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  • 23 Jul 2015 7:43 AM | Anonymous member

    Easy Ways to Get Your Students Outside
    Angela Bianco

        As a classroom teacher, I am always looking for ways to incorporate environmental education lessons into our day-to-day routines and inquiry activities. I have a couple of activities that I used this year to get students outside.
        One activity I did to start the school year and introduce our outdoor classroom was a bird and buddy lesson.  We have a prairie restoration site that is located on the side of the building and, aside from the beautiful flowers that are growing there, we have a lot of interesting wildlife.  The 4th grade students have 1st grade buddies and we try to meet with them monthly. For a buddy activity we used the book Wild About Minnesota Birds: A Youth’s Guide to the Birds of Minnesota by Adele Porter and studied the section on birds of the prairie. Each bird has a call that you can mimic.  The 4th grade students taught their 1st grade buddy about the bird and also taught them the birdcall. We went out to the prairie area and spread out. Buddies used their birdcall to find each other.  This was a great way to get them excited about the prairie restoration site and connect with their buddies.
        I found that it works best to start small and begin with a commitment to get outside everyday. This next activity is how I accomplished that.  We called going outside each day “Outdoor Rush,” students (and teacher) had 4 minutes to get their outside gear on. The promise of going outside moved them to work quickly.  The expectation was when the time was up you were standing in line next to a partner with jackets, mittens, hats, etc.  We met as a class before starting Outdoor Rush and went over whistle signals; one means look at me, two means circle up or line up next to me, and three was the emergency signal that meant get inside as soon as possible. The first few sessions we observed trees, birds, and people.  As we became more efficient at this routine, I started to gather students at our outdoor learning space and use quick activity lessons to have them interact with the space and each other.  These activities came from a set of cards, 52 Activities in Nature part of the 52 series. 
        Each activity and lesson was easy to implement and helped prepare students for future sessions outside. 

  • 16 Jun 2015 8:42 PM | Anonymous member

    There’s a lot going on in the world of environmental education these days.  As I sit here writing this blog post, it’s hard to pinpoint a direction to focus on.  There are so many important decisions being made in regards to our natural world, from the legislature down to our local governments. How do we, as citizens make the right choices?  And, as environmental educators, how do we make someone care enough to do the right thing even when no one is watching?  How do we help out the bigger picture with just one student at a time?

    Many of you are already doing what needs to be done, and making a big impact.  We are not in this field because of wealth, stability or fame.  Most of us are here because we want to be.  I haven’t met an environmental educator yet who doesn’t show some form of passion about the work they do.  And that passion is contagious.  You can see it on our students’ faces.

    I recently had a four year old in my program run excitedly up to me with a rock in her hand.  “Look! I found granite!”  We hadn’t learned about rocks for at least two months and she willingly, and correctly, identified a rock.  It is in those proud moments when you know you are making a difference.

    Curiosity, appreciation and respect for the world around us are what I hope to instill in my students.  And who knows, maybe that four-year-old little girl will grow up to be the one sitting in the office, making regulations for the rest of us in twenty years.  I hope she is.

    -- Wendy Tremblay

  • 23 May 2015 12:05 AM | Anonymous member

    I recently read the article “In the future, doctors may tell you take two ‘doses of nature’ and call in the morning” in the Washington Post. You can find the article here, and was also posted to the MAEE Facebook page.

    The article got me thinking about living in the Twin Cities Metro and the need to be in a more serene space. It’s that constant balance I am working on striking between the love of an active and vibrant city and the need for my outdoor space. For me it’s about working on the mental health so that the physical health can be well. I am not a doctor. Nor do I hold any medical experience other than Wilderness First Responder, and that isn’t very helpful with what I am thinking through and sharing with you. So the following is my thought process on the subject and charge to all of you reading this.

    As Ariana Eunjung Cha, mentions in her article, there are lots of studies that have shown the importance of the exposure to nature is to our social, mental and physical health. As she points out, “The World Health Organization predicts that 70 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas within 30 years.”

