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  • 05 Jun 2012 7:56 PM | Anonymous

    EE at the White House

     - by Brandon Baker, Wood Lake Nature Center

    On April 16th the White House hosted its first Environmental Education Summit. The goal of this summit was to discuss the role of environmental education in the 21st century. What are the current challenges faced by environmental education in this technology-driven era? How can environmental education help people adapt to this technology-driven era? Panelists and participants organized into three groups to discuss these questions.

    All three panels came up with very similar solutions. They all agreed that environmental education needs more funding from the federal government for projects. They also agreed that environmental education needs to become a priority for the federal government. EPA Director Lisa Jackson announced funds of $5 million towards major environmental education programs. In addition, an inter-agency task force created in 1990 by the National Environmental Education Act to increase collaboration among government agencies in terms of environmental education was re-instated. Despite this,  proposed federal cuts to environmental programs in the EPA’s, NOAA’s, and NSF’s budget undercut the need for more funding.

    These ideas are very important for our field, but they are large problems that are outside of our direct control and ones that many of us are already aware of. When I teach my students, I often ask them to think of things that they can go home and do today to address environmental issues. I believe that the actions you can take today will make a bigger difference than the action you can take tomorrow. That is why the following ideas that came out of the conference resonated with me.

    The panels agreed that environmental education needs to foster lifelong stewardship, from “K to Grey.” They proposed that environmental educators focus on integrating modern technology into programs, increase collaboration among all academic disciplines, and encourage citizen science, as well as many other ideas.

    Many naturalists in Minnesota are already implementing these ideas and give us a guide to how we can incorporate these ideas into our own programs. Silverwood Park in St. Anthony gives us an example of how technology can be better integrated into programs and reaching out to the public. Silverwood has developed an amazing Facebook page that currently has more than 1100 “likes.” Their page provides an outstanding example of how social media can be used to connect the public to the resources of our parks and nature centers.

    In terms of collaboration among academic disciplines, The Landing in Shakopee is integrating Minnesota history and environmental education. This unique site teaches the cultural history of Minnesota from the 1840s to the 1890s. They are currently working on integrating natural history into their programs and discussing how the actions of the past have consequences for us today. At this site students can come and see how the child who planted a dandelion 150 years ago, or the farmer who plowed the prairie have affected us today. By learning about environmental education and history together, the students can better make the connection that their actions today will have consequences for the future. It makes them ask, “What consequences do I want to leave behind?”

    A final example is Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield. They have started a homeschool program called the Jr. Scientist Program, aimed at teaching the students to be citizen scientists. The students, ages 8 and up, do actual research then report their findings to scientists. They have done projects such as water quality tests and reported their findings to www.worldwaterqualitymonitoringday.org. They also have done resource conservation projects such as collecting $200 dollars worth of prairie seeds at Wood Lake in one class and planting those seeds to restore prairie in another class. Some students have travelled close to an hour to come to each class because of the chance to do real research and make a difference.  The students feel like they doing something important by performing actual research projects. By showing them what a difference they can make as citizen scientists, they will hopefully continue to be stewards until “grey.”

    These are just a few of the many outstanding nature centers and environmental educators  across Minnesota that are already engaging students and trying to create citizens who will be stewards from “K to Grey.” They show, however, that in our field we are already leading the way and making a difference. The White House Council highlighted many large issues that we can and should advocate and fight for, but that are out of our direct control. It also highlighted actions that we can do today, without waiting for the Federal Government to catch up. See for yourself the ideas this conference generated at http://www.epa.gov/education/eesummit.html. Follow the examples of Silverwood Park, The Landing, and Wood Lake Nature Center. Most importantly however, do what I think many of us try to teach our students: take actions that you can do today. How will you help achieve the goal of this council, to create citizens who are stewards from “K to Grey”?


    - Brandon Baker

    Naturalist, Wood Lake Nature Center

    Member and Legislative Committee Volunteer, MAEE

  • 09 May 2012 9:16 PM | Anonymous
    Reflections on the Green Ribbon Awards Program 

    When the U.S. Department of Education (USED) officially announced last September that they were going to move ahead with a major recognition program for schools working to make their buildings more green, their operations more protective of staff and student health and safety and that implement environmental education programs throughout their curriculum, it left the responsibility for promoting, selecting and nominating schools to the state departments of education.  In addition, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) had to decide by mid-November if we were going to participate and be able to scramble to meet the USED requirement that state nominations be submitted by March 22nd.  With support from our great network of environmental and education organizations and the blessing and support of Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota became one of 30 states participating in the initial pilot year of Green Ribbon Schools (GRS).


