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UC inspires a love of nature to ensure future environmentalists

Each participant received access to a 484-page curriculum guide book, one example of PLT's dozens of curricula and supplemental materials organized by age and grade.
Children learn math, reading and writing in school to prepare them for their future careers. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources supports their learning about California's natural environment in order to protect the planet.

UC ANR provides the California home of Project Learning Tree, a national program founded in 1973, during the height of an environmental movement sparked by Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring.

“Everyone began to realize we were having an impact on the environment,” said Sandra Derby, Project Learning Tree state coordinator.

Project Learning Tree (PLT), working with the forestry industry, developed an environmental education program and trained teachers to present it to children in formal and informal educational settings. In California, the program is funded by CAL FIRE.

Another UC ANR program, UC California Naturalist, has collaborated with PLT since 2013.

“There is a lot of shared interest in environmental education, stewardship and service in our two programs,” said Greg Ira, director of UC California Naturalist (CalNat). The CalNat Program recruits and certifies a diverse community of volunteers across California to conduct nature education and interpretation, stewardship, participatory science and environmental program support.

During the coronavirus pandemic, CalNat offered PLT courses to school teachers, volunteer educators and parents online. Completion of the six-hour course over three days resulted in their certification for teaching PLT curricula. The book, aimed for children pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, includes 96 activities, with objectives, assessment opportunities, online teaching connections, and more.

The teacher training course offered by CalNat engages participants with the same activities they will employ when teaching nature appreciation to children.

During the online class, participants went outside to gather and compare a variety of leaves.

Learning to appreciate the environment

Even though online training focuses attention on a computer screen, the PLT curriculum gets pupils outside. After writing about and discussing a favorite tree from memory, the participants were asked to go outside to gather a variety of leaves around their homes, classrooms or offices. They observed leaf details, and sorted them by observable characteristics.

The participants reconvened and shared their leaves, divided into categories onscreen: Leaves with rough edges, rounded, oval or palmate; rough, waxy, furry and thick; drooping down or reaching up.

Teachers can use additional activities outlined in the curriculum to help students understand natural variations and biodiversity by engaging with the leaves through observation and art. For example, if the training is taking place in person, the children can trade leaves and then look for the trees where their peers found them. Or they can put a leaf under a plain piece of paper and rub the side of a crayon across it to show the leaf's margin, veins and other details. 

There are also activities related to common core skills and abilities. For example, different leaf characteristics can be charted in a Venn diagram, with leaves' common characteristics appearing in the center – such as green, pliable, veins – and singular characteristics in the sections that do not overlap.

Making environmental learning accessible

PLT advances environmental literacy using trees and forests as windows on the world, said Cynthia Chavez, PLT community education specialist in Southern California. The hands-on, engaging activities help “teach students how to think, not what to think” about the environment and their place within it.

“Environmental education could be taught in a daunting way,” Chavez said. “PLT opens the door to kids who are different kinds of learners. This is important for environmental education.”

PLT's comprehensive collection of activities have won the confidence of the education community. Curricula is only offered to teachers who have completed workshops so PLT can share a proven system of implementation.

“PLT training encourages students to care for the environment and be interested in pursuing careers in environmentalism. They learn science is not just in the classroom. They could become a field biologist, if that's the way their brain works,” Chavez said.

In another activity, workshop participants were asked to imagine and sketch the perfect seed. (Photo: Eliot Freutel)

Expressing engagement with nature in words

Among the ways to connect with nature outlined in the PLT curriculum are reading, journaling and writing. To close the educator training, participants were given 10 minutes outside to draw inspiration from nature and write a poem – haiku, free verse, rhyming or other style.

Below are samples of poetic nature observations written on the fly by teachers who will inspire California young people to appreciate and help conserve the natural world with the help of PLT.

Haiku:

A droplet of sun
Planted firmly in soil
Linking earth to sky

Free verse:

I have botany blindness, always looking for things that scurry, not sway
But I am asked to acknowledge the tree, and I do
A lone palo verde
There's a chevron lizard on the trunk
A small, yellow verdin in the branches
A line of busy ants along the roots
So I am grateful for this tree, after all
It sways, and upon closer inspection, it scurries as well

Rhyming:

A fly comes by
As wind hits my hair
Almost as if
It moved here and there 

Then Winston, my dog
Hears someone bark
And a bird starts to chirp
Like a crow or a lark

Green Jobs Personality Quiz

Project Learning Tree offers a one-time free trial intended for adults to test its Green Jobs Quiz. The quiz helps kids learn what green job fits their personalities. You'll receive information about how to administer this quiz to youth you work with.

https://cc.plt.org/greenjobsquiz

Posted on Thursday, October 8, 2020 at 9:23 AM
Focus Area Tags: Family, Natural Resources

A Sign of the Times: Why This Black Walnut Tree Is Dying

Forest entomologists Steve Seybold (right) and Jackson Audley stand by a 150-year-old black walnut tree on the 100 block of E Street. It is dying of thousand cankers disease. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

If you've ever walked into the courtyard on the 100 block of E Street in downtown Davis, Calif., you've probably noticed the massive black walnut...