    So how do we do this in an urban setting? The quick answer that comes to my mind and maybe came to yours is, just spend more time outdoors. That certainly is what many health professionals, ecologists and statisticians are working toward finding out – how much we need to be “healthy.”

    But I personally think this is more complicated than an amount of time.

    For me, a space doesn’t feel peaceful if I don’t feel connected to it. The feeling of connection to the land or a place is thought of as a sense of place. Knowing this about myself, this need for a connection to place, has led me to think about what kind of places are calming. I grew up along the Mississippi River bluffs. Often spending hours roaming those woods and bluffs or out on the water. If I wasn’t on the river, I was near a lake (yes, there are lakes in Iowa). As I’ve grown older, I have realized the importance for me to have a body of water near by to go to. Whether it’s wooded or open doesn’t matter. But the water does.

    So this brings me back to the question of how do I find this in an urban setting?

    Luckily I find myself in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, and the Twin Cities Metro that has no shortage of lakes. I have lived in Minnesota for 6 years and 5 of those in the Twin Cities. I have taken time to explore many of those lakes and admittedly haven’t found that “perfect” serene place yet. But I’ve come close.

    This “escape” makes me feel a new level of mental clarity and I feel healthier, despite not being the perfect place. My scientific mind and curiosity hopes that researchers continue to provide insight into the connection between nature, sense of place and health so that society can continue to offer these spaces and support our health needs in a holistic way.

    Until then, I challenge myself and everyone else to go out and find your sense of place in an urban, rural or both settings. Go and be happy and healthy outdoors.

    Top Ideas for Finding Bliss in Nature

    1. Spend more time outside.
    2. Try out new places
    3. Explore with your family or friends
    4. Find out what’s important to you



  • 15 Apr 2015 5:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Lindsay Raab, MAEE Board Member

    Minnesota Association for Environmental Education partnered with Como Friends to host the March Feast Forward event at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. After eating breakfast in the Bullard Rainforest Auditorium, participants headed out to the African hoofed stock exhibits to meet Zookeeper Pete. Three giraffes were on exhibit, including new baby Skye! Attendees had the opportunity to feed Skye’s father, Skeeter, behind-the-scenes! All participants completed a Como Conservation Scavenger Hunt for a prize. Several door prizes were given away, including year-long Como Friends Family Membership! 

    Did you know?

    • You can recycle your old cell phone, iPod, or other electronics at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory to help save great apes in the wild! You can also drop them off at any St. Paul Public Library.
    • Many zoos like Como take part in Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs. The mission of SSP programs is to cooperatively manage specific, typically threatened or endangered, species populations within AZA-accredited facilities. 
    • Como zookeepers work hard to save amphibians! Como Zoo takes part in a breeding and releasing program for Wyoming Toads, a species that is on the brink of extinction.
    • Como Zoo is home to several rehabilitated animals. Three of Como’s pinnipeds (two harbor seals and one California sea lion) were injured or orphaned in the wild and would not likely have survived much longer without human intervention. Since they were deemed unreleasable to go back into the wild due to their injuries, they now have a home at Como Zoo. And they have excellent medical care, abundant meals, and lots of love from zoo staff!

    Como Park Zoo and Conservatory provides all types of environmental education experiences for the public! Here are a few short descriptions about some of Como’s current educational programs:

    The Como Residency program gives local classrooms the opportunity to spend an entire week at Como learning about the plants and animals of the zoo and conservatory! This school year, Como has hosted 25 different classes, ranging from 2nd to 5th grade that participated in a variety of hands-on activities and used the scientific method in real life situations. Students also used their engineering skills through building activities. They built enrichment for both primates and polar animals during the week, and got a close up view of the initial interaction between the animals and their enrichment! 

    Camp Como offers half or full day experiences for campers in preschool through 8th grade. Como’s camps focus on expanding each child’s appreciation for the natural world while meeting zookeepers and gardeners, having “behind-the-scenes” experiences and meeting Como’s plant and animal ambassadors up-close! 

    Family Classes such as “Big Cat Breakfast” or “Polar Bear Bash” provide an opportunity for families to bond with each other while making breakfast enrichment for Como Zoo animals! These programs are not only fun, but educational as well. Participants learn all about the Como animals, but also what they can do to help those animal species to survive in the wild.