    The first order of business was to pull together an advisory group, and twenty individuals from a diverse group of stakeholders met on December 14th.  While USED and their partners provided the framework for the program, including a template application and scoring rubric, the advisory group was immensely critical to helping identify critical Minnesota components, promoting the program and evaluating the applications. By January 2nd, we were ready to launch the application process.


    The online application revealed how many people actually went in to look at it, and we were excited to find that almost 200 people checked out the application in the first few days. Once the application process closed on February 22nd, we had 16 completed applications from throughout the state. After discussions with schools, one theme that emerged is that schools that had a staff member or consultant dedicated to working on environmental issues definitely had a leg up on other schools. Not only had they been gathering some of the critical data necessary for the application, but they were able to carve out time to complete the application in the short time frame required during this pilot year. Another key for many of the top schools was the ability to create significant community partnerships, especially in the area of developing and delivering school-wide environmental education.


    One of the most significant values of the application process is that it very intentionally included multiple references and direct linkages in the application to resources, including many Minnesota organizations and programs, to help schools become even greener. I had many school staff tell me that they hadn’t thought about a certain component or learned about a new resource while reviewing the application. With so many people looking at the application and potentially connecting with more resources and ideas, this may be the most beneficial part of implementing the program.


    One of the restrictions imposed on the states by USED this year is that we could only nominate four schools total to be recognized nationally, and of those four one had to be a private school and one had to be a school serving a population consisting of at least 40% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which was determined by number of students receiving free and reduced lunch. Despite resource constraints, many of Minnesota’s applicants and many schools in other states qualified for the disadvantaged designation. While this could be a reflection of the many challenges facing our nation’sschools, I think it says more about the value of a green school. It speaks to the fact that schools with students facing significant obstacles find that taking steps to protect the environment by reducing waste and energy, not only saves them resources, but connecting their students with the environment and the outdoors and developing community partnerships in their efforts in real world, hands-on and healthy learning, is especially critical to engaging their students. One disappointment was that we only received one private school application.   


    Evaluation of the applications was the next challenge, and many thanks go out to the 14 advisory group members that volunteered several hours of their time to review all 16 applications. With several high quality applications, we selected the following seven school finalists for the Commissioner’s consideration for nomination to USED, who all received signed certificates from the Governor:


    ·         City of Lakes Waldorf School (Private), Minneapolis

    ·         Garlough Environmental Magnet (ISD 197), West St. Paul

    ·         Crosswinds Arts & Science School (EMID 6067), Woodbury

    ·         Heritage E-STEM Magnet Middle School (ISD 197), West St. Paul

    ·         Kennedy Community School (ISD 742), St. Joseph

    ·         North Shore Community School (ISD 4084), Duluth

    ·         School of Environmental Studies at the Minnesota Zoo (ISD 196), Apple Valley


    Limited to only a few nominees and many deserving applicants, MDE forwarded three applications to USED for consideration as one of the nation’s top green schools. A total of 99 schools were nominated across the country and only 78 schools received final recognition when the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the awards on April 23rd. We are excited to share that all three of Minnesota’s nominees received the prestigious national Green Ribbon Schools designation:


    ·         Garlough Environmental Magnet (ISD 197), West St. Paul

    ·         Kennedy Community School (ISD 742), St. Joseph

    ·         North Shore Community School (ISD 4084), Duluth


    A national recognition program will take place in Washington D.C. on June 4th and schools are invited to be present to receive their Green Ribbon Schools flag and plaque. Discussions are also underway to have federal and state representatives present for school and community celebrations later this summer or fall. USED is already making plans to continue the program next year, and hopefully Minnesota will again be able to participate and be well-represented among the 2013 awardees.


    - Jeff Ledermann


    Environmental and Outdoor Education Coordinator

    MN Department of Education

    MAEE Volunteer

  • 18 Apr 2012 8:22 AM | Anonymous
    Nature Play Area a New Reality For Local School

    The Team Pauses for a Picture (Source: Jeff Ledermann)Mahtomedi High School (MHS) students spent time on Saturday, April 14th, establishing a new natural play space at O.H. Anderson Elementary (OHA).  The project was guided by myself as part of the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative (MAGI)  Davis Grilley, Cole Harmon, Brennan Johnson, Heidi Ledermann, Katie Ledermann and Andrew McIntyre all volunteered their time to remove buckthorn and barbed wire from a wooded space just off the ball fields behind the school.  

