Blog

  • 22 Oct 2014 6:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Molly Phipps, MAEE Board President

    I’ve been to a lot of conferences and I’ve made valuable connections and lifelong friends attending those conferences, but none have been as useful as the NAAEE conference. I had the privilege of attending the NAAEE Annual conference in Ottawa, Ontario Oct 7-11 with fellow board members Katie-Lyn Bunney and Matti Erpestad. We received a partial scholarship to attend from NAAEE and MAEE pitched in partial support for us to attend as well. We attended the affiliate workshop on Wednesday and met with others who lead and represent other affiliate groups. MAEE is a local affiliate of NAAEE. This gives us access to national resources and networks of similar organizations. We discussed member benefits, funding strategies, and all things EE with other board members and staff from organizations around the continent. We learned from Emily in Arizona whose organization is partnering with a community college to provide a certification in EE. Andree, the ED of the Utah Association for Environmental Education, who has partnered with a local brewery for fun and innovative ways to generate income for her organization while providing members with a fun social activity. My head was swimming with great ideas and possibilities and the conference hadn’t even really started yet. 

    We all wear a lot of hats in the Environmental Education world, we’re educators, we’re nature enthusiasts, we’re entrepreneurs, we’re managers of programs, we’re intellectually curious. This conference was helpful to me in all the facets of life: I gained valuable insight as to how to improve MAEE, on my evaluation consulting business, and on the farmers’ market I co-run. I often get conference fatigue and feel drained after going to conferences, or have a hard time finding sessions that are useful to me; NAAEE was the exact opposite. I left the conference with new contacts, new ideas, and new energy to do my work. I’ve already followed up with some of the people I met there and plan on attending NAAEE in the future. 

    I work at the intersection of a number of fields and have never really felt comfortable in any of those circles, NAAEE was different. It was a great mix of people passionate about changing the world through environmental education, I had found my community.

  • 17 Sep 2014 4:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Minnesotans By Nature Profile

    By Sarah Shimek

    River Bend Nature Center, located in Faribault, about 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities, is a hidden urban nature treasure in south central Minnesota. River Bend encompasses just over 743 acres that include the Straight River Valley, Big Woods remnants, 2 restored wetlands, a seasonal waterfall, and restored tall and short grass prairies. 

    River Bend uses these diverse habitats as a background for various educational program and events throughout the year. We have several annual events but two of our most popular are our "Bats, Bones, & Bonfires" Halloween event which features our live teaching animals, enchanted trails, games, and entertainment and draws between 1000-1500 visitors and our Maple Syrup 5/10K Fun Run and Pancake Brunch in April where winners are given bottles of real maple syrup from River Bend's own sugar bush. River Bend's education department also has a long-term partnership with the local school district and since our founding in 1978, all K-6th grade students in the public schools visit River Bend 2-3 times a year for experiential field studies. Kindergarten students visit RBNC in the fall, winter, and spring to explore the seasons and use their senses to observe the natural world. In first grade, students study animal homes and habitats in the fall and life cycles during the spring. Second grade students focus their field studies on plants, investigating different types of seeds in the fall and learning about special plant adaptations in the spring.  Third grade students learn all about the Nature Pyramid and food webs during their fall and winter visits and also practice snowshoeing and kicksledding during the winter. Currently, 4th grade students study the prairie in the fall and the forest in the spring but with changing grade standards their curriculum will shift to rocks & minerals and the water cycle starting in 2015. Fifth graders study aquatic ecosystems in the fall and geological processes such as weathering and erosion in the spring. For their final year at River Bend, 6th graders study biomimicry and bioengineering during the fall and wrap up their time at River Bend with compass courses in the spring.

