environmental issues

What is a “deep understanding” of an environmental issue? A deep understanding moves beyond a student or participant communicating knowledge at the conclusion of a lesson or activity. A deep understanding includes immediate and long-term reflection on difficult concepts, with time to revisit the issue within the learner’s community or family. Activities that evoke deep understanding fall on the programmatic spectrum, meaning the learning outcomes reach beyond current curriculum or activity learning outcomes. The outcomes are, by design, long-term.

It is hard to check for lasting learning outcomes and potential behavior change after conducting a lesson in the classroom, in a one-day program, or on a field trip. Students need to process and internalize difficult concepts, especially those involving human interactions with nature, which are shaped by experiences, values, and knowledge before and after the effects of any particular environmental education lesson can be known. Simply encouraging students to discuss and debrief after a lesson on climate change, food production and consumption, forest management, or other complicated issue, may have lasting effects but those effects will not be known unless educators are able to follow up after an elapsed period of time.

Plan to follow up with learners after an elapsed period of time

In formal and non-formal learning environments it is valuable to think about the effect the lessons and activities have beyond the experience itself. Formal educators may have the advantage of having access to students for more than one year, even if they are not in their classroom. Further, some schools are designed to include thematic curricular models or systems-based thinking. Thus, conducting a brief evaluation 6 months or a year after the lesson or activity was delivered may be easy if other administrators or educators in the school are amenable to collaboration.

Non-formal educators and non-traditional educators who only see, or communicate with, their participants once could prearrange a follow up with participants, or a subset of participants. This can take the form of an email survey where people may self-select after participation, or if the group of participants are from a school or adult program, permission can be gained to ask follow-up questions after the experience.

We recognize there are many barriers within learning environments preventing future follow-up. The idea is to think beyond the immediate lesson delivery and develop methods to assess at least a few learners in the future. Not every learner need be evaluated, rather a sample of evaluative results can still be of value.

Participants will return to their community with the information about the environmental issue fresh in their minds. They may on their own ask family, coworkers, or other community members about the concepts discussed and reflect further on their own value placed on economics or their constructed environmental ethic. If they do not reflect on the experience on their own, reflective questions designed to understand and elicit an understanding of the concepts (for the learner) and viewpoints (for the educator) can be very useful to developing a stronger program or curriculum in the future. Thus, the data gathered can be formative and serve as foundational to effective activity design.

Examples of post-activity evaluation questions in formal and non-formal/non-traditional learning environments:

Environmental issue lesson and learning outcomes* Sample post-lesson evaluation Sample long-term evaluation               (6+ months- 1 year)
Formal (6-8th Grade) Forest management – Examine the balance of human-use of forest products and sound forest management. Lesson includes a trip to a local forest ecosystem. What is a healthy forest ecosystem? What forest products do we use? Can we live without them? How does the availability of the resource affect its cost? How can we use these renewable resources and not damage the ecosystem? Have you revisited a healthy forest ecosystem? What forest products have you used on a regular basis? Have you considered your use of forest products since your initial visit to the forest? If not, why not?
Non-formal/Non-traditional (Adult audience/Professional farmer or landscaper Pesticide use – Describe the ecological implications of using too many pesticides. Lesson includes a hands-on activity designed to demonstrate the broad application of pesticides. What are some strategies to mitigate short and long term problems caused by extensive use of pesticides? What changes have you made to reduce your affect on the environment from pesticide use?

Have you helped anyone to understand the potential problems?

*We will post the full 5E Lesson Plan (Forest Management by Nick Carroll) and Program Activity Agenda (Pesticide Use by Peter Warren) on the website soon.

Document the results and summarize and share findings

Creating a shared list of aligned learning outcomes, post-lesson or activity evaluation questions, and long-term evaluation methods and responses will be helpful to our environmental education community. As with any formative evaluation, having information available about what works and does not work will help us to better understand the synthesis and understanding of complicated environmental issues and lasting effects of participation. Having a list of participant learning outcome results available to you for more than one year will inform how you do the activity or lesson in the future.

