Monday, October 15, 2012

NAAEE 2012--Friday

Friday of the 2012 NAAEE conference were spent mostly learning about outdoor classrooms.

The most helpful sessions were put on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  They have, or are involved in two excellent habitat education programs.

The first is the Pacific Region's Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide.  You can download a copy of the guide here.  This fantastic guide lays out the following 9 steps to a successful habitat project:

Step 1--Form a Team.  This is a critical first step that, if skipped, can really jeopardize the future of your site.  Many of these projects are championed by one enthusiastic teacher, typically the science teacher in the school.  But, if there is no formal committee or team to delegate projects and responsibilities to, to keep informed, to keep momentum, what happens when that teacher leaves the building or retires?  The project falls by the wayside.  I've seen this happen dozens of times and it's quite frustrating.  So, if you are interested in starting a habitat improvement project at your school, form a team or committee FIRST!

Step 2--Develop a Master Plan.  This can also make or break your plans.  I always like to say "Think BIG, Start small."  Having a Master Plan doesn't mean that once a project or idea is in the plan, you can't take it out or alter it.  Master Plans just help you stay focused and thoughtful in your efforts so that you're not wasting your time or energy going after "the next big idea."  Try to draft everything in a thoughtful, timeline oriented plan at the beginning.  You can always modify the plan as needed, but this way you'll have set goals and it won't be so overwhelming to you and your team.

Step 3--Assess Your Project Site.  You don't know where you can go until you know where you are.  This is also a great way to involve your students from the beginning.  You need to know what you have already, how you can use what you have already, then start planning on any modifications, additions, changes, etc.  Conduct soil testing, runoff calculations, plant and animal inventories, temperature variations from various parts of the site, sunlight exposure, water sources, accessibility issues, conflicts in use, and more.  You really need to get to know your site.  This can almost be done before your Master Plan, depending on what you're hoping to do.  At the very least, you can conduct your site assessment at the same time as your developing your Master Plan.

Step 4--Design Your Project.  This is the meat of the plan.  Create a map of your site, based on your site assessments of course.  Once you're map is done, start laying out the first few parts of your Master Plan.  Where are you going to put a butterfly garden?  Where can you put the frog pond? Do you need a foot bridge over that seasonal wet area behind the soccer field in order to get to the woods? Add it to the map!

Step 5--Decide Your Money Matters.  How much is it going to cost to do this?  This part can be overwhelming to your team.  But don't forget, Think BIG, Start small.  Break your plan into manageable, fundable parts.  Don't try to complete it all in one year.  You'll burn yourself out for sure.  Or worse, you'll burn out your team.  Settle on what parts of the plan you want to start with and find funding for those first.

Step 6--Install Project.  Do what you said you wanted to do! Have the students help as much as possible with this part too.  The more you involve your students, the more they will take ownership of the projects and the less likely you'll have vandalism issues, etc.  And it allows them to see the fruits of their labor.

Step 7--Create a Maintenance Plan.  One thing that is critical is to involve your maintenance staff as early in the process as possible.  If your maintenance staff doesn't know what's going on, or worse, doesn't approve or care about your project, it's going to be hard to keep your project maintained.  You and your students can only do so much.  Make sure you involve your maintenance crew in decisions about project placement as well as maintenance schedules.

Step 8--Use the Project.  Get outside with those students and use these wonderful sites! And their not just for science.  Art, writing, history, phys ed can all be taught using outdoor habitats.  Get creative, don't think of it as an extra thing you have to do with your students.  Just think of it as a different way of teaching. 

Step 9--Share Your Story.  For goodness sakes, show off your hard work!!  Tell people what you're doing, the benefits, the fun, the excitement of new and creative opportunities that you're creating for your students.  Have the students tell what their learning!  Create press releases, newspaper articles, conduct dedications of the site, make signs, invite the community to participate, toot your own horn!

These are all critical steps to a successful schoolyard habitat project.  The Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide provides helpful tips and tricks for conducting surveys of the schoolyard, field notes from experienced planners, and suggestions for projects on both urban and more rural sites that can utilize woodland, wetlands and meadows.  This guide is an invaluable tool for anyone planning an outdoor learning area.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife has a program called WILD School Sites that follows these same philosophies about outdoor areas, just a different name.  If you'd like to be involved in Ohio's program, contact us at 1-800-WILDLIFE or  You can find more on our website at 

The second program I sat in on was a program called Nature Explore, which was actually developed by the National Arbor Day Foundation and has been championed by the USFWS in the form of several certified Nature Explore preschools at their facilities.  We heard about one at fish hatchery in Montana and the newest site at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. 

