Friday, December 20, 2013

Nature Notebooks

Post by Pat Weathers, Ed Fenn School, Gorham, NH
Dr. Tom (named that because he’s from Georgia) Howick taught the session this summer focused on using Nature Notebooks.  I have used this idea with my class this year and have been pleased with them for several reasons.  First, they look cool.  We painted the covers by doing the leaf printing that was done during our night gathering in West Virginia (before Zack and Bob starting singing “Dirty Quarters”).  We gathered sticks and bound pages together, giving them the natural look, only we don’t have any beaver sticks like Tom’s notebook.  The second reason I like the Nature Notebooks is it sets the tone for our outside classroom.  
My students know they have the responsibility of completing 2 pages of the notebook whenever we are outside learning.  They have to observe and listen just like being inside, and be accountable for their learning.  My third reason is the evaluation piece.  The first page the students fill out has specifics such as date, weather, site, and also a spot for the Big Question, the focus for that day’s learning.  Some Big Questions we  have had are: What place can you find on the trail which you’d like to teach others about?   What are specific details you notice?  What can you learn about early Gorham settlers?   I can tell from the observations and data collecting in the Nature Notebooks who understands the assignment and who needs additional help, both understanding concepts and ability to work outside. I have been particularly impressed with ideas students have for data collecting, improved observational skills, and the retention of the outing.  My last reason is the amount of authentic writing my students have done, and outside!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My TTEC Start

TTEC-Spring Mid-Atlantic Workshop
Post by Sharon Steger, Middletown High School, Middletown, MD

Our first workshop was held at the Kirkridge Retreat Center. We had the pleasure of meeting many great people including Ms. Karen Lutz, Director of the Mid-Atlantic Region Appalachian Trail Conservancy, as well as a thru-hiker! I was first introduced to the ATC and later in July discovered that there is an ATC close to Middletown High, located in Harpers Ferry!
I was about to discover that Karen would be my hiking coach every step of the Trail. I very quickly learned that Myron Avery built the AT and Benton MacKaye created the vision for the AT. I learned that the Trail includes 14 states, Georgia through Maine. I am a Service Learning Fellow and was interested in finding new ways to have my students participate in outdoor activities.
The 6 principles of place-based service learning include: a. grounded in place b. real, c. empowering, d. collaborative, e. integrated, f. rigorous. Being a Biology instructor, studying concepts like endangered species, water quality, or exotic invasive plants seemed like a perfect fit! TTEC is about increasing civic responsibility, increasing volunteerism, and increasing environmental stewardship. If students help to keep the trail free of exotic invasive plants the students will then have ownership of that section of the trail. At this workshop I was reminded to “do what is important, not urgent.” It was also stressed that when asked what we teach, that we respond first by saying “kids”, and our specific curriculum second. If we expect students to get excited we as teachers must be passionate! With our enthusiasm we can make our students, administration, Board of Ed., and community “look good.” The following web site is a nice introduction for an introduction to “Leave No Trace.”
Marian Orlousky, ATC, introduced us to Phenology Monitoring on the Appalachian Trail. Phenology is the study of the timing of recurring plant and animal life cycle stages (hibernation, bud breaking or flowering, animal migrations, insect emergence). Monitoring phenology helps us understand how plants, animals and systems respond to environmental variation and changing climates. The goal of this program is to establish sites along the AT where citizen scientists can go to monitor specific plant species. “Nature’s Notebook is a great way to involve students as well as the community. gives instructions for making phenology wheels. In the evening we had the opportunity to make “bare books” into very cool journals. The next morning  we were shown what to wear and what to bring on our first hike for TTEC. 

Growth as a 'Trail Towner'

Post by Colleen Weathers
Like a couple of other teachers at this workshop, I am fortunate to live in a "trail town."  Soon after returning from the spring workshop, the beginning of the SOBO thru-hikers starting popping up.

How does one decipher between the casual hiker/backpacker and an AT thru-hiker?  Good question! From my experience, there are a few key characteristics. 1) Their clothing and equipment is quite "loved."  2) They have a certain distinct smell that can only be experienced.  There are no words. 3) Huge smiles.  4)  Really cool names like Sunshine.