    In partnership with Rice County, River Bend also provides waste education to students in all public and parochial schools across the county. RBNC educators bring recycling and waste reduction programs to students primarily in grades 3 & 4 during the months of January-March. The education department at River Bend also provides several types of outreach programming including: experiential science classes for homeschool groups, Science Club programs for students on early release days, Creciendo Juntos classes in partnership with the McKinley Early Childhood Center, programs on the history and science of maple syruping, snowshoe and kicksled programs, EE-based birthday parties, and custom programs for outside schools and organizations.

    Our staff consists of 4 permanent full time employees (Executive Director, Administrative Assistant, Director of Education, and Director of Public Programs), 2 permanent part time employees (Education Program Specialist, Communications Coordinator), 3-4 seasonal educators, a receptionist, and 1 maintenance worker. River Bend hires several seasonal educators throughout the year. During the school year, there are 3-4 Seasonal Environmental Educators on staff who help lead school programs, public programs, and outreach programs. Over the summer we hire 2-3 Summer Program Educators to lead our naturalist-based summer camps and public programs, and an Outdoor Adventures Program Specialist who works with our outdoor skills/recreation camps and programs.

    For more information on River Bend or our upcoming programs, visit our website at www.rbnc.org, like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RiverBendMN, or call 507-332-7151. 
  • 24 Aug 2014 4:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Jill Nocera Swanson
    MAEE Board Member

    “You just never knew you could love someone as much as you do and as much as you will.” This is what my mother had said to me when my daughter Kaija was born last July. It is true you know. For me, this statement is true.  Before labor began, I had a birthing plan. I say this only because the moment the contractions started, that birthing plan went straight out the window with all the painful grunts that went along with it.  It was the first time in my life that I truly felt that I was not going to be able to successfully get through the situation I was in. I looked at my husband Scott and more than once said,”I can’t do this…I don’t think I can do this.” Entering the 16th hour of labor, my doctor walked into the room and said to me, “Jill, you have been pushing for four hours now. We have twenty minutes to get this baby out.” I think that is what I needed to hear, for twenty minutes later…our new daughter was laying on my chest. The moment that happened…I could no longer recall any of the pain that I had felt during the minutes and hours before.

    It was mid-summer when Kaija entered into this world and, well…I never knew I could love someone as much as I do. I smile as I think of our first walks up and down our driveway the first few weeks she was here. Those countless times we leisurely walked the long driveway, she would gaze up at the sky and become mesmerized by the birch leaves rustling in the wind and doze off to sleep. They were the walks that would calm her down in the waking hours. I was and am, so thankful for these trees. I too, once again, found solace in nature during those first few weeks at home with my daughter. I cherished our daily walks and noticed that the days we could not get outside were the days that brought a bit of despair.  

    I have always turned to nature to calm my nerves. During college, it was the green mountains of Vermont that would ease the anxiety of being in a new place, away from family and my home.  When teaching abroad, it was any green space that I could find in the city I taught in, that would alleviate any angst of being in a foreign place. After working fourteen years in education and with children, I feel that I chose this path because I wanted to see a brighter future for our children.  Now that I have my own child, that feeling is even stronger. My husband and I wish for our daughter that she have the opportunity to explore nature like we have. That she too will be able to have nature to turn to for resources, comfort, peace and play.  

    The older I get, I hope my optimism grows with me. I hope we will continue to make decisions that will preserve and/or use our precious resources responsibly so that we and our children will continue to fulfill that sense of wonder and be able to breathe fresh air and drink clean water. At times when I feel that optimism weaken, it is quickly restored when I think of the community of people out there who is spreading the good word and doing the work to make sure we leave this planet a better place for our children and theirs. I am thankful for the positive energy that we put out there. I am thankful for my Kaija, who is now getting ready to walk. And even though our travels up and down the driveway, that we all live on, will be less leisurely and more difficult…I am really looking forward to them.  
  • 17 Jun 2014 9:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Interview by Angela Bianco

    Lyndon Torstenson
    Manager, Educational Partnerships
    Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, National Park Service

    Tell us about your work.
    Working for the National Park Service on America’s greatest river to engage kids (and adults) with nature and history is one of the best things I can imagine doing. Our national park (the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area) is really unique. The National Park Service owns only a fraction of 1% of the land in our river corridor (72 miles of the Mississippi River through the Twin Cities). So we work with partners a lot – and that’s fantastic, since there are so many great partners to work with, from non-profits and watershed groups to large educational institutions and agencies at every level to commercial boat operators. I work a lot with teachers, but also directly with kids, so I like the balance.