These Nature Explore classrooms are fantastic for providing outdoor learning space for little ones.  They contain areas where kids can build things with natural materials, play in the dirt and mud, look at leaves, climb and explore logs and rocks, and generally enjoy themselves in unstructured play outside. 

If you're interested in learning more on how to become a certified Nature Explore classroom, check out their website at

More on the local sites tomorrow.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 12, 2012

NAAEE 2012 EE--Certfication presentations

The primary reason for my attendance at this conference was to help present about Ohio's Environmental Education Certification program.  I was fortunate to be a part of the development of this program from the beginning and Jen Bucheit and I came out to sit in on two panel discussions to help other states that are interested in starting their own EE Certification program. They were called EE Certification 101 and 102.

If you're not familiar with the EE Certification program, it is a professional certification process that is guided and accredited by NAAEE across the country.  NAAEE provides the guidelines, standards, and general policies for an EE Certification program and it's the state affiliates' job to follow those guidelines and standards as they develop their programs in order to gain that accreditation. 

Ohio's program has been in development since 2006.  Our first pilot year was 2009 and we actually conducted two pilot years.  Our first full year was 2011 and we've just began our 2nd full year this past month.

The premise of the EE Certification program is to provide a professional certification to those working in the EE field.  Most professions have some sort of certification that provides consistency, best practices, and a general base knowledge that helps ensure that those in the field are all on the same page.  It lends credibility to the profession and it looks good on a resume'. 

Jen and I basically gave this information in our two sessions. We had fellow panel members from Kentucky, Utah, Maryland, Colorado and Pennsylvania to help with the presentation. There were a few states that had some questions, either because their state's programs were in disrepair or they didn't have a program at all. There were a lot of good discussions and it's always interesting to see how other states run their programs. Ours is fairly young and we "stole" ideas from several states, especially Kentucky. Collaboration is a great thing!

If you are someone who is new to the field of EE, would like to increase your own knowledge, boost your resume', are in need of professional development or graduate credit, and want to give yourself a competitive edge in the field, you can check out Ohio's EE Certification Program online at   The fee is $500 and that includes your meals, lodging and materials for three in-person meetings with instructors and your cohort throughout the school year.  The syllabus and application are on the website.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NAAEE 2012-Wednesday

I had to catch up on some sleep, having been up since 4:45 EST the day before.  So after sleeping in a bit, till 9:30 EST :-), I joined the Phenology Monitoring and Citizen Science Workshop.  This all day workshop focused on the science of phenology. 

If you have never heard this term before, phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle stages.  These stages are also called phenophases.  These phenophases are usually looked at on an annual basis and they are phenomenon that have an onset, duration and end stage.  Some examples might include the study of the blooming periods of spring wildflowers, or the timing of foliage color change, or the migration patterns of songbirds and waterfowl.

This science is not by any means a new field or practice.  Native Americans used phenology to determine prime hunting and gathering periods based on the emergence of buds, flowers and berries for centuries.  For example, tribes on the Canadian east coast would not fish for shad until the "shadbush," or serviceberry as we call it in Ohio, bloomed.  They learned to associate the timing of the emergence of the bush's blooms with the time of when these fish were at their peak for eating.  In the U.S., the Department of Agriculture was using phenology in as early as the 1920's to help determine growing seasons for crops.

Basically, phenology is about paying attention to the physical cues that plants and animals exhibit to determine changes in the environment.  These physical cues can be used to track climate change, including temperature and precipitation changes, and overall environmental changes that occur over time. 

Why would we want track these changes? Phenological changes have biological and economical importance. 

A biological example is found in Europe with the relationship between the English oak, the Winter moth, and the Dutch Pied flycatcher. Both et. al. Nature 2006.  Basically, this study showed that as the English oak begins to leaf out earlier and earlier each year, the caterpillar of the Winter moth begins to emerge earlier as well.  However, the Pied flycatcher continues to return at the same time each year from its migration, finding less and less of its favorite food available as the caterpillars have already entered the pupae stage, making them unavailable to the birds.  The bird's populations have declined as much as 90% in the last two decades because of this "mistiming" of phenological events.