Since talking with some of the people at the spring workshop, I decided I could be a better member of my Trail Community and take advantage of this unique opportunity.  I've been making an extra effort to start giving these ever thankful, interesting souls a lift into and out of town.  This has led to great conversations.  Naturally I tell them about this amazing class.  The hikers I've talked to have loved it!!  Extra support for the AT?!  Educating/engaging youth about the Trail?!  "Awesome!!" is the typical response.  I've received a wide range of support from the hikers ranging from thank-yous to offers of help via email/interviews.  The picture is of a “sign” a thru-hiker made signifying the 300 miles from that point to Mt. Katahdin.  

I feel like I'm off to a great start!  I've become a better member of the AT Community and will use that to help motivate my students!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reflections of TTEC 2013

Post by Bob Ryder, Germantown, Maryland

The summer training in West Virginia was approaching and my excitement was building.  I had high expectations and knew the experience would be awesome.  I drove only one hour from my home in Maryland.  So, I thought about all the great people I would meet and the useful information I would receive.
I arrived at the National Conservation Training Center and was instantly impressed with the facility.  I was greeted by the staff at the welcome center and truly felt like a guest at a fine resort.  

After getting settled, we all gathered to meet our classmates for the week.  It was great to meet so many educators who are inspired and eager to incorporate the Appalachian Trail awareness into the classroom.  As I mingled with all of the folks from the TTEC group, we all became comfortable and excited for the program, to begin.
I woke up on Monday morning feeling well rested and eager to get the day started.  I headed to the cafeteria to grab some breakfast. The dining this week was fantastic.  Every meal was great and the food selection was very good.  

We then all met at the classroom and started our morning with introductions and some ice breakers.  It was fun and exciting to meet everyone and learn about who they were and where they were from.   There were a variety of educators from Georgia to Maine.  Teachers of different grade levels ranging from Kindergarten all the way up to a college professor.  The schools that these teachers come from also had a wide spectrum of school demographics.  Our cohort included schools from very rural areas with predominantly Caucasian students and urban schools that included populations that had African American and Hispanic students.

We all had a chance to introduce ourselves and review our backgrounds and experiences with the Trail.  I learned that there were a few teachers that had never visited the Appalachian Trail.  I felt a little bit more comfortable because my school is located about 40 miles from the A.T. and almost none of my students have ever heard of the A.T. let alone, ever visited the A.T. 

The week was jam packed with tons of great presentations.  Just to name a few...
Journal writing, Geo-caching, Quests, Backpacking, Orienteering, Project Wild, Poetry, History of the A.T.
One of my favorite activities was Backpacking on the A.T. and staying overnight on the trail.  Although we only hiked a few miles, it was a great experience and I felt pretty tired.  It was an eye-opening experience.  I learned that backpacking is NOT the same as camping.  Camping is when you can pack your car with as much stuff as you want and just pull up to your campsite and relax.  Backpacking is much more physically demanding.  I know now that you pack only the necessities and have to remember to keep your pack lite.
After hiking a few miles, I learned that I had packed too many unnecessary items and my pack was very heavy.

Well, after an amazing week filled with great presentations and meeting great people, I was tired yet also excited to bring all the useful tools and ideas back to my school.  I felt well equipped and very informed about how the A.T. can be integrated into any school’s curriculum.
Now, it’s time to put it all into action!  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hands on the Land

You can sign up to receive the Hands on the Land newsletters at

Featured Site

Sunset in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Delray, Florida. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schwen.
Sunset in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Delray, Florida. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schwen.
The 221 square mile Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1951. Named after Everglades scientist Arthur R. Marshall, the refuge is the northernmost portion of the Everglades. At the refuge, people can enjoy marsh and cypress swamp habitats and see many different kinds of animals and plants. Last year, the refuge had approximately 325,000 visitors.
The Refuge also offers introductory in-service teacher workshops and hosts nationally acclaimed workshops including Project WILD, Aquatic WILD, Fire In Florida’s Ecosystems, Project Learning Tree, and Indoors and Out: Connecting Classrooms to Nature in partnership with the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach and the Marshall Foundation.
Palm Beach County teachers learn how to monitor aquatic life at Loxahatchee NWR. Photo courtesy of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation.
Palm Beach County teachers learn how to monitor aquatic life at Loxahatchee NWR. Photo courtesy of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation.