    The team used the buckthorn and fallen logs to establish a perimeter to help define the space so students can be easily supervised.  The area includes some really nice oak trees of various sizes to climb on, lots of downed logs and branches for fort building, leaves to pile up and even a few inhabitants waiting to be discovered. Heidi was excited to find a couple of resident gray tree frogs and Andrew uncovered a couple of other lost treasures.  The MHS students were excited to develop the new space for current and future OHA students, but Davis lamented how he wished it would’ve been available when he was an OHA student.  

    Teamwork on the Fence (source: Jeff Ledermann)

    Since it is located directly off the existing turf playgrounds and now with an established perimeter, the hope is OHA students will be able to easily access and use this new play area during school and at other times.  

    Students in OHA’s before and after school care program are already looking forward to the new play space and will help bring additional “play material”- small logs and branches from OHA’s recent visit from a horse logger - into the area and fortify the perimeter.  At OHA’s Nature Trail Day on May 11, a day dedicated to getting OHA students outside to learn about the 11 acre school forest and prairie surrounding the school, some lucky fourth graders will be able to work with Tamarack Nature Center Naturalist Pat Black to further design and create the space for their future use and play.

    - Jeff Ledermann
    Environmental and Outdoor Education Coordinator
    MN Department of Education

    MAEE Volunteer
    ... And proud father of Heidi and Katie Lederman (Pictured)
  • 09 Apr 2012 5:19 PM | Anonymous

    How Will You Celebrate Earth Day 2012?

    Earth Day. It holds a lot of meaning for many of us. In elementary school, the celebration of Earth Day was something I looked forward to. The teachers would build it up, get us all excited, and we helped organize and conduct a local clean-up of our neighborhood and school. It was one of many things in my childhood that I think lead to my excitement for educating about the environment.

    (image credit: Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Source: MPRB website)

    While the first Earth Day in 1970 led to the creation of many important governmental acts and agencies, the purpose of this post is not to relate the history to our readers. If you are interested in the history of Earth Day, visit the official website at EarthDay.org. To go directly to the history, click here: http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement

    The purpose of this post is to highlight a few of the things local institutions and centers are doing to celebrate our planet. Here are just a few of the events occurring around Minnesota that you can attend to celebrate Earth Day.

    Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul is holding their annual Earth Day volunteer event on Tuesday, April 24, from 5:15-8:00. It’s an all ages event that will include a burger or hot dog and then various Earth Day activities around the Nature Center. Help remove the ever present (and persistent) buckthorn and other invasive species. There may also be opportunities to help with litter pick-up, preschool clean-up, and garden bed preparation. For more information visit: http://www.dodgenaturecenter.org/Activities/?activityId=677  Please RSVP by April 20th.

    Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center in Hastings is providing a program on Organic Gardening on April 22 from 1:00-2:00 PM. Learn about mindful eating and sustainable food sources. Instructor Amy Field will demonstrate how to make fast and easy container gardens, and show you how you can get involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). For more information visit www.CarpenterNatureCenter.org or call 651-437-4359.

    River Bend Nature Center in  has no public celebrations but they work with a local school to do service projects around the nature center, including the removal of invasive species. Visit their website at www.RBNC.org

    Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes is holding a free event on Saturday, April 21, that will include canoeing and a climbing wall. Learn about Wargo’s native gardens, make an Earth-friendly project to take home, and visit the Earth Day Fair to learn more from local organizations and businesses about Earth-friendly practices and products. Visit their website here: http://www.anokacountyparks.com/parks/wargo_nature_center/about.html

    Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield is holding a buckthorn busting event on Sunday, April 18, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, and it’s free! Get in shape and help the planet by pulling up this invasive species by it’s roots! For more information visit: http://www.woodlakenaturecenter.org/Events/EarthDay.html

    The city of Winona is holding an event on Saturday, April 21, from 10:00pm to 5:00pm. For more information visite here: http://www.cityofwinona-mn.com/page/2963 or contact Julie Fassbender at 507-457-8258.