Educators and learners will benefit from gaining a better understanding of longer-term learning outcomes and impacts. Knowing whether learner knowledge is retained and applied can help us to design better curriculum and programs. If we have a shared list of outcomes from teaching difficult environmental issues, together we can enhance critical thinking skills of learners of all ages.

Discussion:

What are the barriers to conducting follow up evaluations with participants in any learning environment?

In your educational setting how might you go about following up with learners after an elapsed time?

Would you be willing to share achievements from teaching controversial environmental topics from your immediate lesson or program and follow up with those participants in a few years’ time? If so, what can AAEE provide to make sharing those results easier?

Resources and Links

NAAEE’s Guidelines for Excellence Series

Cotton, Deborah R.E. (2006) Teaching controversial environmental issues: Neutrality and balance in the reality of the classroom. Educational Research. Vol. 48., (2)., 223-241. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228785938_Teaching_controversial_environmental_issues_Neutrality_and_balance_in_the_reality_of_the_classroom

Program Development and Evaluation, University of Wisconsin-Extension

Evaluating Learning Outcomes for Citizen Science

Conservation Education Program Development, USDA

Project Learning Tree: https://www.plt.org/

 

Hiking from Dana to Petra: Exploring Environmental Education in Jordan

The Kingdom of Jordan is an Arab nation on the east bank of the Jordan River. To the north is Syria, to the east Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and to the west across the Dead Sea is Israel. In its narrow canyons stand tombs, temples, and monuments masterfully carved into pink sandstone. The object of my desire on this hiking adventure was to reach the ancient Nabatean City of Petra, also called the “Rose City”. And as I do with all of my travel, I inquired about environmental education efforts in the region.

Shawn McCrohan-Dropping Down into Petra Along The Jordan Trail

From our guides I learned that Jordan is now the second-most water poor nation in the world, which is exacerbated by the refugee influx from Palestine, Iraq and Syria. Our guides came right out to express their belief in man-made climate change, and over the course of 10 days I would learn how this and other environmental issues affect the region, as well as the programs and efforts to address them. Or as Jawad, our lead guide, hysterically said, “We need to kick people’s asses more!” His point being that, as is the case in many places around the world, enforcement of environmental policies is still a major barrier to success.

I’m a firm believer that some of the most influential environmental educators come in the form of non-formal or non-traditional outdoor leaders such as travel guides, who lead people on a journey of self-discovery and appreciation for new lands. Guiding people along the path of being tangentially aware of a place, to loving it, becoming part of it, and wanting to protect it fiercely. Our guides were exceptional, and made it a priority to explain to us visitors from around the world (Australia, Scotland, UK, Italy, Germany, and USA) how the nation of Jordan and its communities are experiencing environmental issues.

Hiking Up Sand Dunes in Wadi Rum

Here in Arizona, we are well acquainted with the desert environment and the importance of water conservation. The average rainfall in Jordan is between four and nine inches per year. In the Sonoran Desert we get about seven inches of rain per year. I was continually struck by the parallels between Arizona and Jordan, especially the landscape. However, one reminder that I was no longer in Arizona was the daily Islamic call to prayer coming from surrounding mosques. Hearing this to me was an exotic and exciting reminder that I was in a foreign land, and I loved it!

We began our hike in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve, which includes four different bio-region zones (Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo, Arabian and Sudanian). We hiked along part of the two-year-old Jordan Trail which extends through local villages and consists of eight sections. I hiked the 72.6km section from Dana to Petra.  The trail aims to get people out into nature, and support local populations.

“Friend” The Donkey and Fellow Hiker

Over the next 7 days we would hike with our two guides, three local Bedouins, and two donkeys named Felha and Friend. They were the highlight of the trip! Sometimes a little bossy on the trail, and would walk really close behind me wanting to pass. Yes, Felha, you can go ahead of me.