Where the Glades Meets the Classroom

Regional EE mini-grants take root
As a recipient of one of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's regional EE mini-grants, the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation recently invited Jupiter Middle School teachers to join efforts with the Foundation and the ARM Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge to explore ways to teach about Everglades restoration.
The Foundation's innovative, place-based learning opportunities will deepen student experiences at the refuge though hands-on science. The award funds three days of professional development for teachers, who will participate in a service learning project and bring 120 students from Jupiter Middle School to the Loxahatchee twice during the school year. Central to this partnership is the use of the Hands-on-the-Land website to share site information, instructional resources, and eventually project results.
Established in 1998, the Foundation has quickly grown to become a leader in environmental education and is the only non-profit in South Florida offering hands-on learning opportunities in Everglades restoration and preservation. Since the organization's founding, their message has reached more than three million people through many programs and events, as well as via partnerships with other environmental and community groups.
This project will inspire teachers and students with a greater understanding of the Everglades ecosystem, the interdependent nature of life, and the role that clean water plays in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. This project will also support Jupiter Middle School's new outdoor classroom.

Quantifing biodiversity

STEM Opportunity: NIMBioS Education Module

Mathematics is an under-appreciated but important tool for the life sciences, from mathematically modeling biological processes to making sense of real biological data. This activity was designed for a Girls in Sciencecamp at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Tremont. The camp gives these girls the opportunity to become familiar with the natural world by hands on research in the park.
Biodiversity is important for ecosystem health and productivity. Greater biodiversity provides greater opportunities to find new organisms that can be important food sources or new medicines for people around the world. Also, high biodiversity makes ecosystems more resilient; with increasing threats to species from global climate change or in the event of a catastrophe, more species can mean a greater potential that some organisms will have the necessary traits to survive. But what exactly is biodiversity? How does one go about measuring whether biodiversity is greater in one place compared to another?


Project Archaeology:
Investigating Shelter

Investigating Shelter is a supplementary science and social studies curriculum unit for grades 3 through 5 developed by Project Archaeology, a BLM partner. Students can seamlessly integrate science (STEM) with literacy, mathematics, social studies, and history. The curriculum consists of nine comprehensive lessons guiding students through the archaeological study of shelter including a toolkit of archaeological and scientific concepts and a final performance of understanding.

Upcoming Events

Green Engineering in the Elementary Classroom
Tuesday, January 28, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. EST.
Free Webinar: You must register for EE Week 2014 to participate in this webinar. (
2014 National NSTA Conference
Boston, MA
April 3 – 6
Join teachers and scientists for top-notch professional learning opportunities, fresh ideas for your classroom teaching, and chances to learn about what really works from your peers.
EE Week 2014 April 13-19
Join a national network of educators and organizations dedicated to increasing the environmental knowledge of K-12 students.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Child's Walk

Want a sure fire way to get your students to ignite with the Appalachia Trail?  How about meeting and talking to a boy who thru-hiked the AT in 2010 when he was 7-8 years old?
My husband and I recently completed our AT section hike.   And earlier this year, prior to that last section, I read “A Child’s Walk in the Wilderness:  An 8-year-old Boy and His Father Take on the Appalachian Trail” by Paul Molyneaux.  It is a great read that I highly recommend for you and your students.  We attended the Trail’s End Festival in Millinocket, Maine.  I was excited to learn the boy and his father were scheduled to speak.  Their presentation was the highlight of the festival for me.

They mentioned they would like to share their story with school groups.  I spoke with Paul Molneaux afterwards and explained a little about TTEC.  Bottom line, they are willing to share their story and answer your students’ questions.  Ideally, they travel (you would have to pay their travel expenses) to your school and do it in person.  But, with budget constraints for some of you, that may not be possible.  How about Skype?  I am sure they would welcome this opportunity.

So, Paul Molyneaux can be reached via email:
Phone: Tel: 1-207-263-9396  
Check out the Barbarian Utopia* Facebook page, too.  (*from a quote by Benton MacKaye).  And, finally, here is a link to a you tube video prior to a book signing in Arizona:

Please contact me if you have any questions.  And if you do Skype with Paul and Asher, put it on TTEC bog so we can all hear about it!

So, there you have it, a spark to get your students all fired up about the AT!

Respectfully submitted by Sharon Van Horn, TTEC Advisory Council,


It’s Everywhere! It’s Everywhere!