    The Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth also has Earth Day activities planned on Sunday, April 22. Visit their website here: http://www.glaquarium.org/

    The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board puts on an annual clean-up of the parks. This year’s is on Saturday, April 21 from 9:30am to Noon. Visit here: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1195 for the list of clean up sites. They also hold a fundraiser for future clean-ups: The Recycle Run! More information on the run and registration can be found here: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1016

    We encourage you to contact places around your area to find out more about what they may have going on for Earth Day. Or celebrate on your own! Go on a hike, plant a tree or a garden, clean up the litter from your street, adopt a highway, recycle old items, UP-cycle old items by turning them into something new, ride your bike or walk instead of driving. The ideas are endless.

    Whatever you decide to do to celebrate Earth Day, enjoy it and this fantastic planet we’re all lucky enough to live on. Let’s make it a cleaner one


    - Katie-Lynn Bunney (MAEE Board Member)

  • 15 Mar 2012 1:08 PM | Anonymous
    Weird Weather. Why Worry?

    This strange warming causes winter-lovers to throw their hands up in defeat, but what is the impact on outdoor and environmental education?  On one hand, warmer-than expected climate diminishes activities like skiing, ice-skating and may result in a spring drought or a spike in sales of lighter fluid.  On the other, warm weather draws Minnesotans outside (no matter when it arrives) and that just might mean more action at your local nature center or park.

    (Photo: Crocuses blooming in Minneapolis on Tuesday, 3/13. Photo source: the MPR Updraft blog)

    On March 15th, Meteorologist and blogger Paul Hutner shared that this year we had the earliest 70 degree day in 12 years - the 4th earliest on record for the Twin Cities.  This makes it the 10th straight "warmer than average" MN month in a row, a part of what he calls a "hot streak" that he struggles to explain.  "Anyway you slice it, this is just plain weird", Hutner writes on his blog*. 

    It gets weirder.  Hutner went on to write that we may have experienced record-breaking soil temperatures for March - when usually this time of year we are talking about snow cover and frost.  I'm no master gardener, but I predict MN gardens are going to be feeling the botanical equivalent of a phenomenon I felt in high school in spring.  Excessive grinning.  Glancing at the clock.  Running just because I finally can.

    And what an odd year for activities.  This year, the Jon Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon was cancelled due to lack of snow.  The effects on winter EE exploits like snowshoeing and skiing have been noted by countless people in my life.  I am curious to see how this impacts maple syruping this year too (my prediction? it doesn't look good for pancake-lovers).  I wonder if the trees will finally appreciate a year off from all that poking.

    (Here I should insert a note that I am fully aware of the science behind climate change and the ominous implications of such.  I carpool and I don't own a television.  I do sometimes play arcade games - but only "Gauntlet Legends" and only at airports.  I digress.)

    Bad omens aside, Spring warmth is drawing people outside everywhere you look - bikers, hikers, gardeners (in March!).  Everything short of swimmers.  Julie Siple of MN Public Radio reported that warm weather can produce a boost in the economy by boosting people's activity and optimism**.  How could MN nature centers and ELCs use this as a time to both draw people outdoors, to their locations?  I propose a three step plan:

    1)  Stop worrying.  It won't do us any good to worry or grumble.  I know Winter was "crazy" and it hurts a little to love the early Spring. 
    2)  Start programming.  If we want to change the course of climate change, connect kids to nature, inspire people of all ages, then what are we waiting for!  (Oh yeah ... school's still in session.)
    3)  Enjoy yourselves.  Dust off your baseball mitt, reinflate your bike tires, go find your sandals and laugh a little.  It's crazy, freakish, not-right and ... well ... *sigh* ... so beautiful outside.  

    See you out in the garden!
     - John Smith
    MAEE Board Member

    *http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/updraft/

    **http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/03/16/warm-weather-economy/
  • 14 Feb 2012 9:49 AM | Anonymous

    David Sobel Coming to MN

    Preeminent education writer and teacher-trainer David Sobel will give a workshop in and talk in the Twin Cities on March 18th and in Duluth on March 20th.  Sobel is the author of five books on “place-based” education and the power of linking K-12 classrooms to community, physical place and the globe.  He is commonly regarded as a peer to education celebrity Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.

    For decades, David Sobel has been leading the conversation about the power of place-based education.  Roughly, place-based education translates to a curriculum that reaches beyond the classroom walls, while achieving classroom goals.  He believes that by linking classrooms to the local physical environment, the local community of people and the global community we, “(inject) value and meaning into the school experience” (Smith & Sobel, 2010).  And a growing number of people think he deserves your attention.