I was impressed by how strong our guides and the local Bedouins were. In fact, on the second day of the hike, which was a particularly steep ascent, one of the Bedouins got a call that his son had disobeyed his orders to stay home and tried to follow our hiking group from the valley up to the mountains. The Bedouin, who was only wearing sandals, ran miles back down out of the mountains to the valley floor to retrieve his son and make sure he was safe. They joined the rest of the group in camp later that night. Second only to the carving of those amazing temples and monuments in the rock, I was in awe of human ability and physical prowess.

Our Guide, Jawad, Doing Crane Pose in Wadi Rum #Badass

Jordan has over 2,000 plant species including pine, oak, and juniper (like Arizona), and fauna such as the jackal, Arabian wolf, lesser kestrel, Nubian ibex, and fox. Some of the main threats to biodiversity include woodcutting, overgrazing, hunting, and pollution. Over 15 million trees were cut down to help build the railway through Jordan to Damascas. The effects of this can still be seen throughout the region, though we did learn that tree-planting initiatives were underway.

Petra Treasury by Night

There are also issues with land-use planning and infrastructure development that have increased destructive flash flooding in the region. According to a recent article in Al Jazeera, ”The frequency of heavy downpours that quickly cause destructive flash floods has increased in recent decades, according to Jordanian water and climate experts.” In fact, the week before my trip there was a flash flooding that caused Petra to close to the public for a few days.

Plastic pollution was also a visible issue as we drove along the highways. A representative from Experience Jordan, the company I hiked with, said “It’s sad indeed that we still see garbage in the streets here, it mainly comes from a lack of awareness that eventually became a habit, but there are programs on raising awareness about this issue and organizations focusing more on environmental education. Hopefully we see change in the near future!”

Some organizations working on elevating environmental education in Jordan include the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). FEE has environmental education programs that are being implemented by the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS), this includes Eco Schools. JREDS is devoted to conservation of Jordan’s natural resources. EcoMENA is another initiative doing EE in the region, and one of the most popular sustainability advocates in the Middle East, with wide following and high degree of credibility across the Arab world.

And a 2017 article in the Jordan Times reported that plans are underway by the Ministry of Environment to introduce EE in national curriculum.

Hiking Group

Photo Gallery:

EE in Mexico: Exploring the Sonoran Desert Bioregion on a Fieldtrip to CEDO in Puerto Penasco, Mexico 

At the 2018 North American Association for Environmental Education Conference in Spokane, WA, it was all about the power of networks and creating a force for the future. Over 30 countries were represented at the event, including Ghana, Botswana, Nepal, Ireland, New Zealand and Mexico. EE is a global movement, and when we are united with common goals, success is inevitable.

Since 1980, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) located in Puerto Penasco, Mexico has been working to protect the environment on many levels, including community, scientific research, and environmental education programs that focus on biodiversity, estuaries, deserts, coasts, oceans, tide pools and watersheds.

The Sonoran Desert Bioregion is a special place that has an area of over 100,000 square miles, including Arizona, the Colorado River, Sonora, Mexico, the Sea of Cortez, and parts of California. This provides the potential for great synergy in a space that has been shared for thousands of years.

In its 30-year history CEDO has established a variety of networks including:

  • Local Communities (check out Nature Arte)
  • Local Fisheries
  • City of Tucson which was recognized by UNESCO for its gastronomy
  • US Fish and Wildlife
  • Arizona State University
  • University of Arizona
  • Mesa Community College
  • Universities in California
  • Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

CEDO has also established the most comprehensive education program for fisherman EVER in the Upper Gulf Reserve. It has been an enormous effort.

Fact: Did you know there are only 13 critically endangered vaquita porpoises left in the world?  The world’s most rare marine mammal, is on the edge of extinction. They are endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California.

