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High School Study of Local Species At Risk – a Global Collaboration


Put up your hand if you can name an endangered species?

Now keep your hand in the air if that species is found in the wild just a short distance from your school grounds?

Chances are most hands in the classroom will go down.

The World Wildlife Fund and other agencies have done a bang up job at ensuring that the plight of the Giant Panda or Siberian Tiger is known. However, while classes in say Australia, Europe or North America may be raising money to help these species at risk, I doubt very much that there are as many classes aware of the plight of the Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle found in south-western Ontario. In my neck of the woods species at risk can be found here. More than one was a creature or plant I saw on a regular basis when I was a child and have little doubt that the majority of my classmates from back then know of the plight of those species today.

Species are at risk around the world though. Amphibian and reptiles cannot adapt to human develop and changes, insects such as the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators are disappearing,

I tell my students often that the most important thing they can do for the environment is not pick up litter, it’s not plant a tree … no, it’s learn more about the issues.

So, in an effort to make students more aware, which honestly is the first step towards active engagement, a few high school teachers that partake in our weekly #EnviroEd chats are banding together to have our students collaborate and discuss our own local species at risk.

Perhaps it will lead to some local Citizen Science as well such as the great work being done by the Canadian Wildlife Federation on bat populations.

When I first broached this subject with some passionate High School educators that are part of my #EnviroEd PLN such as Britt Gow, Beth Lisser and Bonnie Anderson they jumped at the idea. Britt took it upon herself to create a Google Doc to allow us to begin the planning process. So far in setting this up we have some species to be discussed from different continents, some video collaboration planned, marketing ideas and of course discussion and inquiry based questioning from each and every participating class to the other classes to discuss the similarities and potential actions we can work towards to help our own local ecosystems at risk.

If interested in participating come September – send me a note!

If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How Many Lessons is That?

racoon pup

Summer is upon us and I know I have seen some great images and comments from fellow educators from cottages, beaches, canoes and trails.

It is a time to relax and to to unwind and I certainly do not begrudge anyone for wanting that time with family, friends, flora or fauna.

But if it is so stress relieving to you – I wonder – can you bring a small piece of it back to the classroom in September? Can your morning bell work be done as students await for the morning announcements with the sounds of the cottage birds playing in the background using a recording or a Vine such as this one of the Wood Trushes?

Perhaps you can give students a visual and have them use an App like ScreenChomper to point out various identification features of the American Toad.

Be it an insect study …

Ctenucha forester moth

Or studies in light with some great sunsets from your summer …

Island Lake Sunset

By bringing a bit of your summer back with you for the classroom you can make use of some great summer memories for building your own library of every day environmental education sensory tools.

Schoolyard Habitat Scavenger Hunt



Students love to be outdoors and love to make use of 21st Century tools. Combining them allows for a very engaging activity sometimes. Here is a short Haiku Deck created for an Inquiry Based PD session. This Schoolyard Habitat Scavenger Hunt, downloaded onto devices such as a mini iPad can be used to have students explore what makes a habitat, (Food, Water, Shelter & Space) and look for examples within their own Schoolyard. Materials:

  • A few BYOD devices for small group work and potentially note taking.
  • One hula hoop per small group.


Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 40 – No Long Hibernation this Summer as a Teacher


I have a wish …

This week coming is the last week of school in my area. This means this is our last Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd and that means it is a time to summarize and reflect a bit at the year that has passed.

Having said that I do not believe it is a wrap. It’s not the end – in fact just as the seasons end and turn into another season – so does our roles.

Each Challenge this year has been purposely simple in nature. We wanted something that could be done whether you were in the Bronx, or at a school more than an hour from the nearest paved road. We wanted something that could be done with kindergarten or with high school students.

Maybe the week did not work for all – but more than once I was told that although folks may not be able to participate that week – they’d try it at another time. The idea behind the Challenges was to show that environmental education can be done no matter where you are and that they is the most amazing Personal Learning Network (PLN) there to support you. In this way I think the challenges were a success.