    Student disengagement in the No child Left Behind era of the United States has reached pandemic-like proportions.  Research shows that 40-60% of students in the U.S. are “disengaged”, and likely to drop out before completing high school (Blum, 2005 as quoted in Sobel, 2010).  It’s not unfair to assume that this disengagement is a real barrier to closing the achievement gap and preparing future leaders.  This is a trend that Sobel believes can be solved in-part by making education “place-based” and developmentally appropriate.  This is especially true if we hope to encourage young people to develop into environmentally and socially responsible adults.

    Sobel has made it his mission to show teachers how they can apply these concepts to modern teaching standards and to many (if not all) teaching situations.   In his recent book, Childhood & Nature: Design Principles for Educator (2008) he shares the guiding “play motifs” of how children play and how that can guide our creation of curriculum and instruction.  He adds that research has shown that to make environmentally-responsible adults calls for a certain kind of natural or wild experiences in their youth.  The same can be concluded for making socially responsible adults and leaders – let the "play motifs" guide you in the ways of youth and it will pay-off 10 fold in adulthood.  

    At Sobel's events he will share insights into some of these "motifs" and help educators with their transition into the place-based curriculum model they've been dreaming about.  As educators, parents, or childcare providers we'd all do well to listen to what David Sobel has to stay.

    Both events are FREE and open to the public! Event information:

    March 18th
    Minnesota Zoo
    13000 Zoo Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55124
    7:00 – 9:00 pm

    FREE – please register here: http://www.mnzoo.org/education/lectureseries.asp


    March 20th

    University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD)

    Duluth, MN, 55812

    12:30 - 3:30 pm: UMD Library Rotunda

    4:30 - 6:00 pm: Weber Hall (UMD Campus)

    FREE – please register here: http://www.minnesotaee.org/Default.aspx?pageId=593936&eventId=439069&EventViewMode=EventDetails

    *Registration is free, but necessary due to limited space.



    Sources:

    Smith, Gregory & Sobel, David.  (2010).  “Bring It On Home”, Educational Leadership68:;1 (September), pp, 38-43.

    Sobel, David. (2008). "Childhood & Nature: Design Principles for Educators". Stenhouse Publishers.

  • 14 Jan 2012 7:24 PM | Anonymous member
    New Year’s Resolutions for MAEE

    January is a time for resolutions. I do not typically list my new years’ resolutions and post them on the refrigerator, but I do find myself “resolving” to change a few things about how I spend my time each year. This year: floss my teeth more and check Facebook less. 

    The MAEE board makes some resolutions in January, too. The annual board retreat is a time for us to reflect on the accomplishments of 2011 and decide how to spend 2012. This year, the board will formalize the process a bit because we are creating a new strategic plan. We will set goals for the organization for 2012-2014. 

    Setting goals is a challenging task. We must ask questions about our purpose and direction. We must ask questions about the measurable change we want to see in Minnesota as a result of our work. Should we be working for change in the school system, political system, or at a personal level? Is a grant program our first priority? Or more events for networking? 

    Luckily, we do not have to ask just ourselves. We also asked members for their input in November and we’ll be asking for feedback on our draft plan this spring. Be sure your voice is heard when these opportunities come up!

    A few new-year changes and are already in the works for the organization. One change is the newsletter format. We’ll publish articles on our website each month in lieu of a full newsletter. We think that 1-2 stories each month will be easier to read. 

    A second change is on our board roles. Many board members will shuffle their responsibilities and try something new this year. I’ll be staying in the president’s seat for one more year. Change in leadership is positive and I look forward to the continued evolution of the board in 2013 and beyond. 

    Whatever changes are in store for you, I hope you have a wonderful new year!

     - Britt Gangeness, January 2012

  • 10 Jan 2012 9:28 PM | Anonymous member
    Introducing the Newsletter Blog

    Hello EE Supporters,

    Starting in 2012, MAEE is rolling out a new format for our newsletters. As we reflected on the impacts that printed newsletters have had on our limited resources (time, money, and natural), we thought the time was ripe for a change, especially one that could save us paper, printing costs, and development time. 

    The new format will look similar to a blog (articles as entries), and the features you’ve come to expect in the quarterly newsletter will now be spread across the quarter and posted to the new “Newsletter Blog” section of our site. [One new item we’re interested to try out is the “comments” function, which you’ll have to log in to access.] We welcome your constructive feedback on the new format, and look forward to improving it in the months to come. 

     - Stefan Theimer (MAEE Board Member)
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