    There are lots of fantastic National Parks out there, but working in an urban park allows me to reach people that remote natural parks can’t – and help them find the magic of nature in their own community. That’s rewarding work.

    How did you get started in the field of environmental education?
    I suppose I started in EE before I graduated from high school. I headed our high school environmental club and wrote a weekly column in my local small-town newspaper in western Minnesota. In a way, I did EE while I worked with local food co-ops for several years, too – educating people about the relationship of the food we eat to environmental stewardship and personal health. Then, after I got a teaching license, I found a job in the National Park Service (at the Mississippi River) where I was able to use my teaching background to build our educational programs from scratch.

    How do you define the environment that you work/teach/learn in?
    My environment is the Mississippi River. And I define that as a great watershed to which I belong. So the Mississippi River is inside me, as well as out there running through our cities. I love that. And it’s a great concept for kids to understand – that they are part of the river (and vice-versa) and part of nature – literally. It’s not hard from there to understand that if we pollute our river or environment, that we pollute ourselves.

    Describe one of your favorite moments that relates to environmental education.
    Every time a kid gets turned on to nature is a favorite moment. You never know when nature will throw you some special magic. But I’ll always recall the time when I was introducing 120 kids to our coming activities on a riverboat and talking about birds, and an eagle (on cue) flew down and grabbed a fish out of the Mississippi right out the window. One of my signs of hope is the resurgence of eagles on the Mississippi.

    Why is environmental education important to you?
    There is nothing more important to our human future than the relationship between people and nature. As we have become more technological and have built an illusion of separation, it is still just as true as ever that we are bound to the world of nature. So it’s essential that we understand that connection, and enjoy that connection. In a world of trouble and challenge, there is perennial beauty to be found in wild nature. That’s where hope lies. We don’t have a viable future without nature, beauty and hope.

    What is your hope for the future of environmental education?
    As environmental educators, we have to sustain ourselves, continue to be hopeful ourselves, work in community and appreciate each other. But we also have to paint a picture of success to counter the apocalyptic vision of the future out there. More than ever, kids need to see the future as something to look forward to, not fear. We can provide that vision. It is a vision of a sustainable world. And it’s a possible reality, even if it’s a long road that gets us there.

    What are your favorite resources to use?
    Birds and mussels

    Minnesotans By Nature is MAEE's blog which features people, organizations, and stories from our EE Community. Would you like to be featured, or know someone that we should interview? Contact Callie Recknagel to learn more.

  • 18 May 2014 10:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Kristi Pursell

    Minnesotans By Nature: Profiles In Our Community

    As a person professionally trained in the EE field I take that knowledge with me wherever I go. I am a daughter, aunt, partner and mother. I am an educator, a friend and a team member. In all the titles I hold I am also an environmental educator. There are so many parts of my life intertwined with my personality, my habits and how I spend my time.

    One of the roles I play is a mother to an 18-month old named Henry. Henry loves playing outside. Henry loves to watch birds. He loves eating food we grow and he loves reading books. Most of these attributes is the normal toddler fare, but we tinge these experiences with our eye towards environmental appreciation, understanding and stewardship and have made that commitment since before he was born.

    My family is one of two households that operates an urban farm in our neighborhood in Minneapolis. Growing Lots Urban Farm is a small-scale mostly Community Supported Agriculture farm (this season we will have an on-site Farmer's Market, too!) where a household buys a "share" and picks up a box of produce every week for the entire growing season. Once a week Henry and I spend the afternoon at the farm to greet other CSA-members and sometimes their families as well as those who might walk-up to see what the lush oasis on the parking lot is all about. It's a fun, social experience, but it's also a time for Henry to play in the dirt. And woodchips. And weeds. And produce.