I walked in the door, returning from an amazing week in West Virginia, and there sat my pile of mail from the week I’d been gone.  I looked down to see my new Discover Magazine on the top.  Low and behold, one of the subtitles on the front cover read, “Citizen Scientists, Try THIS in your own backyard”.  My mind was still immersed with the ideas of the week running through it, and my heart was still pounding happily about implementing new ideas I’d learned.  Seeing this cover made me think I was right back in West Virginia, discussing integration of science into place.  The article explains a book referred to as a bestiary; facts and information about creatures around our homes, initially written in medieval times and lavishly illustrated. The author, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, explains a need for the use of this book by stating, “As urban dwellers, we find ourselves unmoored- bereft of the knowledge of local creatures, plants, and soil that were a necessity of life just a couple of generations ago.” It’s a great article and I suggest you check it out from the September 2013 edition.  The art work and information about animals such as pigeons and moles are fabulous. The article is based on the author’s book, The Urban Bestiary.  This was the first of many times I’ve come across ideas related to the TTEC experience since I’ve returned.  Here are a few others.
A month and a half later, I picked up a thru-hiker in Walmart parking lot, heading to the Gorham Post Office.  In our ten minute ride she filled me with information about her hike, which I would share with my class the next day.
Most recently, as I was hiking Mt Crag, I came across a man and started chatting.  It turns out his name was Ron Marquis, he was from Gorham and has recently published a book about his hiking experiences in northern New England with his dog, entitled Trailing Teddy.  He dropped off a copy of his book at my school a few days later and my principal asked if he’d be willing to come in and speak to the students about his hiking adventures and how he writes about them.  I plan on hooking up with him soon.
So BEWARE fellow TTECer’s- more ideas- more information- they are out there- everywhere!
Pat Weathers
Ed Fenn School

Gorham NH

Monday, December 2, 2013

Trail to Trail: Leave No Trace on the Boulder Face

My TTEC unit is in full swing! The whole fifth grade hiked the Appalachian Trail 2 weeks ago and saw firsthand the effects of unmanaged graffiti. We have learned that the best graffiti prevention is immediate removal of all graffiti within 24-48 hours of vandalism. Bake Oven Knob -- a beautiful boulder outcropping with amazing views of the Lehigh Valley -- is virtually covered with spray-painted messages, dates, drawings, and names. My students spent about an hour there, discussing who might be vandalizing the rocks and why. They journaled their thoughts and feelings about the content of the graffiti and how it impacts their hiking experience and the view. We continued on the trail in the opposite direction, passed Bear Rocks and enjoyed lunch on the Knife's Edge, another beautiful vista on the trail, named for the narrow trail along the boulders on the ridge of the mountain. We were accompanied by Barbara Wieman, TTEC advisory council and Allentown Hiking Club member, who shared lots of information about the trail with us.

While the AT hike felt long to the children, checking out our huge map of the Appalachian Trail - and the tiny distance we traveled that day - put the length of the trail into perspective for them. Many are eager to get back on the AT with their families and some are already dreaming of hiking the entire length.

We continue to hike on the trail by our school about every 10 days. The boulders on our own South Mountain Trail have recently been defaced with a swastika. Ironically on the day we discovered the swastika, one of my students shared in Morning Meeting that she had finished the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas that morning. She became very emotional as she shared the story with her classmates, who had more knowledge of the holocaust than I had expected. We had a very good conversation about this unfortunate part of history that morning and continued it up on the trail when we discovered the graffiti. We talked about why someone would choose to put a symbol of hate on the boulder up on the rocks and had a really insightful discussion about ways people choose to express feelings.

Last week we took an information gathering hike, recording answers to the questions:
What tools and technology were used to vandalize the boulders?
What locations have the most graffiti? Why are these locations chosen?
What is the content of the graffiti? (We'll create graffiti categories later.)
After climbing all around the boulders to be sure we discovered every bit of graffiti, we hiked back down the trail. Students were assigned discussion partners to talk about the following question on the way down the mountain:
Why do people choose to vandalize the boulders on the hiking trails?
I enjoyed listening in on their conversations as we hiked to the trailhead where we took the time to stop and write a reflection in our journals.

Now we are right in the midst of our investigation into how we can make a difference with this issue. My students identified 4 areas they'd like to take on -- Learning More About Graffiti (research), Getting the Word Out, Preventing Graffiti on the Trail, and Restoring Vandalized Boulders. Student teams have already begun the planning and research phase. Over the next 3 weeks we will be taking action steps to remove and restore graffiti and put all of our plans into action. I'll update on my next blog post.