 

 

2018 Outstanding NAAEE Affiliate Award Goes to AAEE

We are pleased to announce that the Arizona Association for Environmental Education has won the 2018 Outstanding NAAEE Affiliate Organization Award! All of our Board and committee members have worked so hard over the last two years to reinvigorate this association and participate at the national level. Thanks to everyone who has contributed time and effort to elevating the profession of EE in Arizona!

The North American Association for Environmental Education recognized AAEE for the following accomplishments:

AAEE made significant contributions to the field of EE by launching a new website and expanding member resources, increasing the number of Basic EE Certification graduates in Arizona, developing a new strategic plan based on non-profit self-assessment tools, supporting NAAEE initiatives including The Guidelines for Excellence Series, Natural Start and The Global Environmental Education Partnership (The GEEP), and collaborating regionally.

 

 

NAAEE’s Guidelines for Excellence: Community Engagement Guidelines Workshops

Betsy Wilkening (Education Coordinator, Tucson Program, Arizona Project WET) and LoriAnne Barnett (Education Coordinator; USA National Phenology Network at UArizona) attended the NAAEE 2018 Pre-Conference Train-the-Trainer Workshop for delivering best-practice content to our communities using the Community Engagement Resource, Number 6 in the broader NAAEE Guidelines for Excellence Series. This set of Guidelines focuses on community wellness and is designed to help environmental educators create inclusive environments that support effective partnerships and collaborations. Five Key Characteristics of sound Community Programs include:

  • Developing content that is community centered
  • Ensuring that your program is built on sound environmental education principles
  • Being collaborative and inclusive and thoughtful in your design
  • Outcomes are designed to be oriented toward capacity building and civic action
  • Adhering to a long-term investment in change

Many programs across our state, including those currently offered by Arizona Project WET, the USA-NPN’s Nature’s Notebook Local Phenology Leader Program, and the Arizona Master Naturalist Program have these characteristics already built into their foundation. The Guidelines for Excellence are also foundational to our Arizona Association for Environmental Education Certification Programs.

Both Betsy and LoriAnne will be developing Community Engagement workshops open to participation by others in the very near future. They are members of the NAAEE Guidelines Trainers Bureau, along with Lisa Herrmann from the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation in Phoenix. The Trainers are planning a series of workshops around the state in 2019, including sharing information at the planned 2019 AAEE Annual Conference (date September, TBD). There is a Guidelines for Excellence Workshop Scheduled in Yuma on February 9th, 2019 at the Colorado River State Historic Park. We will also be adding options for participation in Tucson, Phoenix, and Prescott soon, so stay tuned for more information. Details will appear on our eeWorkshops page as they become available. We hope you’ll join us!

2018 NAAEE Conference Recap!

Our AAEE Affiliate had awesome representation at the 2018 NAAEE Conference in Spokane, Washington last week. We counted at least 12 folks from Arizona (I’m sure there were more unknown to us, yet!) and enjoyed a Coffee Meetup on Friday morning to share ideas for collaborating in the future. Presentations from Arizona members included talks from Molina Walters (Motivating College Students for the Environmental Education Profession; “Sense of Wonder” Nature Journaling); Betsy Wilkening and Caroline Pechuzal (Enhancing Community Resilience to Climate Change through Education); Ellen Bashor and Sarah Foglesong (Equity and Inclusion through Nature Play); and LoriAnne Barnett (You can do it! Accomplishing Strategic Goals with an All-volunteer Board; EE Certification: The Benefits of Being Certified; Natural Resource Volunteer Education: Utilizing an Environmental Education Framework; Fine-tune Your Message for EE Organizations and Affiliates; and Certified Local Phenology Leaders: Creating Successful Communities Through Citizen Science). Several Arizona folks also participated in the Research Symposium held prior to the main event, including Elisabeth Roberts (NAU; PLACE4FEWS: Community-Based Food, Energy, and Water Systems Education for Resilience). Feel free to reach out to us here if you’d like to know more about what was presented. And if you were there and wish to join us, please let me know! We’d be glad to add you to our list of contacts. Email president@arizonaee.org to get connected.