And that leads us into another milestone. This coming Wednesday, June 25, 2014 will be the first birthday of the #EnviroEd chats from 9-10 pm EST each week on Twitter. When Paul Kelba, Sarah Lowes and myself first discussed the concept I am uncertain any of us saw it as a foundation to something beyond discussing environmental education with like minded people.

As anyone who reads this blog or takes part in our weekly chats knows – it has become so much more. In biological terms a Community is an area where everything depends upon everything else. Our online PLN is exactly that.

And I do not wish to lose this momentum. I think one of the things that makes the #EnviroEd PLN unique is that it is more than just an hour each Wednesday night.

Some animals may hibernate or migrate in the winter months and I fully understand the need for educators to do either of these as well this summer. But this is also our opportunity to evolve ourselves.

This summer #EnviroEd will continue to run, bi-weekly. In July that means the 9th and the 23rd. In August, the 6th, and 20th before we go back to weekly chats on Sept 3rd.

So, it is time to look back on this year’s successes in environmental education. Have a look at those graduating slide shows or yearbooks and make note of the fact that the largest smiles and greatest memories tend not to be of tests or sitting in desks.

This summer your Challenge is to continue to develop your environmental education prowess. Take a course, learn from others, read a book and share it with others.

As such, I am throwing our my own plans for this Challenge to have my #EnviroEd PLN help keep me true.

1. I will be taking a workshop on developing my skills as an outdoor educator in the realm of inquiry based education practices this will be in early July.

2. I will be getting together with 4-6 classroom teachers one at a time over the summer to discuss how they use environmental education in the classroom and will be sharing it through our PLN. To help entice them into the discussions I’m inviting them to come canoeing for an hour with me.

3. I plan on reading Moving the Classroom Outdoors: Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning in Action by Herbert W Broda.


Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 39 – Summer Investigations

Algonquin '13 004

A huge part of being an educator in the 21st Century is striving to engage students in learning opportunities that are passionate to them.

Each of our students is different. Some are passionate about being outdoors, or perhaps they are passionate about animals, species at risk, learning what is in their backyard or growing vegetables.

Whatever their passion for environmental literacy is, summer is a great time to nurture that learning.

Just because our students may not be our students in the next couple of weeks does not mean our connection to them changes. We are their teachers, we can help them learn and develop. We can help them investigate and perhaps create a summer of Environment Friendly Genius Hour discoveries.

I did this myself with my own daughters last summer, asking them to keep journals of our canoe trips and asking them to frame some questions ahead of time of those interior trips. When the car was left behind and the canoe was in the water – they had questions that they designed and actively searched for answers on their queries.

So this week I encourage you to discuss with your students their environmental passions. Discuss books to read, encourage places to visit, and what they should explore to create even more of a connection to the outdoors and the natural world moving forward.

Join Earth Rangers, or support a local walk or tree planting. The opportunities are endless.

Without the shadow of assessment or time tables I wonder just how strong that spark of curiosity can burn.

Feel free to ask me for ideas this week as well. I’d love to hear what your students are hoping to learn this summer! I may not have all the answers (Note: I don’t really – I don’t) but I do have a pretty dang fine Personal Learning Network as do you for #EnviroEd

Weekly Challenge for EnviroEd # 38: A Forest of Reading

The nice weather is upon us in this hemisphere. Winter has given up its grip and no one is even fearful of those occasional may frosts at this time any longer.

So many classes are spending more time out doors and it is a beautiful time to be doing this.

With the school year winding down the opportunity for less formal lessons and time outdoors is just begging for attention.

A few weeks ago the weekly challenge was focussed on having a picnic as a class and if the weather did not lend itself to the challenge then, this just may be the week to do that now.

As well this week I suggest you take the time as a class to read outdoors. Step beyond the desks and let the students sit upon their favourite reflective spot log, or by the creek, or spread their legs out upon the cool grass beneath a tree and dive within the pages of a book.