Alison Saeger Panik
TTEC 2013
Teacher, Grade 5
Seven Generations Charter School
Emmaus, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Making Connections at Blue Ridge Middle School

Post by Sara Bolen
4 Seasons Hiking Club – First Hike to Sky Meadows State Park
Mrs. Bolen with all her knew wisdom!
 Things are on the move here at Blue Ridge Middle School.  We had our first 4 Seasons Hiking Club hike to Sky Meadows State Park.  It was beautiful weather, about a 5.5 mile hike.  We have decided to try to do 4 hikes this year, and they are taking place on the weekends.  By having the hikes on the weekends, we are not responsible for providing transportation.  Students are also made aware that a parent must hike with them.  On our first hike we had about 8 students, each with a parent and about 7 teachers, and 3 dogs join us.  We are pictured here at the Paris overlook.  The students were great and excited to be there.  The parents were in awe of the view; we think we saw Reston/Tyson’s Corner or Washington DC from this vantage point.  On the way down, the students were asking when the next hike is going to be.
Little did they know, they next day in PE classes we were starting our orienteering unit.  The first and second day of the unit, we went over the parts of a compass and how to use it.  We gave the students some worksheets to label the parts of the compass, then in then we gave them time to work with their partners to find particular spots in the gym.  On the third day of our unit, we had the students break the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail.  We finished in 30 minutes!   Students were given background information on the trail and we pointed out particular points of interest and access points around us.  
Students were then broken into groups and given a pass card with 20 different points along the Appalachian Trail.  There were corresponding cones with punches and an exercise to complete throughout the gym.  We gave each group a starting point, they explored to find their spot, performed their exercises, punched their pass card and where on their way along the trail.  From a teacher standpoint it was really fun listening to groups wondering around the gym “Where is Clingmans Dome, I can’t find it!”, “How do I get to Old Blue Mountain?”  

We did not have the cones out in any particular order; they had to explore to find them.  When the students completed, we checked their pass cards (formative assessment!).

The next day, students watched a video to help them make a connection with what is around them.  We started with pictures from our outdoor classroom and expanded to pictures from our county, then pictures of faculty at Bears Den, Raven Rocks, Jefferson Rocks, Shenandoah River, and Furnace Mountain.  The video then goes into the entire trail, how it was developed and who maintains it.
 After that, students used posters we had hanging in the gym, they had to write 3 facts about the trail on the back of the card, then come up with a trail name and turn their postcard in to their teacher (another formative assessment!)
As a culminating activity, students participating in an orienteering course set up on our school property.  They are given compasses and coordinates.  Then they need to navigate to each flag and use the punches to punch their pass card.  We borrowed compasses from our high school so we can keep the groups small and each student will have the opportunity to use the compass.
This was a great unit, the students really enjoyed it.

Report on How Getting Dirty Outdoors Benefits Kids

From the National Wildlife Federation:

These are some of the fun topics discussed:
Get the Dirt on Dirt:)
The Joy of Dirt
Good (Clean) Dirty Fun
Grime is Good

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Graphic Arts Unit: Leave No Trace or as one of my students said, “Don’t be Trashy, Be Classy!”

 Post by Lori DeMark Harmony Middle School

One of the things I take away from the TTEC pedagogy is how I can make an impact in my classroom with my students on a daily basis. What small step can I make that will impact the bigger picture? My Harmony colleague and TTEC partner, Nancy and I decided that we wanted the common thread through our curriculum and Harmony Hikes Club to be the Leave No Trace Principles. In the classroom we would focus on the principles that would impact our school environment and in the club we would focus more regionally with the Appalachian Trail.

I introduced my 8th grade art students to the Leave No Trace Principles. We compared being on the Appalachian Trail with walking down our school hall or being in the cafeteria. What principles could we address in our school community? We narrowed the seven principles down to two, “Trash Your Trash” and “Leave It as You Find It.”

My students had previously completed a Typography Unit and had a great base to build on for our Graphic Arts Leave No Trace Poster Design. First, we brainstormed possible phrases and images students could use in their design , then students created a rough draft of their idea, we discussed their designs, and refined their text, images, and layout before they created their final design.
7th grade art students were also introduced to the Leave No Trace Principles, they also worked on a graphic arts unit. Their end result was to create a Leave No Trace inspired button. Students worked through design sketches involving typography and layout before creating their final design. As part of American Education Week (November 18-22), students will wear their buttons at school to kick off our school wide Leave No Trace campaign.  After the poster designs and buttons were completed students in 7th and 8th grade completed a rubric and art statement as a reflective assessment of their work.
8th Grade LNT posters are displayed throughout the school and one design from each class was selected for enlargement to display in our cafeteria. Now we begin our environmental stewardship campaign. In addition to displaying posters in our school, we will display posters at the AT kiosk at Bear’s Den, Bluemont , VA. Artwork should be installed before the end of November.
Thank you TTEC for the inspiration!