Pepe Marcos-IgaAdditionally, conference-goers paid tribute to one of Arizona’s brightest lights in environmental education. Pepe Marcos-Iga passed away in September due to complications from cancer. Pepe was such a wonderful force in our EE and our Arizona community – he was full of spirit and his innovation will be deeply missed by all. Pepe worked in the EE field for several decades – he joined NAAEE as a Together Green Fellow, served as a member of the leadership team of the EECapacity project, EPA’s National Environmental Education Program, and eventually joined the NAAEE Board of Directors in 2007. He served as the Board’s Chair in 2011. He worked in Tucson at the Environmental Education Exchange as an International Programs Director and, most recently, worked for the Western National Parks Association as their Chief Operating Officer. Pepe served on the Guidelines for Excellence Trainers Bureau and helped to deliver content to Spanish-speaking audiences. He was a champion of community engagement. At the conference there was a beautiful tribute to him delivered by Judy Braus, NAAEE’s Executive Director, stories were shared and fellow friends wrote in a memory book in his honor. You can read part of Judy’s tribute here. In Tucson, over 200 friends and family gathered to celebrate his life earlier this month.  NAAEE launched an awards program in Pepe’s honor this year at the conference as well: The Pepe Marcos-Iga Award for Innovation. The NAAEE Staff have created a GoFundMe Campaign to help support his family during this difficult time and provide for his children’s education. If you wish to contribute, visit the Celebrate Pepe Marcos-Iga Page. If you knew Pepe, your life was richer for it. He will be deeply missed.

Participants learned a lot from over 1300 environmental educators from around the world. We were inspired by Keynote speaker Brady Piñero Walkinshaw from Grist Magazine, a Plenary Panel on Democracy, Civic Engagement, and Environmental Education moderated by David Orr and including Timothy Egan, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, and Janet Tran; a Plenary Discussion on EE: A Force for the Future facilitated by Paul Baribault, including Kevin Chang, Shaun Martin, Sheila Williams Ridge, and Jane Wei-Skillern; and by a closing panel discussion Falls along the Spokane Riveron Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Young Leaders Making a Difference, facilitated by the 2018 30 Under 30 Fellows.

The NAAEE conference is always a fantastic time to connect with other like-minded educators, learn more about what is happening in our field with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and to rejuvenate your programs and courses with new ideas. Conference-goers return with new connections and friends who serve as inspiration for the important work we do in our communities. Next year’s conference will be hosted by the  NAAEE Affiliate in Kentucky during the second week in October. Stay tuned for more details about how you can submit a presentation or become more involved!

Growing Big Ideas in the Garden

A School Garden Story

By Ashley Fine

 Over the past decade, our staff, students, and families at Skyview School (Prescott, Arizona) have been continually expanding our school’s learning gardens. Currently, Skyview has several edible gardens throughout campus, a large native plant and pollinator garden, and an extensive rainwater harvesting system. The gardens around campus are cared for and enjoyed by students from every grade level and the staff have developed curriculum centered around these outdoor learning spaces.

While there are countless benefits to having gardens at our school, there are five main functions of our garden-centered curriculum: Education, Restoration, Sustainability, Empowerment, and Connection.

As a school, Skyview’s main purpose is clearly to educate. Our habitat garden serves as an outdoor classroom and living laboratory where students can learn about subjects across the curriculum. It is a place where students can explore science concepts such as plant and animal life cycles, weather, ecological relationships, nutrient cycles, geology, and technological innovation. The garden is also an environment in which  students learn about culture, history, native people, social justice, economics and labor. Our garden provides an opportunity for mathematics to be applied in real world scenarios. For example, the students took measurements and calculated the projected annual yield of rainwater that we can capture off our classroom roof. They collect data each school day to learn about daily changes in weather, and larger scale climate patterns. Our farm stand, in the fall, gives students the opportunity to market their goods, exchange money, and calculate the income and expenses related to their student-led business.