Read as a class, read by themselves, or when working with their reading buddies have them both sit with their backs against that favourite tree to enjoy the story within.

This is not only a challenge for younger grades but also for older grades as well. Recently, at one of our nature centres we had a number of Gr 10 English classes out to partake in our Bushcraft program where they build shelters, work in small groups to “survive” in the wild and eat around a campfire. While in itself this is an excellent opportunity not enough kids get these days, the students had a great discussion about “Lord of the Flies” as they sat around the fire. What better place is there is debrief the decisions and the impact of those decisions of Ralph and the others?

And, knowing that final tests and even exams are only days away for some, I might suggest even review of chapters within the pages of a textbook or peer reports have the ability to not only be seen in a new (and perhaps tree canopy filtered) light.

It seems like an excellent way to encourage summer literacy by ending the year with the practice of reading in the great outdoors. Perhaps even a suggested reading list as a class.

Give it a try and let me know the results!

Weekly Challenge # 37 – #KindergartenBioBlitz is One Year Old


It’s hard to believe it, but this week is the one year anniversary of the #KindergartenBioBlitz. Over the last year with the help of this blog’s readers, we’ve inspired hundreds if not thousands of Kindergarten students (and teachers!) to get outside and explore their own schoolyard and local communities.

Children, are by design inquisitive and love to learn about the world around them. And, they love emerging technology almost as much as they love the out of doors. By having students explore their school yards looking for invertebrates (insects, spiders, worms, etc) and then having them share their findings both online through Twitter using the hashtag, students are encouraged to explore even more.

At first students would send a photo to me proudly and then answer my own questions (as I have said before this is not Ranger Wikipedia – my desire to to encourage inquiry and therefore I do not give a simple identification, I tend to ask students questions leading them to their own answers or even more questions).

Then, we did a second version of the #KindergartenBioBlitz in the autumn during the second week of school. At this point it grew well beyond what I could do myself and so I brought in a few naturalist friends like @MarkWhitcombe . With this version we created a Pinterest page to share some of the stunning photography students were sharing.

With the cold and unrelenting winter we had in my region we were all looking for signs of spring by the end of February and so we once more did a version with a “Signs of Spring” theme. This post by Ellisa Iagallo’s class in Toronto gives a wonderful summary of that week.

Now, with that one year anniversary upon us I’d like to encourage all that have participated in the past to participate again this week. Let’s explore and discover the invertebrates in our school yards. Let’s share what we find. Let’s collaborate, respond, question and marvel at what is being discovered!


Weekly Challenge # 35 – Memo to Oneself on Remembering to Play


Do you recall how much you loved to make mud pies 40 years ago? How long did you actually send climbing trees or swinging from that rope into the river down the road? 

And if you don’t recall these specifically and just have vague memories of these – don’t you wish that you could have left a message for yourself to remind the older you the important things that you should never forget? 

As a lad I recall catching Leopard Frogs in the fields behind my house for hours and I do enjoy watching my own children doing the same thing. 

I remember fondly spending hours at the beach and never even touching the water as we’d play within the dunes at Sauble Beach – and these dunes are now gone – eroded away as the dune grasses disappeared. 

If I left a message for myself I think I’d include things like: 

1. Remembering every raspberry bush you pass with ripe berries is worthy of your attention. 

2. A perfectly placed rock was likely left there by the glaciers 10,000 years ago just so that I could play King of the Castle today. 

3. I love splashing in a heavy rain

4. Follow the Leader through a cedar grove with uniquely shaped trunks is an adventure. 

5. Rolling down a grassy slope is NOT overrated. 

I’ve seen a number of “videos to my future self” recently – and I wonder what our students would say to themselves when it came to free play out of doors? 

As always, let’s share what we discover, I bet they will remind you of somethings lost to you as well! 

Weekly Challenge # 34 – Birds of a Feather

Earlier this week I had this interesting question for some students outside my own Board.