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Place in History

Post by Rebecca Neet 
When I began designing my TTEC unit, I kept coming back to the idea of historical landmarks along the AT, but I also wanted to connect my idea to place based learning.  We are lucky in our area to have the Housatonic River running through not only our town, but the neighboring towns north and south as well.  So soon it wasn’t just about the historical landmarks along the AT, but the historical landmarks along the river as well, the same historical landmarks that tell the history of our area.  I began immediately developing partnerships with the local historical societies; Housatonic Heritage, the Sheffield Historical Society and the Great Barrington Visitor’s Center.  From there our initial outing was born; a two part field trip within downtown Great Barrington.  Working with Housatonic Heritage and spending some time taking the Great Barrington walking tour myself, we developed a walking tour along the Great Barrington Riverwalk and a quest for my students of local historical monuments within Great Barrington.  The outcome…success!  The students loved working on the quest, which challenged them to view buildings and historical markers as a means to answer their clues.  In addition, they came away with an excitement to show their families all they had learned about the Riverwalk.  Those who were unable to finish the final quest challenge continued it in class the following day and wouldn’t stop until they had discovered the final answer. 
That being the first step, the students then chose landmarks from along the river to research for our
“museum exhibit” which will be hosted through the Sheffield Historical Society and possibly the Berkshire Museum.   While researching, and to further tie the AT and the Housatonic to their history, I then worked to take all 45 fifth graders out onto the trail to hike.  Traveling in homeroom groups of 15, the students were challenged to view the hike as explorers seeing this land for the first time.  They made observations, took notes, shared ideas and then discussed upon our return whether or not this land would be good to colonize.  It was impressive to see all my students, writers and non-writers alike making notes and discussing with one another their ideas while we hiked the 3.5 miles over June Mountain and along the Housatonic.  All in all 43 of the 45 students of varying abilities and needs were able to hike and everyone enjoyed it!

What now you might ask.  Well, my next step is to help the students develop their exhibit pieces which will include an exhibit tag, a landmark pamphlet and a multi-media piece.  The students will then exhibit those pieces for the community.  And this spring, the students will create a 5-10 piece exhibit on the landmarks along the AT.  This will, again, include all the pieces described above, but will focus on those historical landmarks along the AT.  It will be interesting to see just how the program develops over the coming months.  I will keep you posted!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Overcoming Logistical Challenges

Cathy Harron, 4th grade teacher at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in Warren County, VA. 
Outside, outdoors has always been a favorite part of my life.  Up until a little while ago, I took for granted that the great outdoors would always be there for me.  Oh, I understood we needed to take care of it.  I can remember my dad looking on in bemusement at a 7 year old picking up trash when our family went for a walk and staying with friends who scattered coins on the ground because they observed my friend and I cleaning up our campsite area.  But for the most part, I thought that people had learned from the past and knew how to take care of our world.  This summer in West Virginia has taught me that I should take nothing for granted.  That I, as a teacher, should understand more than anyone that these values and ideals have to be instilled early on.
During the summer institute the concept of place based service learning along with the outdoor classroom and integrating core subjects seemed like such a logical way of reaching each of the students not only academically, but also with the values, goals, and problem solving skills that reaches into all areas of their lives, in their home, school, neighborhood, and community while making the most of their different learning styles.   Real problems needing real solutions.
 I came away from the summer institute inspired and excited, but, I have to admit, frustrated.  While I am ready to jump in with both feet I am hampered by logistics.  Our county has just purchased a brand new basal series and a brand new math program and we are required to use each in the manner they were intended.  How can I fit in all of these wonderful place based service ideas floating around in my head with a curriculum that requires me to teach each subject in an isolated manner?
Meeting with Sonja Carlborg, our local AT rep gave me some very good ideas for place based service learning.  Those ideas are represented in the picture below.  I hope that I will be able to utilize them.