    He gets dirty. He crawls on things then falls down. He explores with all of his senses and my husband and I think those are all good things. It's having those early positive experiences in nature that has been proven in studies and in antidotal evidence from my own life experiences that make us care about being good stewards of the land and wanting to preserve the natural environment for future generations. Luckily, there are organizations everywhere you look that can help with that goal: the Minnesota Association for Environmental Education is a great place to start and a group of committed individuals who are a fantastic resource for those of us in slightly different realms, but who have the same values at our core.

    From our family to yours - we wish you many happy hours aimlessly playing this growing season: picking up sticks and poking puddles, standing on tree stumps and sinking your teeth into things that look and smell delicious. Get out there and see what there is to explore and bring someone very young along with you for the adventure!

  • 14 Mar 2014 5:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Wendy Tremblay 

    A bitterly cold, last day of February in Minnesota seems like an unlikely day to join gardeners from across the state to talk about seeds, sunshine and dirt…or maybe the perfect opportunity. On Friday, February 28th, I joined a variety of enthusiasts from around the state at the 2014 Schoolyard Gardens Conference at the inspiring Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. It was clear from the beginning that I was in the right place, as we were greeted with the phrase, “Plants are cool.” I whole-heartedly agree. It felt amazing to be in the presence of others who think like me and want the same things for our children; a chance to connect to nature and an opportunity to build a life-long respect for plants and our food sources. We were joined by Brenda Casselius, Minnesota Commissioner of Education, and David Frederickson, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture, who reminded us that we are not alone in our quest for these things.

    As the giant snowflakes fell to the ground just outside the windows, I was able to connect with other educators, as well as volunteer garden coordinators, master gardeners, principals and school lunch directors who all had the same mission of creating prosperous and beautiful gardens for children. It was sometimes hard to keep up with all of the innovative ideas that were being shared, such as bug hotels, seed saving techniques, fundraising opportunities and curriculum integration methods.

    One of my favorite sessions I attended was given by Erin Rupp and Kevin Williams, representing The Beez Kneez and the Bell Museum of Natural History, respectively. Their session, titled “Pollinators and Your Schoolyard” covered a variety of topics, including connecting bees, butterflies and beetles to other subjects and curriculum ideas to enhance existing garden plans. Being an educator and a life-long learner, I was pulled in by the meiosis and mitosis flow charts on the beginning slides and the amplitude of bee knowledge that these two presenters had between them. Their passion was infectious as they described the impressive social interaction between bees and the devastating effect that our chemicals have had on these important insects. In particular, Erin described a pesticide kill from last fall. In one day it took out three hives, amounting to 60,000 bees, right here in the Twin Cities. Another statistic that stuck with me from this session was that bees are responsible for the pollination of one-third of our food supply. Without bees around to pollinate, foods such as almonds, apples, pumpkins and onions would be non-existent. Education and a tangible connection to the natural world seem to be effective responses to this apparent problem, something that schoolyard gardens can help with immensely.

    I was proud to be at this conference, as an educator and a representative from MAEE, which was an endorsing organization. I left the conference with some great take-aways, supportive resources and a renewed excitement for the gardens at my own school. Spring is just around the corner, (no, really, it is) and I’m looking forward to integrating the ideas from this amazing conference as soon as the ground thaws.

