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Teaching teachers about the environment outdoors

Mike De Lasaux demonstrates how foresters determine the age of a tree by taking a core sample and counting the rings.
One approach to improving science literacy of children is to train their teachers in environmental education. Using the forest as a classroom, Project Learning Tree, now a program delivered through UC Cooperative Extension, educates teachers about the environment and provides ideas and the tools needed for integrating environmental education into their core curriculum. 

The primary goal of PLT is to teach people how to think, not what to think, about complex environmental issues. This has been the vision of PLT since the mid-1970s, inspiring educators to teach and students to learn about their environment, by doing.

At the outdoor workshops, foresters demonstrate forest practices and talk about forest science. For example, Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Plumas and Sierras counties, leads participants out to take tree measurements and shows them how foresters determine the age of a tree by taking a core sample and counting the rings.

“The program is designed for teachers and other educators, parents and community leaders who work with youth from preschool age up through grade 12,” said Sandy Derby, UC Cooperative Extension statewide coordinator.

Tom Catchpole leads participants through a Talk About Trees activity to gain a better understanding of forestry science and to practice applying the knowledge to activities they can do with their students.
Studies have shown that when environmental education and outdoor learning activities are integrated into curricula, student achievement increases, including their test scores in science and math.

Recognized as a leader in environmental education for more than 35 years, the program started by the American Forest Foundation enhances critical thinking, problem-solving and effective decision-making skills, Derby said.

How does it all work? Project Learning Tree collaborates with a network of more than 200 facilitators, natural resources professionals and researchers across the state to provide three types of trainings: educator workshops, training with the Forest Institute for Teachers and train-the-trainer workshops.

Project Learning Tree's educator workshops are six to eight hours on one or more days and offered at UC ANR Research and Extension Centers located around the state. They focus on introducing the goals and vision of teaching and learning using PLT best practices. Each educator receives a PLT guide for use in the classroom.

Teachers learn how to take tree measurements from Mike De Lasaux and Tom Catchpole at a Forest Institute for Teachers workshop.
Every summer, PLT participates in the Forest Institute for Teachers, a six-day intensive training offered at four locations. The participants spend the mornings with forestry experts or researchers on field excursions to learn about science, current research and issues, and management challenges from different perspectives. Their afternoons are spent applying that knowledge, working in grade-level teams to engage in best practices of integrating content into experience-based teaching.

After taking the PLT educator workshops, graduates can take a two-day training to learn how to train others. Train-the-trainer workshops are offered a few times each year in different locations. 

Project Learning Tree in California was delivered by CALFIRE for 25 years before becoming part of UC Cooperative Extension. In 2013, under UCCE advisor De Lasaux's guidance, Project Learning Tree was brought into UC Cooperative Extension to create more collaborative partnerships, engage more natural resources professionals and to expand the number of educators trained to use PLT materials.

For more information about Project Learning Tree, updates on workshops, or questions on how to become part of this expansive network, contact Sandy Derby at stderby@ucanr.edu or visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/PLT_UCCE. To learn more about the Forest Institute for Teachers, visit http://www.forestryinstitute.org.

For 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.

 

Posted on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 8:30 AM

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