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Posts Tagged: environmental education

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?

 
Students review Project Learning Tree curriculum.

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.”

 
Jonelle Mason, Northern California PLT State Coordinator.

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.  

Project Learning Tree encourages using multiple senses to learn about forests. Here, students use their sense of smell.

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 jmason@ucanr.edu.

 

Posted on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at 12:52 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Here are your clues: A helmet, a feather duster and a tape measureā€¦

A pale swallowtail nectars at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in Mendocino County. (Photo: Robert Keiffer)
It's hard to keep up with all the changes in K-12 education standards. We hear about the evolution of Common Core and Next Generation Science standards as well as curriculum offered through the Environmental Education Initiative. All programs stress the need for hands-on, outside learning, but how can UC Agriculture and Natural Resources activities help to raise the next generation of scientists and land managers at its Research and Extension Centers?

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!

The author, Hannah Bird, and a third-grader unroll a tape measure to show how long woodpeckers' tongues are in relation to their beaks.
This mystery bird was represented by clues including a bicycle helmet, tape measure, hammer and feather duster … the students puzzled over their clues individually but when pooled together a theme started to emerge. “Something with a hard head” commented one student, “something that likes banging” cries another, squeezing a small hammer! And so we revealed the mystery of the acorn woodpecker: it's skull so well adapted that modern technology uses it to construct black boxes for planes and sports helmets. It's tongue perfectly suited to exploring nooks and crannies in trees to find insects or extract acorns! Student's eyes grew wide as we unrolled a tape measure to three times the length of the makeshift beak and wondered where this bird could possibly store such a long tongue!

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

Posted on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 8:19 AM

Teachers invited to learn about natural resources in the forest

Mike De Lasaux shows FIT participants the tree rings in a core sample.
California teachers are invited to spend a week in a northern California forest this summer and participate in the Forestry Institute for Teachers.

“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.

Teachers learn how to take tree measurements.
By examining the rings in a tree's cross-section, foresters can tell a lot about events – such as wet or dry periods, insect or disease damage – that have occurred during the tree's lifetime. She has used the tree analogy to teach students that important events shape their own lives.

“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.

Tom Catchpole leads a Talk About Trees program exercise for teachers to practice applying tree science to activities they can do with their students.
Meeting forest-related professionals including small property owners, archaeologists, large lumber corporations and historians made an impression on environmental educator Carrie Raleigh. “It was interesting to get a variety of perspectives on forestry issues and to have face-to-face conversations with a variety of specialists,” said Rawleigh, who participated in the program in 2010 and teaches in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

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.

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