    Warmly,

    Wendy Tremblay


    Director, Saturdays on the Farm
    Nature Specialist, Children’s Country Day School
    Board of Directors, MAEE


    Thinking of starting your own schoolyard garden? Check out these resources from the conference keynote speaker, John Fischer of LifeLab:

    Photo credit: lifelab.org

  • 11 Feb 2014 10:34 PM | Anonymous

    The Significance of the Earth and the Power of People: A Manifesto for Environmental Education

    By: John Smith, MAEE Board of Directors, President, Advocacy Chair


    "I'm a lumper, not a splitter" said the woman in glasses, with a ripe grin. It was Molly Phipps, an MAEE Board Member, at the Annual Retreat. We were talking about new ideas - in some cases our wildest dreams - and sorting them into categories. She explained, "some people prefer to split" ideas into detailed, unique units, where she (and I, it turns out) prefer to "lump" them together (perhaps in hopes of limiting the amount we have memorize).

    We take the retreat every year as a means to discover new possibilities for our volunteering and to rejuvenate somewhere away from the distractions of everyday life. There are so many good stories from the retreat: Making ideas rain on Callie Recknagel, delicious grass-fed beef roast from Shannon Judd, "Mapping the EE Economy", duking it out over Settlers of Catan ... this is Soul Food for environmental educators.


    Since the retreat, I have realized something about myself: I am a serial-"lumper". And the longer I teach about the environment, the further I have attempted to lump the message of my every presentation, class or program; whittling them down to the heartwood. This process led me, recently, to write two lines across an entire page in my journal: We are all connected” and “We are all powerful”.



    This is what environmental education is all about.

    The language of the 1977 UNESCO Tblisi Declaration is often cited as "the definition of EE" (it was written before household computers existed). It reads, in summary:


    "Environmental education is a learning process that increases people's knowledge and awareness about the environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action" 

    Since Tblisi, our world has continued to see greed and destruction prevail over balance and care, along with a growing struggle for the resources of life. Has this definition served us well? I'm not arguing that it hasn't - or that a better definition would. The completeness and precision of the 
    Tblisi Declaration is admirable, but useless as when you need a rallying cry; it's rigidity fits well in a text book, but defies the very core of movement building: it doesn't move you. I wonder, if the Tblisi Declaration had happened in 2014, what would it say? If we made afresh the perception of environmental education, what would it look like? I don't know the answers, but I think it's at least worth revisiting after nearly 40 years.


    This kind of thinking is intimidating and scary for some (me too). But we need it now more than ever. And it's greatly to our advantage to begin today.


    What I mean by that is simple: The two core concepts of environmental education ("we are all connected" and "we are all powerful") can put EE at the forefront of environmental and social movements. That's because all of the different social and environmental movements are finally coming together under a "movement of movements". And as they do this, there is a great need for inter-movement education. How do you teach new, eager social activists, concerned about environmental justice, about the realities of caring for the Earth? Or the connection between our water and our land use? Our fires and our air? And what would you learn from them in return? These questions are becoming more and more significant everyday as our issues become more and more clearly linked.


    We are witnessing the great lumping - the coming together of not just ideas, but entire social movements worth of vision and direction. It is going to open up to us great resources and potential to advance environmental education. Here are two solid sources to back up this claim and I would recommend them as required reading for environmental educators:

    • In the 2013 Language and Conservation Memo from the Nature Conservancy, a national survey of 800 people, it was made clear that the future of the environmental movement is in humanizing our message – emphasizing the impacts on human communities when we pollute or deplete. Another way of looking at this is that the environmental movement is limited by the condition of society. How can we seek to protect the environment when faced with human suffering, homelessness, poverty, and more? Is not social justice an act of creating the conditions for learning and self actualization (to steal from Abraham Maslow)? The next great leap in conservation messaging and strategy will be to hitch environmental efforts and human efforts, bolstering both.

    • While at the same time, the 2013 report “More Than we Imagined”, by the Ear to the Ground Project, an in-depth interview series of over 100 social justice leaders around the country, described how the work of environmentalism, education advancement, and social justice all collide to form the fertile soil of future growth in programming and activism. What is EE for the 99%? What is Occupy EE? How do we disrupt the education system with outdoor play and nature experiences? These are some of the questions I have been asking myself.