Our Own Backyard

Post by Nancy Stevens, Gifted Teacher, Harmony Middle School, Loudoun County, VA

Where we pick up the pace…
When Lori Demark and I started our TTEC project, a hiking club at Harmony Middle School, we sat down and brainstormed ideas and expectations. We were in total agreement that every club meeting needed to have some time set side for an outdoor experience. While Harmony is close to the Appalachian Trail, it is not within walking distance nor is it feasible to get a bus for each meeting to get us there. We were going to have to find a way to get the outdoor experience we wanted for each meeting a little closer to home. Given these constraints, Lori and I strapped on our hiking shoes and took our brainstorming outside. It was decided that a 15-minute loop was the “just right” amount of time to spend outside each meeting as we began walking towards Harmony’s outdoor track.
Where we have a quiet place…
Just two years old, our track supports our PE department and their physical fitness needs. For our purposes, it would be an excellent place to “pick up the pace”. On the track, we would be able to assess the fitness of our hikers and give them a chance to converse while strolling leisurely on even ground. We next made our way north over a slight rise and down a hill where we discovered a “quiet place” where our hikers could sit and reflect…a place hidden from the school world and visible to no one.
We decided to use this place in our first meeting to conduct a quiet listening exercise.
Where we have left a trace…
Continuing on, we rounded a corner and passed by a group of trees. We could just make out the beginnings of our school baseball field and basketball courts. It was easy to see where we had ”left a trace” and made an impact on what used to be a farm called “Harmony”. This spot would be an ideal segue into a discussion on the “Leave No Trace” concept and the impact of man on his environment.
Our fifteen-minute walk came to an end at the back door entrance to the school. As we walked inside, we realized that to bring the culture of the AT to Harmony we did indeed need look no further then “Our Own Backyard”!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Youth Speak Out!

 Mechanical weathering- tree roots on a rock
 Post by: Rebecca Kyle, James River High School Buchanan, Virginia
The summit! Roaring Run Falls
YOVASO, Youth of Virginia Speak Out, had our first club “YOVAGO” outing to Roaring Run this past Saturday.  Highs of the Outing:  It was a beautiful day!  Everyone was enthusiastic and well prepared for the trip.  We were able to make trail kits and use some ideas from the “hip-pocket” activities to reflect on recent events.  Hikers made connections to earth science class as we observed examples of mechanical weathering and rock formations.  The Roaring Run loop hike in Eagle Rock is ideal for student trips.  It is about a mile and a half round trip and has easy access from the road.  It is interesting because there is an old iron furnace and a waterfall!   No one was injured or unhappy.  Lows of the Outing: Although I was much more organized in planning this outing we had a low student turn out.  Due to scheduling conflicts there was a band competition on the same morning as our hike!  Several other students were planning to attend but were already committed to band.
Trail safety poster

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blue Ridge Middle School: Get Up! Get Out! Get Moving!

Adventures in Learning bulletin board
displays unit connections to the outdoors.

Students at Blue Ridge Middle School are on the move in Spectrum and getting a double dose of the great outdoors! The bulletin board outside our classroom depicts our mascot (bulldog) zipping his way throughout this year’s curricular line-up and the vast opportunities to connect with nature. Since attending the TTEC sessions, I have enhanced the units I teach by incorporating hands-on, engaging activities into each unit of study to get the students I teach outside.  I want to send a shout-out to Sara Bolen, who is also busy across the hall (Health & PE) getting the same students outside.

Questing island tourists combing the green sand beaches 
A  Quest for Treasure on Paradise Island! September arrived, and the students in 6th and 7th grade Spectrum embarked on their first outdoor adventure known as, A Quest for Treasure on Paradise Island. Students, portraying tourists on a fictitious island (school campus), were divided into small groups and provided with a map of Island Management Crew to supervise and assist our tourists along the way. Our tourists, donned in grass skirts, hats, and sunglasses, had a great time combing the green sand beaches (grass), collaborating as a team to decipher each rhyming riddle to help them locate the treasure, and documenting what they discovered before heading off in search of the next item. The journal reflections from the students clearly revealed their enthusiasm for this activity and their unanimous desire to get back outside for another activity. I think they are hooked!
the island (school campus) and the first of many challenging riddles to take them out of the hut (school) and onto the island. Parent volunteers were eager to play along as our
 “A Quest for Treasure on Paradise Island!”
Tourists “walk the planks” on their island
adventure to locate the next treasure. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

“I’ve never been so excited for a school year”

In my 9th grade class, I started off with a brand new unit this year - a unit centered around place. Why does place matter? Through field trips, writing assignments, presentation opportunities and literature of our area, my hope is that students realize that place is important and teaches about history and ourselves, while also encouraging them to become “responsible global citizens.” The work we are doing will also prepare my students for a service learning opportunity in the spring, a trail maintenance day in collaboration with the Appalachian Mountain Club. My colleague, Kristy Duris, and I are also planning a 9th grade hike on the A.T. for our students and their parents.