One simpler and more familiar economic example is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.  This festival is centered around the blooming of the thousands of cherry trees in the nation's capital that are an annual gift from Japan.  The timing of peak blooms vary to some degree each year, as much as a 10 days, depending on local weather conditions.  However, you can see that in the last twenty years, the trend as crept earlier and earlier from early April to now mid-March.  This impacts when events will be held each year, which impacts the local economy to the tune of over $120 million annually. A mistiming of this event could be critical to local hotels, restaurants, tour guides, and more. 

There is a relatively new national organization called the USA National Phenology Network, or NPN. This network is hoping to become the clearinghouse for any and all national, regional and local data related to phenology of plants and animals.  It already contains information on 630 plant species and 230 animal species across the country.  They work with many partners across the country to develop collection protocols, best practices, and education about phenology, as well as data collection.  This is where you come in.

If you're interested in learning more about conducting a phenology study in your area, and how to contribute data, please check out the NPN website at  They have a ton of valuable information on conducting research, engaging students and adults, submitting data, using archived data for comparison studies, and more.  It is a very user-friendly, intuitive website. 

My hope is that we, as an agency, can eventually provide training in phenology for schools that have high quality outdoor classrooms as part of our WILD School Sites program.  I believe that phenology can be used in not only science, but math, language arts, and social studies as well.  And, as the new Ohio Academic Content Standards move towards more project or process-based learning, phenological studies fit very well within these frameworks for learning.

At a minimum, I hope that you all start to pay attention to the natural world around you.  Phenology can help you reconnect with the nature that is right in your neighborhood and backyard.  Keep a journal for your property or local park.  You can submit that data to NPN as well.  Get reconnected to nature through the science of phenology.

We took a field trip to the Golden Gate Bridge National Recreation Area to see how to conduct a phenology study.  The field trip was hosted by the educators of NatureBridge, a non-profit organization that works in partnership with western national parks and recreation areas to bring students to these areas for environmental educational experiences.  Many of their programs include the collection of phenological data.  Here are some pictures from the day.  Enjoy!

A bus view of the Bay from the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

Red Rock Island.

Group members having a great discussion.

Checking out one of the plant species that this site monitors.

Nature Bridge monitors three plant species at this particular site. 
This is called Coyote Bush, or Baccharis pilularis

An upclose view of the leaves and flowers of the Coyote Bush.

Another plant that is monitored is the cow parsnip, or Heracleum maximum 

The third monitored plant is the Sticky Monkey plant, or Mimulus aurantiacus.
Just so that you won't think I made up that name. :-)

One of the many spectacular views from the Golden Gate Bridge National Recreation Area.

A tanker steaming into the Bay.  Another great view from the Recreation Area.
One of the few shots I was able to get from the bus of the actual Golden Gate Bridge.

North American Association for Environmental Education Conference, Oakland, CA 2012

As the wildlife education coordinator, I have the privilege of travelling to a lot of great places in the U.S.  This week I am in Oakland, CA for the North American Association for Environmental Education Conference, or NAAEE for short.  This is an annual conference and, as conferences go, it's pretty huge.  Attendance usually gets to around 900 or so each year.  I just heard this year's was closer to 1000!

It's been several years since I've been as this conference is also pretty pricey.  But, I always learn a ton of things while I'm here.  This year is no exception.  So, the next few posts will be all about what I've seen and learned at the NAAEE Conference.  I hope you enjoy it and I hope it inspires you to attend future NAAEE conferences and even become a member.  You can find more information about that online at

You've got to love a good view from your hotel room.

That's San Francisco across the Bay.

The second bridge in the back is the famous Golden Gate bridge.  You could see the orange color with binoculars.

Also beautiful at night.
OK, enough of the room views.   I am staying at the Marriott and it's attached to the Oakland Convention Center.  Everyone has been super friendly and very accommodating.  And downtown Oakland is very nice.  Very clean and foot traffic friendly.  And, as could be expected in California, very environmentally conscious.  Lots of opportunities to recycle, reuse, and conserve.

I got in Tuesday afternoon and got to have lunch at the Pacific Coast Brewing Company.  Very good food and micro brews, if you're into that.  I then met up with the affiliates group for dinner.  Most states have a state affiliate organization of NAAEE.  Ohio's is EECO or the Environmental Education Council of Ohio.  I happen to be the ODNR Advisor to their executive board.  Each year, NAAEE hosts an Affiliates workshop and they all went out to dinner together at Miss Pearl's Restaurant in the Jack London Square, which is Oakland's waterfront district.  Good food and good conversation with people from the D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Vermont and more.  This is another benefit of these conferences, you get to meet a lot of cool people from all over the country.  The networking is tremendous!

More to come!