Ah yes! Sitting feels good! I finally get a moment to breath. I haven’t had time to really sit down until now, but am grateful for the opportunity to FINALLY get to share with you some of the amazing fruits that I was able to harvest from a professional conference I attended not too long ago.
Last October, I had the opportunity to attend the NAAEE conference in Madison, WI and it was an incredibly amazing experience to say the least. Re-inspiring, reinvigorating, refreshing, informative, educational… the list of adjectives could go on, but I won’t. Anyway, for those who may not be familiar, NAAEE stands for the North American Association for Environmental Educators and, yes, there IS actually an official group for people to sit around and talk about how to save the environment. But, more importantly YES… it was filled with amazing, encouraging, and fruitful goodness! And I am the type of person who likes to share GOOD stuff when I find it, so here I go…
One of the first observations that I remember making when I arrived was how all the various circles were talking about the significance of human relationships. Not just of a human’s relationship with the environment, but (more importantly) with each other… the human community. That was the moment I knew I was in the right place. I fell deeper in love with my vocation and humanity.
I experienced some wonderful opportunities to meet some amazing and dedicated people, and learn about what they, theirs organization, or their businesses were doing to further education and inspire people towards environmental literacy and stewardship. Whether they traveled from within the U.S. or internationally, these global partners fell into 1 of 2 categories:
- They were informal educators seeking relationships with formal schools and an entry into their school curriculum; or
- School teachers seeking a way to merge environmental education standards into their school curriculum standards.
Realizing such motives that most of the participants fell into was probably the second time I knew that I was in the right place. I all of a sudden didn’t feel alone; that everything I’ve been thinking wasn’t so crazy after all. There is an effective way to leverage the power of children to promote sustainability and it is good… so good. Combining environmental literacy and state education standards in a true, authentic way “…is like a thick steak, a glass of wine, and a good cigar.” Any Chestertonian worth his lick would be hard-pressed to disagree. Here are a few of the reasons why:
6. David Suzuki. A Canadian Chemist and leading environmental advocate, Mr. Suzuki was the lead-off keynote speaker for the 2016 conference. Lying within his humorous wit and inspirational anecdotes, were so many little pearls of wisdom. One of the things that stood out the most to me was when he started talking about how “we are so ignorant of how the world works, we don’t know how to anticipate the consequences.” It really stuck with me. I mean this world is SO massive, it’s nearly impossible to know every. Little. Thing. People truly have good intentions and are doing their best to live a good, responsible life, but sometimes that which we don’t know gets the better of our intentions. We want better materials, we want convenience, and we don’t want to spend an arm and a leg for it… Now how can we get that which we want with the fewest number of “consequences”? Mull that chewy little morsel over with a glass of your choice red as you watch his talk here.
5. Research. A big component of the conference is all about research… figuring out the best practices in getting people to act with environmentality. This includes understanding people and why do do/say what they do/say, understanding how zoos/aquariums/environmental centers can effectively communicate conservation messages to guests, understanding the role of an informal education center and how people (both teachers and day guests) view them, and even how informal centers can work together to influence their community. The list goes on and on, but here are some gems that I found and adore.
- Beetles Project: This project is based out of California is a network of organizations and individuals dedicated to building relationships between schools and EE centers, as well as incorporating EE literacy standards into state/national curriculum standards.
- NC State University: This was one of the first talks I attended and enjoyed thoroughly. This doctoral candidate is studying the effectiveness of climate literacy using outdoor/informal facilities and using the power of children to influence positive behavior in their parents.
- Northland College: Another fabulous individual dedicate to bridging the gap between informal and formal settings. His talk was on incorporating EE into teacher pre-service training.
- Dr. Chris Sperry: This is an individual who dedicates his livelihood to effective EE practices. Unfortunately, I was in and out of this talk due to volunteer duties, but still a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the topic.
- University of Georgia: Teachers Communicating with Informal Science Educators: Community Views on Collaboration. This is an interesting little study on the effectiveness of school/informal education center relationships and how teachers and EE facilitators view each other’s jobs.
4. Human Impact. Sometimes it can be difficult for people, especially children, to really comprehend the impact society has on itself and the Earth. So here are some organizations that have some great after school and/classroom activities you can utilize to help your students understand.
- Science Action Club: A group dedicated to providing schools with quality environmental programs and kits to engage students in inquiry-based, STEM activities.
- Population Connection: A resource that contains some great, engaging activities to assist students in visualizing human impact on Earth.
- ecoRise Youth Innovations: Offers teachers eco-literacy curriculum to incorporate into the classroom. It’s all about design/systems-thinking in their programs which prepares them for a life/career in the real world.
3. Aimee Nezhukumatathil. This lovely lady is a specialist on environmental literacy and ELA, so pretty much YES english and the outdoors DO have something in common. She is an English Professor and public educator, as well as a renowned guest speaker. She talks about the great need for kids to be inspired again. There is no greater inspiration than the outdoors! Check out a portion of her talk right here.
“So much of what it means to be a writer [or scientist or design engineer] is just to be curious. Having a curiosity that demands to be satiated.”
2. Classroom Resources. Classroom resources teachers can use to hone critical skills used in the process of science (observation, reasoning, and critical thinking). All of the following resources have specific lessons/curriculum for a variety of topics (or standards, if you will). Wildcam Gorongoza and Zooniverse are both entities of HHMI
Biointeractive which are SUPERB resources for helping students working on their observation and classification skills as they help real-life scientists to identify species caught on camera traps. iNaturalist is a citizen scientist application in which students can also help to identify plant/animal species, or post their own pictures for identification. These are great ways to network in real-time with real-scientists. Teachers can use these tools for a stimulating class discussion, too!
- HHMI Biointeractive
- Nature Navigator at Stevens Point
- Alliance to Save Energy
- Nature Explore
1. Environmental Literacy Models. And the #1 reason why it’s time to unite EE literacy with state standards?! Why, of course, it’s already being done! Not only are there great lessons that school teachers can attach to, but there are also already schools that have caught on to the revolution of changing the ways of formal education! Check out these awesome models which demonstrate effective incorporation of EE standards in school curriculum standards. These groups are already working to bridge the gap between the two.
- XQ Super Schools (http://xqsuperschool.org/abouttheproject): High schools all over the county and in urban settings. Houston, New Orleans, Miami… It’s all about reforming education with purpose-driven learning
- Badger Rock Middle School (Badger Rock, WI)
- Dutch Fork Elementary School (Irmo, SC)
- Sigsbee Charter School (Key West, FL)
- And we can’t forget the Zoo Schools, either… Science Focus Program (Nebraska Zoo) and School of Environmental Studies (Minnesota Zoo).