Forest entomologists Steve Seybold (right) and Jackson Audley stand by a 150-year-old black walnut tree on the 100 block of E Street. It is dying of thousand cankers disease. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Forest entomologists Steve Seybold (right) and Jackson Audley stand by a 150-year-old black walnut tree on the 100 block of E Street. It is dying of thousand cankers disease. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Forest entomologists Steve Seybold (right) and Jackson Audley stand by a 150-year-old black walnut tree on the 100 block of E Street. It is dying of thousand cankers disease. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Walnut twig beetles tunnel into branches and trunks of walnut (Juglans) where they create galleries for mating and reproduction. In association with a canker producing fungus, Tthey cause a disease known as thousand cankers disease. This tree is in downtown Davis, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Walnut twig beetles tunnel into branches and trunks of walnut (Juglans) where they create galleries for mating and reproduction. In association with a canker producing fungus, Tthey cause a disease known as thousand cankers disease. This tree is in downtown Davis, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Walnut twig beetles tunnel into branches and trunks of walnut (Juglans) where they create galleries for mating and reproduction. In association with a canker producing fungus, Tthey cause a disease known as thousand cankers disease. This tree is in downtown Davis, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This massive, 150-year-old black walnut tree on the 100 block of E Street, Davis, is dying of thousand cankers disease. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This massive, 150-year-old black walnut tree on the 100 block of E Street, Davis, is dying of thousand cankers disease. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This massive, 150-year-old black walnut tree on the 100 block of E Street, Davis, is dying of thousand cankers disease. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, May 24, 2019 at 5:00 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Environment, Innovation, Natural Resources, Pest Management

If You Like Chocolate, Thank the Midges!

Ernesto Sandoval, collections manager for the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, checks out the cacao tree, aka

If you like chocolate, thank the midges. These tiny flies (about 1 to 3mm) pollinate the intricate flowers of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. From...

Ernesto Sandoval, collections manager for the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, checks out the cacao tree, aka
Ernesto Sandoval, collections manager for the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, checks out the cacao tree, aka "chocolate tree." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Ernesto Sandoval, collections manager for the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, checks out the cacao tree, aka "chocolate tree." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, February 8, 2019 at 2:06 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Environment, Innovation, Natural Resources

Surprise! A Little Brown Package in the UC Davis Arboretum

A praying mantis egg case or ootheca, clings to a Mexican grass tree, Dasylirion longissimum, in the UC Davis Arboreum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Surprise! Surprise! You never know what you'll see when you're strolling through the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, a treasure to...

A praying mantis egg case or ootheca, clings to a Mexican grass tree, Dasylirion longissimum, in the UC Davis Arboreum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis egg case or ootheca, clings to a Mexican grass tree, Dasylirion longissimum, in the UC Davis Arboreum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A praying mantis egg case or ootheca, clings to a Mexican grass tree, Dasylirion longissimum, in the UC Davis Arboreum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

From a distance, the ootheca on the Mexican grass tree can easily be spotted--if you're looking for it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From a distance, the ootheca on the Mexican grass tree can easily be spotted--if you're looking for it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

From a distance, the ootheca on the Mexican grass tree can easily be spotted--if you're looking for it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The ootheca or praying mantis egg case above is probably the work of a Stagmomantis limbata, like this one, shown here feasting on a honey bee in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The ootheca or praying mantis egg case above is probably the work of a Stagmomantis limbata, like this one, shown here feasting on a honey bee in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The ootheca or praying mantis egg case above is probably the work of a Stagmomantis limbata, like this one, shown here feasting on a honey bee in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, December 28, 2017 at 3:10 PM

Free forestry workshops to help teachers meet new science standards

Middle school teachers attending the Forestry Institute for Teachers hear about Project Learning Tree curriculum and other resources they can use to teach environmental education.

California's K-12 teachers are being challenged by the Next Generation Science Standards to find new and more engaging ways to teach science. Adopted by California in 2013, the science-education standards guide how science, technology, engineering and math education are delivered to students in the classroom. The Forestry Institute for Teachers (FIT) offers free environmental education training for teachers in a northern California forest.

“Teachers who participate in the Forestry Institute for Teachers learn to apply Next Generation Science Standards concepts as they develop or refine class lessons using the forest as a lens through which all classroom subject matter can be taught,” said Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor for Plumas and Sierra counties and a FIT instructor.

Teachers wade into a stream to learn about aquatic life.

Learning science through FIT's participatory model is more exciting than memorizing facts from a textbook. In the forest, FIT instructors point out opportunities for students to use technology, engineering and math to better understand the world around them. For example, math can be used to estimate the height of a towering tree. Seeing the “web of life” relationships, such as the effects of rainfall and insects on tree growth, leads to more critical thinking to solve problems.

 “The goal of the Forestry Institute for Teachers is to provide K-12 teachers with knowledge, skills and tools to effectively teach their students about forest ecology and forest resource management practices and much more,” said De Lasaux.

Teachers make wildlife track casts as part of a wildlife education activity.

California teachers from rural and urban settings are invited to spend a week during the summer working outdoors with natural resources experts to gain a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. The participants are organized by grade level for age-appropriate activities. They take field-trips and do hands-on activities such as examining the rings in a tree's cross-section to learn about events – such as wet or dry periods, insect or disease damage – that have occurred during the tree's lifetime.

Participants use clinometers to measure angles to estimate tree height.

The Forestry Institute for Teachers has been providing science education and other subject content to California K-12 teachers since 1993 with more than 2,500 educators completing the program. 

FIT is a week-long residence program developed by the Northern California Society of American Foresters in collaboration with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Cooperative Extension, the USDA Forest Service, CALFIRE and other entities. The FIT Program is underwritten by a consortium of public and private sources.

FIT is offered in forested settings in four different Northern California locations:

  • June 11-17 in Plumas County
  • June 18-24 in Tuolumne County 
  • July 2-8 in Shasta County
  • July 9-15 in Humboldt County 

There is an application fee of $25, but training, meals and lodging are free for first-time participants.To watch videos of past participants discussing their FIT experience and to apply to attend, visit www.forestryinstitute.org.

FIT participants learn how changes in one part of the ecosystem affect others in the web of life.

Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 9:38 AM
 
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