    To learn more about education at Como, please check out the website: http://www.comozooconservatory.org/education/


  • 15 Mar 2015 9:41 PM | Anonymous member

    About a year and a half ago I started a new job. It was a big change for me – less teaching time, more of an adult audience and a heck of a lot more administrative work. The 7 years previous had been spent with kids traipsing through the woods or teaching summer camp and birthday parties. No day was ever the same, and the programming was so varied that I was never bored.

    But it was time for a change, and I knew taking the job with the Monarch Lab would be a good thing for me.  And I’m so glad I did.

    The things the Monarch Lab is doing for the conservation of such a beautiful species are just mind-blowing. I never thought that an organization that focused on just one animal would have so much variety.

    The Monarch Lab is an organization based out of the University of Minnesota, headed up by Dr. Karen Oberhauser, a leader in the field of monarch research and conservation. We run trainings on monarch citizen science, professional development workshops for teachers, and run a huge research fair for students in the fall.  And of course the occasional speaking engagement or presentation at a conference or visiting a classroom.

    It’s nowhere near the amount of programming that a lot of other environmental education organizations have, but somehow it keeps our small staff busy 12 months of the year.

    And the work is so fulfilling. I get to meet so many wonderful teachers who have such a passion for their profession and their students.  And I get to hear about and meet so many wonderful students who have a passion for science.  It feels so good to be someone who fosters that sort of enthusiasm for science and nature.

    One of my favorite things is to hear the stories from people about how they used to raise monarchs with their teachers as kids, or what it was like for them to watch a monarch form a chrysalis or emerge as an adult. I love that such a tiny creature (one that belongs to a taxonomic phylum that generally does not receive a whole lot of love) is so charismatic and connects so many people to nature. And I especially love that what people are doing to help save the monarch migration is helping so many other types of animals as well (particularly bees and other pollinators). Being at the center of this movement is such an uplifting thing.

    The Monarch Lab has connections all over North America, working on monarch conservation and education. They’re part of a national partnership called the Monarch Joint Venture, which does great work to conserve the migration of the monarch butterfly. The Monarch Lab also coordinates the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which is a citizen science program with volunteers recording and reporting back data on monarch caterpillars during the growing season all throughout the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico.

    If you’re interested in getting involved in monarch conservation or attending a training, check out the Monarch Lab’s web page at www.monarchlab.org. We also have a Facebook page! And we’re friendly people – feel free to shoot us an email or give us a call if you have questions about anything, too!

    Other links:

    www.MonarchJointVenture.org

    www.mlmp.org

    Twitter:

    https://twitter.com/MLMPCitSci

    https://twitter.com/monarchsjv

    Facebook:

    https://www.facebook.com/umnmonarchlab

    https://www.facebook.com/monarchsMLMP

    https://www.facebook.com/monarchjointventure

  • 12 Feb 2015 7:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Callie Recknagel, MAEE Board Member

    I first heard of No Impact Man several years ago when they were showing the documentary at the Walker Art center. I thought it sounded like an intriguing idea to create no waste for a year. What started as a year long experiment has turned into a lifestyle for the Beavan family, and a movement for people to join.

    “The No Impact Project was conceived by Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, following the success of his blog, book, and film, which chronicle his family’s year-long experiment living a zero-waste lifestyle in New York City. Central to his thesis is the notion that deep-seated individual behavior change leads to both cultural change and political engagement. Living low-impact provides a clear entry point into the environmental movement. This thesis is the bedrock of the No Impact Project.”

