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Displaying items by tag: Environmental Education
Wednesday, 06 May 2020 12:54

After the Rain Comes the Sun

At first sight, this may look like a humongous macroscopic mutation of the feared virus. However, it is a gall on the cone of a red cedar tree (Juniperus virginiana).

Galls are abnormal growths that occur in plants and trees when they get attacked by insects, fungi, bacteria or viruses.

Tuesday, 07 April 2020 15:49

Look for bright green mosses

As Environmental Educator Regina Miller was taking a quiet morning walk in a local park recently, she looked around and most of the forest world looked brown and gray. The colors of winter are still all around even though it is spring. Soon, however, Regina began to see peeks of bright green here and there on the forest floor and it made me smile.

Thursday, 12 March 2020 15:55

Making nature more inclusive

“Would you like to hold it?”, I asked the 8th-grade boy. He said “Yes” and I gently poured the spoonful of pond water that held the dragonfly larva into his hands. Ever so carefully he touched it with his fingertips and turned it around in his hand exploring it thoroughly. “Can I try another one?” he asked? He put the dragonfly larva back into the basin of pond water and I quickly scooped out a damselfly larva and poured it into his hands. Again he carefully felt and explored the small, delicate creature. After returning it to the pond water basin, he asked to try another animal. This time I scooped out a snail and poured it into his hands. Once again he thoroughly examined it. I asked him to describe the differences between these animals and he said that the snail had a hard shell and the dragonfly larva was bigger than the damselfly larva. After examining each of these animals, he asked if he could hold each one again. Over the course of the hour, he held each one of these animals multiple times and by the end, he could tell the difference between the dragonfly larva, damselfly larva, and snail. A great accomplishment for any student, but did I happen to mention that this 8th-grade boy is blind?

Wednesday, 23 October 2019 11:42

Insect Collecting on the Prairie

Cool September mornings on the prairie are ripe with beauty and activity: grasses towering, swaying overhead in the light autumn breeze, goldenrod with its tiny intricate blossoms, and asters popping in vibrant hues of purple, white, and blue. Insects busily soak up the last fruits of fall before winter’s frost. Meanwhile, boisterous high school sophomores rush up and down the paths winding through the prairie, combing the grasses and flowers with giant sweep nets in search of insects. This peaceful prairie teeming with diverse plant and insect life—nestled in the heart of urban Milwaukee—has become an outdoor classroom for teenagers embarking on an important school project.

Thursday, 17 October 2019 10:34

A Snake Story

I stopped to talk to Carol, the Tuesday afternoon receptionist at Riverside Park, on my way in from teaching. Carol is so lovely; I’ve really enjoyed getting know her over the years via a mutual love of reading and traveling, and I always look forward to our Tuesday chats.

Today she offered to lend me a great book she’d just finished and I told her about the snake I’d found on a hike this afternoon. After I returned to my office, the phone started ringing.

Tuesday, 09 April 2019 14:19

Fun and imaginative play in the forest

It was time to go pick up the kids for another fun field trip so I headed over to the nearby school in one of our buses. Once at school I waited a few minutes for the class and soon the line of little ones came walking down the hall. The group of K5 children was eager to see me and very excited about the field trip they were going on. I asked them if they knew what we were going to be learning about that day and one child eagerly responded with, “Habitats!” I told the group that we were indeed going to be learning about habitats and animal homes and then we headed to the bus to begin the adventure. On the way to the Center, each pair of children had pictures of an animal and its home and they talked with their partner about how the home helped their animal.

When I first started working at the Urban Ecology Center, I had only been in the United States for a year or so. I was still struggling with a lot of stuff: language, friends, work, and what the heck I was going make of myself in this new place. The UEC was my beginning. It was where I began to find myself, my passions, and my place. 

The viscerally devastating moving picture of a polar bear struggling to board a chunk of ice, dissolving under its paws, still haunts me today. Judging by the public and critical response to the The Inconvenient Truth—a national and international box office success from 2006—I was not the only one that found the documentary poignant and disturbing. The impact of the film is best captured by the Oxford University-run survey which shows that as many as 89% of respondents said it made them more aware of the problem of global warming and as many as 74% of them claimed that they had changed some of their habits after seeing the film.

Monday, 01 January 2018 11:42

Mindfulness, Curiosity’s Best Friend

At first, it might seem as if the concepts of curiosity and focus are at odds with each other. After all, isn’t curiosity — which we all wish to inspire in kids — a wondering mind that finds the unknown thrilling and riveting? To a certain extent, yes. However, a child’s curiosity is much more: it is a pull to uncover the truths of the natural and the man-made world. As such, it requires time, patience and focus, from both the kids and the teachers.

Friday, 19 May 2017 10:32

Digging into Curiosity

It was one of those freakishly warm days in February when the temperatures rose into the low 70s. I was working with a group of excited, but respectful, 2nd graders from Franklin Pierce Elementary. We were focusing on one of the most important of nature’s resources, soil. Inside we learned how the FBI (fungus, bacteria, and invertebrates) change sticks, leaves and other organic material into soil. Then we headed outside for some exploring.


We made our way in the warm sun to a multitude of dirt piles we use for adding soil to our park. Each student was given a spade as their scientific instrument. Soon the students were digging in the dirt more enthusiastically than a dog digging for a bone, looking for those FBI. It did not matter that they were not finding anything right away. Just having this tool in their hands was enough for them. Soon though we made our first find, ancient rocks (gravel) that we decided could be a meteorite! There’s nothing like a little imagination to spark the curiosity of young scientists. Suddenly one of the students yelled, “I got a worm! I got a worm!” With mud-coated hands the student proudly showed his find.


All the students flocked to the spot quicker than crows mobbing an owl. They all couldn’t wait to dig in that exact same spot. I explained that there are many worms out there and if we all dug in the same spot someone was going to end up with a face full of dirt. We continued our digging in different spots. Worm after worm, meteorite after meteorite, we kept exploring. Their excitement could not be contained.  
The students dug and dug all morning long until we had to give up our spot to the other half of the class that was exploring the park. We could have spent all of our time there, no doubt.


As I listened to the stories of discoveries made, reflected on how all of this excitement came from just from digging in the soil. Just giving students the chance to dig and use a tool was enough for them to puzzle out what can be discovered in nature. How simple, how engaging, and how amazing nature is when you just get out there and play, as well as get a bit dirty!


The teacher could not have been more pleased with his students and all the things they discovered that day. I also learned something; it is not the fancy vocabulary students learn while here or the concepts we think children should know that builds a land ethic. It is the chance to explore without worry and to get their hands a bit dirty while connecting with our planet.

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