    Our work is connected to all of the great social movements happening on Earth right now. People from the Ear To The Ground Project call this the “movement of movements”. We are working to build what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “Beloved Community”, expanding our ethical arena to include new communities of people and the more-than-human, in the words of Anthony Weston. Environmental education is connected to the “Movement of movements” - because we are all connected and we are all powerful.

     


    My vision for the future of environmental education

    These are some of my predictions and dreams for the future of EE:

    • I predict that as schools and teachers get more of the freedom and support they need, they will choose to do more environmental education. Better, equitable schools, that drive teacher excellence and creativity, combined with the reduction of No Child Left Behind era standardization will bode well for our cause.
    • I predict that early childhood education will be the next great leap in environmental education – nature preschools are not entirely a new thing (where do you think the term "kindergarten" comes from?) but they have the flexibility to play and experiment with new kinds of EE that we haven't yet imagined. 
    • I predict that increased use of screens/technology in the classroom will continue to prove themselves as barriers for environmental education in the short term. We have to lead by example in our work and home life if we really ever expect others to seek time outdoors and maintain a healthy balance between time sitting, latent, in front of a screen and time spent in the woods, backyard or pounding the pavement and playing outside. We have to hack the process of environmental education to make it the most convenient choice for how we spend our time. We have to make time outside as addicting as video games.
    • I dream about an education system free of bullying, hate, hunger and homelessness; where every child has what they need to develop holistically and to join society not only as independent people but as an interdependent unit, contributing to the health and wellness of the whole world. Environmental education can be an answer to addressing the roots of these issues in schools. Indeed it is already is widely accepted as a form of therapy, recreation, personal and group development.
    • I dream about the evolution of our organizations and political possibilities to address new challenges with new models that will out compete the hierarchies and ineffective programs of the past. Humanity has been re-imagining the organizational tools that we use in ways that consistently surprise me. What will environmental education look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? Who will be doing it? There is so much we have left to learn.
    • I dream of reclaiming environmental education and defining it to meet the needs of our changing world. It's up to us to add to and make afresh our messaging and framing as the 21st century rolls out before us. Your definition of EE matters. Your EE experience matters. I reclaim the definition as such: We are all connected, and we are all powerful. What is yours? Let's host a summit - "Tblisi Revisited" -   and spill all our love and care for this movement into a new declaration that fits the work of front-line environmental educators, not only politicians and academics.


    What does this mean for environmental educators?
    These are some guiding thoughts that may help us over the next 10 years:

    1. Draw energy and ideas from the work of others. We are not alone in building alternative models for education and trying to complete the pallet of to what children are exposed. Cross-pollinate!
    2. Stay together. Though we are connected to the greater movement, we have unique skills and unique power to contribute. Let’s continue to build a strong environmental education community in Minnesota. Let’s have fun together, learn from each other, support one another in our work for the greater good.
    3. Work for change. We have grown up as a community by delicately dancing near to advocacy and radicalism – now is the time to recognize how much good we could do, together, for the causes, organizations and society we believe in by learning from societies greatest change-makers. Nelson Mandela, one of modern history's great agents of change, passed away in 2013. This is one of his more enduring quotes: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."


    What does this mean for MAEE?

    The revolution starts at home. MAEE is stepping up it’s connectivity to membership with events, dinners, social media and more. Our annual conference (This year’s theme: “Rooted in Diversity”) is diving directly into the heart of the beast by exploring environmental education in a changing world. We are also:

    • Forging new partnerships (with YEP-TC and the MN Green Schools Coalition, among others). We want to form a partnership with you. Don't you believe me? Contact us and we'll prove itmaeeinfo@gmail.com
    • Experimenting with new group strategies as a Board, re-imagining our meetings, work, goals, online presence and more.
    • Innovating our heritage programming, like the Minnesota’s Environmental Education Conference, our EE news communications, and efforts to convene volunteers in service of the EE community.
    • Mapping the EE economy in Minnesota, eventually charting not only the locations of every environmental education organization in the state, but taking a census of the number of jobs in the field. Watch for this in 2014!
    • Learning. We don’t know what we'll find on the road ahead. It’s new territory. We’re excited to be on the frontiers of this exciting movement with you!

