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

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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

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald