Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three month recap.

Three month recap.

It has been a long long while since I last wrote for this blog.  I have about 6 drafts of posts waiting to be finished but it is tough to do so when I have been busy with buying and packing a house, officiating weddings (yikes), holidays and trying to play outside myself.

It has been quite busy since October when I attended and presented at the Virginia Environmental Education Conference.

The conference went over really well, met some wonderful people and had an impromptu reunion with fellow Grad school Alumni.

The new house has changed my commute and I miss the "creek" that I would ride past and have wonderful Urban Ecology sightings of Snowy Egrets, Canada Geese, Belted Kingfishers and Bald Eagles.  I am constantly amazed at how much wildlife and wild in general is all around me in the city.  During this time of year - really any change of season - I miss living in a more rural environment and question my choice of residence.  Then I have a moment of seeing a red-tailed hawk take down a pigeon or a sparrow on The National Mall and remember that there is a lot of wild here.  I want to share that wild with others.  I want other people to create a new lens and see that even amongst the tall buildings and pavement nature is thriving.  When I have a student beg me to let them pull cat-tails out of the pond at school I know I am on the right track (future post).

I have had other students tell me recently that they want to teach their peers to be a healthy eater so the environment can be more stable.  They explained to me that it is probably more likely to have a combination of poor food choices along with degraded environments and then cited low income communities, fast food and trash everywhere go hand-in-hand from their observations.  They explained if a community has better food options the overall way of life might get better as well as the surrounding environment.  I told them the term they were looking for was Environmental Justice (EJ).  After looking into EJ further they have now added it to their college course list.

These are the conversations and moments that keep me teaching.  And keep me teaching in an Urban setting.  Finding these moments can be like a scavenger hunt at times, but that just adds to the challenge. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Virginia Environmental Education Conference 2012

Looking forward to seeing everyone at the Virginia EE conference!

Come and support me when I present on Thursday October 24, 2012.

EE, the string that weaves the school together


Sponsored by Virginia Naturally and Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation:

Odds and Ends

These are are few images and poems that I either have used or would like to use in my classes.

I think I could use this with my Senior Environmental Science course:

There are two poems that I have used to start units: the following Tree poem was at the start of a Deciduous Forest study: 

Let the trees be consulted

before you take any action

every time you breathe in

thank a tree

let tree roots crack parking lot
at the world bank headquarters

let loggers be druids

specially trained and rewarded

to sacrifice trees at auspicious times

let carpenters be master artisans

let lumber be treasured like gold

let chainsaws be played like saxophones

let soldiers on maneuvers plant trees

give police and criminals

a shovel and a thousand seedlings

let businessmen carry pocketfuls of acorns

let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods

walk don't drive

stop reading newspapers

stop writing poetry

squat under a tree and tell stories..
- John Wright

I would like to use this one by e. e. cummings in an Ocean ecology unit:
maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldnt remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as a world and as large as alone.

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

its always ourselves we find in the sea.
- e. e. Cummings
I wonder if I or my students could make this:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kids Nature Journal

I wanted to share a few links - nature journaling is something that can last years for a child (or adult).  The experience of documenting the out-of-doors is one that can traverse generations.  A blog that I follow DIY Del Ray posted a great piece on creating an urban nature journal.

REPOSTED from: DIY Kids: A Tree and Neighborhood Walk Journal


I thought of this blog after reading the first one I posted (even though it is not active anymore).  I used this plan for making journal with my summer camp kids this past summer.  We had fun finding the perfect stick for the binding and pasting in our drawings and observations.

REPOSTED from: Homeschool Hacking Tips: Make your own Nature Journal!

I have mentioned before that I ask/make my students do nature journaling.  All this recent talk on nature journaling has inspired me to add this as a follow up to my last posting: Personal Spots. This next week I am going to assign them the task of mapping out their spot in the school yard.  This will lead to a lab report of documenting what is living in their spot of the school yard.  All of this is written or drawn in their nature journal.  I have them stay in their self chosen spot for a min of 5 minutes twice a month.  Sometimes they sit longer because the assignment asks them to.  I have a mix response, some kids love the time and others feel that the 5 minutes take eternity and by the time I 'let' them come in they will be fully consumed by Mosquitoes and will most likely have Limes disease from the Ticks that are in the school yard.

Because I have this response I send them out longer, with a more specific task to encourage those uncomfortable students to focus on something other than their comfort.  By the end of the school year, most students enjoy seeing the season change and enjoy their spot. 

I wonder if I had them make an actual Journal from their experiences (like the ones above) if they would think differently?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Personal Spots

The start of the school year has me looking at my whole years curriculum.  Asking am I being inclusive enough, do I allow enough project and self exploration?  Do I get sucked into the trap of going outside is something you 'earn'? 

I ask my Ecology students to have a "Personal Spot" in the school yard that they will observe throughout the school year.  It is similar to the "reflections spot" from my earlier post Reunion.  Some students really enjoy the time in their "spot" and return to class excited about what they saw, felt, experienced.  Others hate it. They don't understand why I make them go outside let alone stay still in one place without their phones or ipods or any technology.  I become evil. 

We spend at minium 10 minutes a month in our Personal Spots. 

This week I sent my students out to find what spot they would like to "have" for the year.  I set it up like a speed dating experience.  I explained that they were to find a place in the school yard that was not in or on anything human made with a few exceptions.  The dock and pathways were okay, but the swing, road, parking lot, benches, pick-nick tables were not okay.  The students can not be close to another person to be able to talk to them in a normal voice - they are to spread out.  They were to go to a place and document what they observed, it was okay if they did not know names of plants or animals, but they were to observe who was there.  Then when I said switch - about 3 or 5 minutes later - they were to find a new place to observe.  At the end of the period they needed to visit 3 different places in the school yard. 