In addition to education, another purpose of our gardens is restoration. Just over a year ago, our habitat garden was a vacant lot filled with years of buried trash, debris, and invasive plant species. In the fall of 2017, the students from every grade level planted approximately 200 native plants, creating viable habitat for a variety of pollinator species. We are promoting the growth of wildflowers as an important food source for wildlife, and native grasses which play a critical role in the carbon cycle.

One year after planting, our students have witnessed dozens of species of butterflies, moths, birds, insects and reptiles in our garden. In September, we found loads of monarch caterpillars munching on our milkweed! Our students are getting the opportunity to transform our school neighborhood for good, and to experience, first hand, the positive impacts of ecological restoration.

Similarly, another important goal of our habitat garden is sustainability. Having numerous rain tanks in the children’s learning environment serves as a daily reminder of the importance of conservation. The students are learning about passive and active rain harvesting techniques and how to intentionally design a landscape to slow, spread, and absorb the water from the few precious rain storms we get each year. They are learning about groundwater, surface water, and captured rain, and the relationship between these water sources. Our ultimate goal with all of our rain harvesting infrastructure is to sustain our vegetable garden with captured rainwater year round and completely eliminate the need to use city supplied groundwater.

Likewise, in our edible garden, students  learn the importance of growing local food in order to reduce energy use and transportation costs. Small gardens, such as ours, eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, all of which pose threats to human health and the environment. With changing conditions and a rapidly growing human population, natural resource literacy, and an understanding of sustainable food production, will be among the most valuable intellectual resources our children will need to carry with them into the future.

And this leads us to the next benefit of school gardens, which is empowerment. Some argue that true participatory democracy begins with participatory food production. Most people are passive consumers who simply go to the store to purchase the food they want- or the food they’ve been persuaded to want- rarely stopping to think about quality, process, impact or cost. Wouldn’t it be empowering, instead, to recognize, as Wendell Berry describes, that “the act of eating begins with planting and birth,” and is sustained by humans having a sensitive, responsive, and reciprocal relationship with plants. People with no knowledge or skills in the act and art of producing food lack the opportunity to experience true self reliance and liberty.

As Ron Finley, the gangster gardener of South Central Los Angeles states, “growing your own food is like printing your own money”. When children participate in the act of growing food and saving seeds, they start to recognize that money really does grow on trees!

And this brings us to the final benefit of our school gardens, which is connection. While this article has suggested a lot of idealistic ways our garden can be used as an educational tool and as a catalyst for change, the reality is, our students are probably not going to remember every point and detail of what is taught or discussed at school. What they will remember, though, is getting their hands muddy; holding a snail or earthworm in their palm; their surprise at pulling a giant, oddly shaped carrot out of the ground; the weight of water as they schlep a heavy watering can to their tiny sprouting seeds; and the feeling of simply being alive in a beautiful place.

In the garden, students get the chance to turn their attention away from phones and computer screens, in order to experience things that are alive and beautiful changing each day. They get to feel and appreciate the effort it takes to dig a hole in the ground, under the hot sun. They start to recognize weather as more than just a report, but rather a matter of life and death for tender living things growing in the garden.

When children get the chance to eat food that they were involved in growing, they are consuming more than just nutrients; They are feeding themselves with a story and a feeling of connection to all the resources and events that brought that fresh food to their young, curious mouths.

I had the great fortune of meeting Alice Watters at a Slow Food conference in Denver, CO in 2017. During one of her talks, she said something that really stuck with me. She explained that when children have beautiful spaces within their learning environment, “they know that they are loved without needing to be told.” They know that people who care about them took time to create a special place for them, where they can feel calm, safe, valued, and inspired.

