NAAEE Conference Reflections

By: Jennifer Elsen

I attended the North American Association for Environmental Education conference in Madison, Wisconsin, October 19th-October 21st. It was held at the beautiful waterfront convention center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on Lake Monona. When I arrived early morning at the center, I was first drawn to the sunlight coming over the lake and the view of people rowing canoes across the calm waters.

On Wednesday, I was fortunate to go on the Sand County Tour to the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the International Crane Foundation,an hour west of the capital in Baraboo, WI. The luxury bus was full when we set off on our road trip to see the “shack,” the Leopold’s cabin in the piney forest, and LEED certified Legacy Center. The International Crane Foundation, has all 15 species of crane from around the world. The rare cranes reside in holdings, while the local common cranes are free to come and go each season.

Thursday began with multiple sessions given as round table discussions, a series of short presentations, hands-on presentations, and traditional presentations. A panel of four speakers occurred over lunchtime on Inspiration to Impact and Why EE Matters. The speakers discussed what inspired them to become who they are today, why they care about the environment, and what they are each doing to inspire others. A short film screening called Some Animals are More Equal Than Others: Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades was shown in the evening, followed by a Q&A session.

On Friday, I enjoyed the opportunity to tour the Madison Children’s Museum and see their green roof with edible gardens and interactive structures: such as tunnels, a climbing tower, and a chicken coop. The museum is in an old department store from the 20’s and is LEED gold certified. Madison is built on sacred ground and the philosophy was to convert this existing structure into a useful and creative space instead of destroying it for a new and improved one.

I recommend attending the NAAEE conference in the future. I am happy to be a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education, the early childhood division Natural Start, as well as a past board member of MAEE, the Minnesota state affiliate.

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to be a part of this great movement, to be inspired and impacted by professionals in the environmental education field, and to be inspired to impact others in my teaching at a nature-based preschool in West Saint Paul.

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