We ended the class in a discussion about what they saw in general, what spots they did not enjoy, why and what spots they did enjoy and what about it was enjoyable.  I always find it interesting that most students are very aware of crickets and grasshoppers and that can make or break a good Personal Spot. 

When we have Personal Spot days all students will always document the Date, Time and Weather with every entry in their journal.  The weather report is to be self determined, and not looked up on their smart phone or computer.  This is designed to be field notes.  Later in the year they will conduct labs on biodiversity in their spots as well as draw maps and small field guides to the plants and animals around their spot.

I greatly enjoy Personal Spot day, even if I become evil for making them go outside unplugged.  I can handle that responsibility. 

Friday, September 07, 2012


Reunions are often a little anxiety driven.  How have people changed, will they remember you, will they remember the dumb things you have done.  Will you remember them, and so on.  Reunions with a place are a bit different.

I found this past weekend that even after 13 years I can still walk pathways in the woods in the dark without a light.  I attended a reunion for a summer camp I attended as a child and then worked at for my teens and early 20s.  This camp in West Virginia, Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies, commonly known as Coopers Cove was my first introduction to both Environmental Education and Sense of Place learning - though I did not know this at the time.  I have not been back to the camp since 2000.  That year was a huge transition year, and my life started to take me in other directions and some of the people I affiliated with the camp were also taking paths away from me and the camp.  Between those two, my motivation for returning was quite low.

Over time, I realized that most of what I have learned about education, and appreciation for the natural world was sprouted from my time at Coopers Cove.  I had been asked to draw a map of my backyard for one of my education classes in college.  I drew Coopers Cove though I had not been there in many years at that point.

I have other appreciations from that time as well, like being asked why do I enjoy listening to the Thrushes in the summer - their song was taught to me as a 10 year old in West Virginia to mean summer is here.  I find comfort in listening to rain and the wind on tin roofs.  I am able to talk with Bard Owls and know many mushrooms, trees, ferns and flowers by sight.  These are things that I learned while at this camp.

I take to heart the quote from Wendell Berry:

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."

I had once compared the camp to The Eagles song Hotel California with the concept that you can check out but you can never leave.  I meant that people's attachment to the physical place of Coopers Cove would never leave them.  They may not return but they had a great sense of place in that little spot of West Virginia.

While I was in Graduate school I started to realize that the founders of the program (which is still run today 50 years later) had it right.  The campers were there for 2 week sessions from ages 11-15.  They would spend their mornings eating breakfast family style, cleaning the communal spaces such as the Loo, dorms and bunk beds and then head off to workshops.  These workshops were involving learning the natural world, wheather it be tree study, flower study or a stream study the campers would cycle through all the options by the end of the first week.  After lunch there would be rest, where you would listen to leaves and twigs falling on the roof of the dorms and it sounded like you were under attack with grenades!  From Rest there was free time / swim.

Swimming was done in a small dredged pond that was spring fed.  The bottom of the pond is muddy, there is Chara growing and many fish and turtles.  If you sat in an inner tube you would experience fish nibbling your toes or behind.  This period was also the only easy time to take a 3 minute shower.  This is where you learn if your soap or shampoo is "smelly" all the insects will swarm around you to see if you are a flower.  I learned to love Castile Soap during that time.

The campers then were able to chose an afternoon activity.  These activities ranged from hikes, walks, different art projects, deep conversations and whatever else the counselors would think up.  We would end the day in a reflections time before dinner, where we sat alone in the woods, fields, pond and unplugged.  People would write letters, read books, journal or just watch.  I had the chance once to watch a faun learn to walk while I sat still in my reflections spot.  That spot I got to know very well over my tenure at Coopers Cove.  I became attached to it.  I would go there to think on my own time.  It was "mine".

Evening program would range from games, to square dancing to listening to folklore to night hikes without lights to dusk studies.  Some nights we were told to grab our sleeping bags, water and rain gear and were hiked to the top of the Cove "The Bald" where we slept under the stars as a big group.  Waking with the sun to be back down at camp in time for breakfast.

We learned to see both the forest through the trees and the trees through the forest.  This whole concept of creating an attachment or sense of place was snuck in.  We did not realize that we were learning, that the natural world was connected, that humans were a part of the natural world.  We did not realize it because we were living it.  We were having positive experiences in nature with friends and adults that we trusted.  Louise Chawla writes that the positive attachments children make to nature involve experiences that they enjoy with their friends and adults in natural areas.

Most people who worked at Coopers Cove became teachers or scientists in their "real job".  Not everyone is in the environmental field, but it seems that all have a strong appreciation for the environment and live their life keeping the environment in mind.  To me that can be even more important.  We need more professionals who make environmental changes without being a "sustainability coordinator" or any other role in that vein.     

I have never felt so relaxed after a reunion before, I think because this time it was a reunion to a place not just the people I may or may not remember. 

Monday, August 13, 2012



Sometimes I get some great feedback from students.  The best is when they do not intend to give me feedback.  As some of you know teaching is not about immediate gratification, you have to find your successes in small moments. Here is one I would like to share:

A student called me recently and said "Hey, I have a quick question.  I was walking past a field and suddenly it got humid and it smelled like water.  There was not any sprinkler on, whats that called when plants give off water?  I think that is what they do..."  
I answered, "traspiration".
"Oh ya!" they said. "Thanks! I forgot that word!  Bye!"
And hung up.

How cool that they were thinking of that!