    The No Impact Experiment was created for people to get their toes wet and pay more attention to how much waste they produce over the course of a week. It walks you through different steps, gradually getting more challenging throughout the week. When I did the challenge myself, I thought I would do pretty well, given that I compost and choose to reuse as much as possible. I am an avid recycler, and have encouraged others to kick their bottled water habits (a personal pet peeve of mine). But the sticking point for me was in the amount of plastic that enters into my life on a regular basis, even when I bring my own reusable bags to the grocery store and buy items in the bulk section filling up my own containers. It enters into my life in the produce section, in the packaging for so many items, in the instances when I am on the go and don’t plan ahead. Plastic has become a given in our lives, something thats not questioned nearly as much as it should be. I was particularly struck when I learned that plastic never completely breaks down. It may break into smaller pieces, so small they're hard to see, but they will never reduce to nothing...so where do they go? Into our landfills, the ocean, animals, our water, our land, our food, and eventually our own bodies. I applaud the cities and stores that have banned plastic bags from their checkout lines, but we are surrounded by plastic and that only touches the surface. I challenge you to take the No Impact Week challenge and rethink how many things you send to the landfill on a regular basis, how much plastic you consume, and how much of that plastic is not recycled.

    I recently came across the curriculum that they developed to bring these ideas into the classroom and use them with youth. The curriculum is free on their website, and includes a wealth of resources (links, articles, videos, tools) to explore. These resources are worth exploring, and if you work directly with youth, I encourage you to make use of them in whatever way you can in hopes that future generations will be able to live more of a “no-impact” life. 

    Find the free curriculum here.



  • 23 Jan 2015 8:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The MAEE board of directors just had our annual board retreat at the Women’s Environmental Institute Eco Retreat Center where we planned for the future, snowshoed and naturalized on WEI’s beautiful grounds, ate delicious food, and got to know each other better. We all left with lots to do and feeling energized for the year to come. This is a strategic planning year for MAEE where we get to look back at what MAEE has been doing and think about how we want MAEE to change and grow in the future as we approach our 25th year (in 2017). As part of strategic planning, we are reexamining the benefits of MAEE membership, increasing our financial stability, and better supporting environmental education and environmental educators throughout the state. We will be checking in with our membership as our strategic plan firms up and we try out new member benefits. Keep an eye out for more updates throughout the year.

  • 18 Dec 2014 1:27 PM | Anonymous member

    In the final MAEE blog post of the year, I wanted to take the chance to show some appreciation for all of the hard work you as environmental educators do. And it IS hard work. Many of our non-EE peers think we just play outside all day, getting dirty, having fun, playing games.  And we do – but it’s still work. I’d like to see some of them try it sometime and then say otherwise. There are group dynamics to navigate, science to teach, and encounters with questions you may not know the answers to, not to mention the teachers and parents involved (you know the ones I mean). Not to mention all the administrative and coordinating work behind the scenes. It’s a challenge you’ve all risen to!  We as environmental educators not only cultivate a love and aspiration for science, but we fosters a love and appreciation for nature as well. You all are both the facilitators and front seat spectators to all of that.

    There is a LOT of competition with nature these days:  technology (computers, video games, TV); more buildings, cars and roads; fear of strangers; parental attitude; fear of pests.  The list could go on forever. For kids, boundaries are smaller, and the freedom to roam is diminished.

    People have always had a fear of the unknown, and throughout history nature has often been included in that. The difference now is that collectively as a society, we know more about what’s out in nature, but when we get down to the individual level the understanding isn’t always there.

    During my time as a naturalist and informal educator I observed fear of pests (among other things) first hand. I will never forget the mother who asked me if her children “could catch ticks” from being in the long grass where we were building our fort (having fun!). When I told her it was possible, but not likely as ticks were long past their peak, she wanted immediately take her kids home and away from the fun they were having. I did not mention to her that it was also possible to “catch ticks” in her backyard…

    I do not discount the fears and worries of parents – our world is a dangerous place! Or, at least it can be. One of the things  I love about being an environmental educator (and I’m sure many of you would agree) is that I get to give youth (and sometimes adults…) the knowledge and tools they need to navigate through a number of those fears and dangers in a way that empowers them instead of doing all the work for them. In my opinion, spending time in nature is a huge part of the way humans learn. It is a way for children to gain confidence, build coordination skills, test the physical capabilities of their own boundaries, and learn what is acceptable socially.

    The great thing about being an environmental educator is that I know that many of these youth we teach, even for just the short time we see them, will grow up with a much larger appreciation for more than just trees or birds or insects.