And so, in response I sent back a Tellagami with some basic information on how birds indeed tweet back.

At the end of the 30 second video I ask a question to try to keep the learning going. I do not see myself as Ranger Wikipedia – just here to give answers – I am always attempting to engage students and further the learning which is why most of my answers finish by asking more questions.

In this case I asked classes to share their favorite bird calls with me.

Birds sing for many reasons. When classes come out to feed the Chickadees at our local Peel Board Nature Centres  they will often feed the birds by hand and while they are we discuss the various calls the Black-capped Chickadee makes.

Occasionally we humans will put human words to the calls of the birds such as the “Who Cooks for You” call of the Barred Owl vs the “Who’s Awake? Me Too!” call of the Great Horned Owl.

What does your favorite bird call sounds like if you were to put words to it? Could you potentially put a story to it as well?

I have created a Padlet, ( a public sharing wall) called Birds of a Feather that classes can share their favorite bird calls, their stories and their discoveries this week. I’m very interested in hearing the calls of various birds from our #EnviroEd network. With family in Alberta, I have heard the cry of the magpie – but bet many folk in my Board have not. I read just last year about the Cambodian Tailorbird just recently discovered in the capital city of Cambodia – Phnom Penh and I am sure much of the avian population there is vastly different from around my area.

I have already added a few “Vines” of bird calls in my area that I have taken this spring onto the wall.  However, am just as eager to see how you can share your bird calls with us as well.

We have had some amazing collaborations this year for environmental education via this blog and our #EnviroEd chats on Wednesday nights. Let’s all work together and collaborate on sharing the bird songs of our own backyards and just as exciting commenting on each others’ discoveries. Ask questions on the padlet.  And by all means this is for any and all grade levels!

And of course, we’re always happy to do some “tweeting” of our own as well – we can use the hashtag #BirdTweeting.

… After all, birds of a feather …

Weekly Challenge # 33 – Picnics for #EnviroEd


When was the last time you had a picnic? A true, lay a blanket upon the ground, bring out the potato salad and sandwiches picnic? When was the last time your kids had to put some thought into where to place their cup as the ground was not polished smooth?

What do you think the group dynamics would be like if instead of stereotypical institutional like lunch eating in rows within the classroom you allowed the students to sit beneath a tree with the peers of their choice?

I have a number of children of my own and they include the ones that eat in five minutes to get playing at recess and a youngster who will take a day and a half to eat an apple (missing incisors being only part of the problem). Imagine if lunch was slightly less on the punch clock of the school bell and more of a social piece.

At the Centres I work at, we have a wonderful eight week middle school program entitled STEPS (Students Together Educating Peers in School). In this program students from two or three different schools come out on one day each week to learn about character education and leadership. A very critical portion of each day is based around the group lunch.

Not only is the lunch time a time to debrief the activities that have been done or will be done later in the day – but the preparation of and eating of the lunch is a learning tool in itself.\

One week each student brings a part of the lunch and over the campfire it is all cooked as we tell the story of Stone Soup to discuss how everyone brings something of value to the table.

Another week we make submarine sandwiches and discuss the concept that occasionally they are known as hero sandwiches. As the students make their hero sandwiches we discuss the terms “Hero, Mentor, and Idol” and exactly what each mean to the students.

Some of the best learning – intellectually, socially and emotionally occur during an outdoor lunch and while it may not be possible for every class to have a campfire (which I have discussed earlier as the perfect 21st Century learning tool) – everyone does have the ability to have an outdoor picnic.

So this week, I’d like to challenge you to eat outdoors with your students. Make it a social event but at the same time bring a lesson into it as well and you will be surprised at the outcomes from a well planned excursion. Whether it is a Teddy Bear Picnic with kindergarten students or a sustainable food lesson for high school the potential for sharing is vast.

Hopefully with the nice weather it will become a regular thing! Let me know how it goes!


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