 A colorful, fragrant garden is a place that excites the senses and the imagination, where learning can be visceral, memorable, and delicious. It is these deep-tissue learning experiences that result, later on, in responsible decision-making and stewardship. It is my hope that our gardens at Skyview School are one example of a small beginning, and that the school garden movement will continue to take hold in schools everywhere, especially in places where children would never, otherwise, get these kinds of learning experiences and opportunities.

Education, Restoration, Sustainability, Empowerment, and Connection are among the most important things we should be growing and cultivating in our schools, and gardens are the best place to dig in!

Ashley presenting on school garden programming during a Prescott College professional development institute

Have a school garden story to share? Comment and let us know!

Also, stay tuned for more on: School Gardening in Arizona (our climate brings unique challenges and opportunities!), The Dirt on Green Schoolyards (a growing national movement & why!), Planting Standards (state standards, NGSS, and the EE Guidelines are easy in the garden!) and more.

Is that even STEM?! Early EE & Nature Play

Before the buckets of sticks, branch cross-cuts, rocks, shells, moss, and more were even unpacked the children tiptoed in. As if drawn by an unseen magnetic force, tiny hands reached for the sticks, “tree cookies”, and shells, and we heard the excited question again and again and again, “Are these real?!

Earlier in the month AAEE teamed up with the Center for Nature and Place-based Early Childhood Education to host an early childhood environmental education & STEM space at the Children’s Learning & Play Festival in Scottsdale. We shared the space with many great organizations, including the lead organizer, The Museum of Science and Sustainability (MoSS). We loaded up a truck with nature’s loose parts of all kinds, some paints and brushes, and a whole bunch of enthusiasm. 400+ children, 300+ tree cookies, a couple gallons of paint, and 7 hours of laughter later, we realized parents and early childhood educators alike deeply agree: we need more nature play.

 

But why nature play?

Why tree cookies?

Is that even STEM?

Is that even EE?

We’re glad you asked!

 

 

 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and is a concept stemming (ha!) from a nationwide push to increase proficiency in these subjects through integrative and innovative approaches. Increasingly, environmental education is seen as one of the best approaches to achieving STEM goals in the United States. STEM for older children can be anything from water quality monitoring to building solar panels. However, STEM & EE in the early years look very different.

At AAEE we always promote developmentally appropriate practice, which is educational practice based on research about how young children learn and develop. Developmentally appropriate early EE & STEM may take the shape of open-ended and inquiry-based explorations or simply playing in and with nature. This might be creating towers or fairy worlds with loose parts, building forts, decorating story stones, making mud soup, watching bugs, or caring for a garden. These simple practices give young children the opportunity to ask questions, test hypothesis, discover the fundamentals of disciplines such as physics or ecology, build early literacy and numeracy skills, and so much more.

Early EE and nature-based STEM learning can also combat the growing concerns about Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). NDD is not a medical term, but a useful phrase to describe the effects we experience from our increasing disconnect with the natural world, including decreased use of the senses, attention issues, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, and indifference towards the natural world.

Play in and with nature is an easy remedy and there are many resources to help parents and educators make a real difference in their children’s lives. For starters, check out AAEE’s Early Childhood Environmental Education resource page, download a free copy of the NAAEE Early Childhood EE Guidelines for Excellence, or visit the website our national early EE partner the Natural Start Alliance.

You can also stay tuned to our blog and subscribe to our newsletter! In response to the growing field of early childhood EE, early STEM, nature play, nature-based preschools, forest kindergartens, and more, AAEE will be partnering with the Natural Start Alliance to increase advocacy and resources for the field here in Arizona. Look for upcoming blogs on topics such as What is Early Childhood EE? Nature Play & the latest research on Nature-based Learning, Nature Play in the Indoor Classroom, Nature Play in the Desert, and more!

 

If you want to join the conversation and help us advocate for early EE and nature play in Arizona  comment and let us know or follow us on Facebook; we love hearing from you!