    I’ve heard countless stories from other educators about where they got their passion and excitement for nature. I have my own stories. And the youth you teach will remember what they did with you for the rest of their lives. You will become that spark of passion for them. I have no doubt that when they are older if they are ever asked “How did you know you wanted to do ____?” the answer will eventually lead back to the hours they spent with you learning to identify birds and trees and looking for fungus and insects, and the connections they made to their fellow youth, to science, and to nature.

    So here’s a bit of encouragement and a great big nod to all the hard work you do for your institution and the role you play in the environmental education sphere here in Minnesota. What you do has value and is appreciated by everyone you encounter, even if they don’t realize it.

    So keep up the good work and have a FANTASTIC New Year!


  • 21 Nov 2014 7:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Callie Recknagel, MAEE Board Member

    At the 2014 Board Retreat in January, MAEE President John Smith had a great idea - “let’s create a map of everyone doing EE in Minnesota!” The MAEE Board members put their heads together, drew out a big map of Minnesota, and starting writing in all of the organizations, schools, parks, government agencies, and other entities they knew of doing anything related to environmental education across the state. Twelve board members generated an impressive list, but we think that there are many more organizations out there that we don’t know about yet.

    We made the map electronic and interactive via Google Maps and brought it to the MAEE Conference in June to get more suggestions. Now updated with those points, we are bringing it live to our newsletter and website for you to explore! This map is still a work in progress, but we hope it will be a tool for you to find others engaging people in environmental education across the state. If you know of something that is not on the map, please contact maeeinfo@gmail.com and we will be sure to add it in!

    Go ahead, explore all of the environmental education that Minnesota has to offer!


  • 22 Oct 2014 6:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Our current strategic plan expires this year and board members have been laying the groundwork in 2014 for next year’s efforts to develop a new strategic plan in 2015. We hosted a World Café at the 2014 conference to solicit feedback from members on how MAEE is doing. The board will continue to solicit members’ feedback as we develop the strategic plan for the next 3-5 years. Strategic planning can sound overwhelming and foreign, but it is just a chance for MAEE to examine at what we believe in, what we’re doing, and to make sure the two things are aligned. This includes exploring new ways of operating and exploring new models of serving our members, and adapting MAEE to continue serving Environmental Education in MN well into the future.

    Some innovations the MAEE board has planned for 2015:

    Feast Forward: MAEE will be partnering with at least four EE organizations throughout the state to offer Feast Forward events. Feast Forward will build on our successful first Feast Forward in April, 2014. Each event will highlight an EE organization throughout the state where MAEE and the host organization will host a dinner and educational event at each site. The first Feast Forward will take place at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault on December 13th. Learn more about this event on our website.

    MEEC Conference: 2015 is a MEEC (Midwest Environmental Education Conference) year, and it’s going to be in Madison, WI October 21-24. MEEC is better when there are more people and better representation from throughout the region. The board has decided to forgo a conference this year in order to encourage a strong MN presence at the regional conference. Katie-Lyn Bunney and I have been talking with the conference coordinators from Wisconsin who are committed to host a MEEC with talks and topics to interest members from each member state. 

    Rekindling our relationship with the Minnesota Naturalist Association: Each organization offers a discount membership for members of the other organization, but there has been little other cooperative efforts in the recent past. Past president John Smith and I met with Katie Pata, President of the Minnesota Naturalist Association to find ways our two organizations can collaborate to better support all types of EE in MN. We are discussing hosting a joint conference in 2016.

    Our Mission: These upcoming changes have caused the board to adjust the mission slightly. Below is a draft of the boards proposed changes; we will have a period of open comment between now and November, 7. The board will consider all member input and will vote on the change in mission accordingly. Send all comments to maeeinfo@gmail.com. You can access the draft of the updated mission here. 

    NAAEE Conference: Three quarters of the board’s executive committee attended the NAAEE conference in Ottawa, ON October 7-11. Matti Erpestad (secretary), Katie-Lyn Bunney (Vice President) and I attended the affiliate workshop and the conference and came back with great ideas. See this month’s blog post for some highlights of the conference.

    Keep up the good work,

    Molly Phipps, MAEE Board President

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