    Environmental education is a part of a more complete model for education and society. We hope you will agree. If you do, then join the movement and help us build towards this vision by contacting MAEE for volunteer opportunities, volunteering for other EE organizations in MN, or by sharing nature with someone in your life. If it is within your means, MAEE and other local EE organizations would appreciate your financial or in-kind support as well.

     

    Sincerely, and with gratitude,


    John Smith

    Education Program Assistant, Will Steger Foundation

    Co-Leader, The Cave after school program at Rivers Edge Academy

    Blogger, BrainNation

     

    This is my vision for MAEE and the environmental education movement. What’s your vision? I would love to hear it – and I know I’m not alone in that. Consider sharing your vision with me at: j.marlay.smith@gmail.com or share with Minnesota’s environmental education community as a blog post or on our Facebook and Twitter accounts with the hashtag: #Environmentaleducation

     

    These views are my own and not necessarily shared by everyone on the Board, formally adopted as our organizations “vision” or even shared by anyone in our membership. Just so you know.

  • 15 Jan 2014 9:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Jenni Poliseno

    Photo by Bert Haymans - flickrAs a nature educator, I am a supporter of authentic outdoor natural experiences. However, the winter weather seems to occasionally throw a curve ball that leaves my preschool students and I inside. The most recent subzero cold spell was just too dangerous to be outside for an extended amount of time. Luckily, my students and I found a way to explore winter from the inside. On one very cold morning, before I could even share with my students what we would be investigating that day, I found them observing ice covering a window in the classroom. With magnifying glasses in hand, we investigated further. The children then wondered if other windows also had ice on them. This then began our ice scavenger hunt around the school.

    The following days, with the children’s interest still focusing on ice, we began to study ice further. We explored the water cycle and how ice is a part. When asked what ice was, one child responded, “snow turns into ice when it’s kind of really cold. There is a lot of ice in the North Pole.” Another child shared “water comes out of ice-explodes in the air and the snow turns into water.”

    I was excited to learn that the children’s fascination with ice did not stop there and neither did the subzero weather. I introduced the children to the artist Andy Goldsworthy and his ice art. We began creating ice sculptures using ice cubes we froze outside. As the children explored the ice, they found it slippery. One child observed, “I can pick this up. It’s kind of slippery.” Another child discovered how to change their ice by melting it “when I push them (the ice) together they melt.”

    We certainly enjoyed exploring ice but were very pleased when we could venture outside again. The children’s curiosity of ice continues. This week brought some melting and the children discovered frozen puddles to skate on and snow sculptures to build outside. Happy winter exploring!

    Photo credit: Bert Heymans - flickr
  • 16 Dec 2013 6:03 PM | Anonymous member

    Reflection seems built in to the year-end holiday season: we're bombarded with year-end "best-of" lists, we think hard about that perfect gift to give a loved-one, and (if we're lucky) we take time to reflect on the past year's work projects and programs as we set our sights on planning the year ahead. But reflection isn't easy. In fact, reflection is hard, not least because (for me) it requires near silence. 

    I read a lot. I listen to a lot of music and talk radio. I listen to audio books in the car. I use an rss feed reader and share web content with friends. In short, I rarely give my brain a break. Recently, an article crossed my path that had me wondering about the value of unstructured "free-brain" moments, and questioning if I cultivate enough such moments when the music is off, devices are darkened, and my mind is allowed to wander. I realized that silence is not something I do automatically, so it will have to be done intentionally.