Field trip to The Frost Place, once the home of famous poet, Robert Frost
Our field trips have been to The Frost Place in Franconia, NH, along with several historical sites such as the First Ski School of America in Sugar Hill. My students reflected on this experience:

“From our visit to The Frost Place I think I have developed a different perspective about poetry. Seeing how this was just a hobby at first but became his way of life was intriguing. He turned his passion into his job. I think that it is important for everyone to strive for this. Doing what you love is the only option if you strive for happiness.” -Carter

“I felt somehow connected to Robert Frost as I was walking through his house. I liked that in one spot there was a picture of him hanging on the wall, and where you would stand to look at the photo is where he is physically standing in the photo itself. Being in the house made me feel more connected history.” -Jayci
Place-based field trip to historical marker, "The Iron Furnace"

“The trip to the historical sites impacted the way that I look at where I live. I used to think that there was nothing to do around here, but this trip showed me just how much there is to do if you want to be in the wilderness and do different kinds of actives. It definitely showed me how cool this place can be.”  -Brandon

These responses only prove the importance of getting students outside, and connecting to their community. While surrounding the First Ski School historical marker, our class was writing in our journals when a photographer from our local paper took our picture and asked what we were doing. She thought it was great that students were being exposed to these landmarks.

Hike and nature journal field trip
The TTEC program has fostered collaboration amongst my colleagues, schools in different states and my community. I’ve been working with a member of my department to create rubrics for a research presentation (this will be a summative assessment for my 9th graders) that other people in our school will be able to use. The 9th grade Science teacher will incorporate a mini unit centered around place to tie into my curriculum. Kristy and I are working with the AMC for our trail maintenance day. We also presented about service learning and reflection to our colleagues at a staff meeting to share resources and encourage others to create service learning opportunities.

Thanks to Sue Garcia and Rebecca Neet (from the TTEC program) for the opportunity, my husband and I presented our “Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail” lecture to their 4th and 5th grade students at Undermountain School in MA. What a fun experience for me going into an elementary school. I found it entertaining that most students “questions” turned into them telling us stories about a time they went hiking…My hubby and I never tire of sharing our experience. We want students to be prepared and safe when hiking, realize that hiking with a dog is a big responsibility, reflect upon what material things you really need in life (since everything you need when you are hiking is in your pack), living with the rhythms of nature is a life changing experience and a simple way of life, and it is the journey that matters the most.  My husband and I also share our A.T. lecture several times a year at the AMC (for the last 5 years), so hopefully we will continue to inspire more people to get outside and give back to the A.T. hiker community (volunteer work, trail magic, etc).

Place-based assignments that have worked well so far are:

  • My A.T. Reads project: for every extra choice book a student reads, they need to write a reflection/critique and then they earn 100 miles on the A.T. - if they read an extra 22 books a year, they make it all the way to Maine. I have a chart that hangs in the back of my room that monitors the progress
  • Literature Circle for A.T. choice book - my students are reading a book about the A.T. Some of the titles they chose are: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Called Again by Jennifer Pharr Davis, Blind Courage by Bill Erwin, Walking with Spring by Earl Shaffer, and Just Passin Thru by Winton Porter. We will have a class literature circle to discuss a summary, connections, themes, emotional responses, quotes and critiques of the books. This will prepare my students for their hike on the A.T.
  • Writing marathon at historical sites (See Plymouth State University’s guide)
  • I also used this for an A.T. writing marathon by showing students a slideshow of pictures from the A.T.
  • Using George Ella Lyon’s “Where I am From” poem. After creating a list of favorites from childhood, students created their own poem using the same structure and repetition. Then each student shared their favorite line and we combined these for a class “Where we are From” poem. We organized and punctuated this (this was an effective poetry lesson!).
  • Reading stories, especially haunted ones about our area in NH.
  • Reading and discussing why people write.
  • Listening to “Granite State of Mind”, the Jay-Z parody and analyzing biases.

Like Sue Garcia said at our summer institute, “I’ve never been so excited for a school year.” Not only am I passionate about what I am teaching, but I have supportive administration and colleagues to encourage and help me.  I feel really lucky, like my students, “to live in such a beautiful area” (from a student reflection) and have access to the A.T. and other amazing places right out my door.
My husband and I presenting our Appalachian Trail lecture to our TTEC colleagues, Sue Garcia and Rebecca Neet's 4th and 5th grade classes at Undermountain School in MA

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald