Posts Tagged: Project Learning Tree
Project Learning Tree: Shaping the future of California forests
On this International Day of Forests, we at UC Cooperative Extension Forest Research and Outreach invite you to celebrate the future of California's trees with us. Considering the recent news coverage regarding tree mortality in California, we want to instead view this subject through a lens of hope. For it's not just the news outlets witnessing the extent of forest die-off: children, especially those in forested communities, are seeing the effects of drought, wildfire, and fire suppression policies in real time.
Project Learning Tree is a national education program leading the next generation to witness and then act on these changes. Children are the future of our forests, and we think the efforts of Project Learning Tree are a cause for celebration, don't you?
Last month, Californians may have noticed a marked uptick in the news coverage of the state's forests. Local, state and national news outlets all reported on the startling approximation of 36 million trees that perished between 2021 and 2022. This number, gleaned from USDA Forest Service data, is a startling jump from the 9.5 million trees that perished the year before. The future of California's forests does not have to look like this, with large fluctuations and ever-rising numbers of dying trees. Right now, it's not easy being a tree. In 10 or 20 years? We're hopeful that the situation is different.
Project Learning Tree (PLT), stretches across the nation to connect students to forests, even if they live miles away from one. Jonelle Mason, the PLT coordinator for Northern California region, provided more insight into the program's purpose through a sentiment many may be familiar with: “To quote Jane Goodall, ‘Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, we will help.'” Project Learning Tree is one piece in the future of forest stewardship, and as Jonelle sees it, “Forming forest-education generations creates passionate advocates. People can't save what they don't know about.”
A point touched on by nearly all news outlets covering tree mortality was the centuries of fire suppression practices and its ripple effects that amplify drought and wildfire damage. Students in California are aware of natural disasters affecting forests and forested communities, but not necessarily the causes.Mason posits that in closing that knowledge gap, PLT can “cultivate environmental defenders [who] will ultimately push us in the right direction.”
A crucial aspect of Project Learning Tree is that it exists as a continuing education program, meant to follow students from kindergarten to senior year of high school. Each year of learning builds upon the last, yet the topics are given nuance and depth even at the elementary school level. For instance, PLT's flagship K-8 curriculum gives second grade teachers the tools to communicate ecosystem services, plant structure and natural resource cultivation. High school teachers following the “Focus on Forests” education guide will find avenues to introduce concepts like environmental policy, and will help students understand the difficult decisions that many forest landowners face.
It does indeed give us a reason to celebrate the future. Young people are more active in the conversations surrounding the environment and climate change, and are aware that something must be done to protect the natural resources they have left. It's vital to translate that passion and interest into true learning, where a classroom can become the space for developing ideas for what can be done about our state's forests. Mason is quick to point out the core tenant of PLT that makes it unique: “Teaching students how to think, not what to think, about environmental concerns.”
Project Learning Tree presents concepts to students and gives them the tools to think critically through the many fields that touch forests, from the natural sciences to philosophy. California's youth has a vested interest in protecting and managing their forests, and programs like PLT give us hope that the interest can truly be translated to action.
If you are interested in bringing Project Learning Tree to your school or home, you can contact Mason at email@example.com.
UC inspires a love of nature to ensure future environmentalists
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.
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.
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.
A droplet of sun
Planted firmly in soil
Linking earth to sky
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
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.
Free forestry workshops to help teachers meet new science standards
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are your clues: A helmet, a feather duster and a tape measure…
As a newly employed community educator at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, I believe the time is ripe to consider how our facility can provide the hands-on experience that all these programs require.
Many of these initiatives aim to represent the real world of scientific investigation and environmental issues relevant to their state. I am lucky enough to interact on a daily basis with researchers working at the sharp end of scientific discovery, in an environment chosen to represent one of California's key ecosystems. What better blend could there be to allow our local school and college students the chance to witness agriculture and natural resource management in it's complex and dynamic true state?
Of course collaboration and creating programs always takes time and effort! Projects like 4H, California Regional Environmental Education Community and Project Learning Tree make the process much more efficient. They have put together activities that can be easily taken off the shelf and used to appropriately represent the diversity of systems which can be seen through the Research and Extension Centers.
Recently, I hosted my first field trip at Hopland Research and Extension Center, which covers 5,300 acres of oak woodland and chaparral habitat. A busy group of third-graders tumbled from their vehicles clutching their tablets, phones and cameras ready to document their fieldtrip digitally at every stage. The first step to connect with nature, is of course to disconnect! Having packed away their media devices, it was time to figure out some mysteries… third grade provides a great opportunity to look at adaptation and luckily we could easily observe a species well equipped for its environment right on our doorstep!
As well as observing this particularly well-represented species, we worked on our own scientific questioning and asked, “In which habitat at HREC will we see the most species of birds?” Our volunteer bird expert Chuck Vaughn helped students identify and even showed them a great use for those stowed-away digital devices by identifying and playing bird calls from his phone as we observed and learned.
Creating the perfect program and meeting the needs of educators, students, standards, and curriculum resources might be a balancing act, but working with UC ANR at one of the REC's allows full immersion in a habitat where science can come to light. I hope to see one of those students return to the Hopland REC as a fully-fledged researcher in future years … and look forward to seeing the outcome!
Author: Hannah Bird
Teachers invited to learn about natural resources in the forest
“The goal of the Forestry Institute for Teachers, or FIT, is to provide K-12 teachers with knowledge, skills and tools to teach their students about forest ecology and forest resource management practices and introduce them to environmental education curriculum such as Project Learning Tree, Project WILD and California's Education and the Environment,” said Mike De Lasaux, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor for Plumas and Sierra counties and a FIT instructor.
The program, which is in its 23rd year, brings teachers from rural and urban settings together with natural resources experts to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources. The environment becomes the basis for learning in many subject areas, including environmental science, physical science, social science, biology, forestry and history.
“FIT gave me a lot of physical group activities and ideas for how to get to know a new group of people,” said Renata Martin, who is a substitute teacher for grades 3 through 8 in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Especially because I meet new kids every day, I've been able to use the lesson that we did around the campfire the first night with sharing important points in our lives as if they were tree cookies” or slices of a tree, said Martin.
FIT emphasizes California Department of Education Content Standards including Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Since 1993, more than 2,200 teachers have graduated from the program.
Using what they learn at the workshop, the participants conduct training for their colleagues and develop a forestry education project for their students during the school year.
Martin, who participated in FIT in 2014 in Plumas County, said she has adapted many of the lessons for her students based on their age, development and behavior.
Four 1-week FIT sessions are scheduled at four different locations: Plumas, Tuolumne, Shasta and Humboldt counties.
Two June sessions will be held at the University of California Forestry Camp, close to Quincy in Plumas County, and at Sierra Outdoor School near Sonora in Tuolumne County. The July sessions will be at Camp McCumber just east of Shingletown in Shasta County and at Humboldt State University in Arcata in Humboldt County.
The presenters and staff include public and private forest resource specialists and other natural resource managers, environmental activists and science and environmental education curriculum specialists. Groups are welcome to register as teams. There is an application fee of $25, but training, meals and lodging are free for first-time participants.
The deadline for applications is March 16. For more information and to apply, visit http://forestryinstitute.org or call the Forest Stewardship Helpline at (800) 783-8733.
The Forestry Institute for Teachers (FIT) workshop was developed by the Northern California Society of American Foresters, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension, Shasta County Office of Education, The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and Project Learning Tree. The FIT Program is underwritten by a consortium of public and private sources.
An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.