    This isn't an essay with scholarly (or even unscholarly) citations. If it were, I might spend some time detailing the anecdotal and research-driven stories that we've all heard in these creativity-obsessed times (mathematicians on walks with sudden insights, twisting flame and firelight inspiring the double-helix…). I've even heard there are some recent neuroscience research results that may convince you and me of the value of down time for our brains (one place to start may be Andrew Smart's recent book Autopilot.). I've not read Smart's book, but I plan to add an "unplug hour" to my days as often as I can. I'll let you know how it goes. 

    This is the last month of my 5 years of service on the MAEE board of directors. Looking back, it has been a fantastic experience working with a great group of people for the good of MN's environmental education community. As I look forward to the next year, I am certain I will find other ways of connecting with and serving the members of MAEE. As you reflect backwards and forwards this holiday, consider adding some plans for giving back to your EE community next year by serving MAEE on a committee, helping with a project, or sharing MAEE with others (get in touch via email: maeeinfo@gmail.com) Or, give an "unplug hour" a try too, and let me know how it goes. 

    Onward in EE,

    Stefan 


    photo credit: Flickr user Echo9er

  • 17 Nov 2013 2:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Erin Zoellick

    How did you know you wanted to get into Environmental Education? That is a common question that popped up in class discussions during college, or job interviews, or chats with people who learn what I have done for a living. For me it was a moment on a mountain in Montana. Well, that’s what my story has developed into, because as you know it is not really ever just a moment. Sometimes it is easier to give people a short story wrapped up in a bow because you sound saner than if you were to ramble on about the 100 moments that led you to this profession. And this is what I found myself recently telling a car salesman in my Illinois hometown…

    Terrence was with me on a test drive as I explained my auto-buying conundrum because he was baffled by my ethical dilemma in this car purchase. Also, I’m pretty sure he already thought I was nuts. He was really intrigued by the idea that someone would get paid (and have degrees!) to teach about the environment. Sidenote: I grew up in the town of the second biggest mall in the country, where often the closest you get to nature is the misleading names of subdivisions (i.e. ‘Whispering Pines’). There we were talking about the environment and life choices and living your dreams and I didn’t even know his last name.

    But hey, I never knew the names of the thousands of kids I gave lessons to at the nature center or who trustingly followed me into the woods without learning a single thing about me. “Hi, I’m Erin. Here, take this net and let’s catch some water bugs in this awesome pond and then look at them under microscopes!” We were able to connect on a more immediate level, and this is one of the things I absolutely loved about being an environmental educator: let’s just go experience some nature stuff together and talk about why it matters. I don’t do this in my job right now, so I’ve really been in tune to other ways that EE/OE comes out in my life-living.

    Maybe I could spend some time with all the kids in that Toys R Us commercial? Did you know they weren’t even actors!? Those kids were set up. I definitely had something to say about the commercial the moment I saw it, and so did NAAEE, the National Wildlife Federation, and even Stephen Colbert. Here I am saving up scrap wood from house projects to make blocks for a really great kid I know, and then I have to compete with THAT. If I were one of those kids – given a poor lesson about trees – I would have reacted the same way. Is this what I hated so much about it? That it is so easy to be the target audience? That is, after all, why I was test-driving a Subaru: “Outdoors!, Dog in backseat!, Adventure!, Gear on the racks!”; these cars were made for people like me, so I’ve been told.

    I’ve had a three-year identity crisis in my current job, which is super and involves building community partnerships for college student service opportunities. Here’s the million dollar question: Can I be an environmental educator without getting paid to do it every day? Maybe not, but I can certainly be environmentally conscious and literate. Maybe I shook up Terrence’s way of being for a minute just by living my values and being the me that EE helped create. This comes up in other ways too – timing shower length, reusing wood from a deck remodel, sneaking off the Lakewalk Path in Duluth to rip out an invasive plant, volunteering on an environmental committee, giving my niece nature-friendly gifts – there are infinite ways to be a conscientious Earth inhabitant and participant.

    Right now, for me, “for a living” doesn’t mean my 9 to 5 daily grind for a wage. I’m not sure when I will be paid to do EE again, but I believe I do EE for a living each day.
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