Using Stations to Increase Student Independence: Overview and Lesson Plan

Using Stations to Increase Student Independence: Overview and Lesson Plan

by Allison Breeze

s an educator, I believe that learning happens when students are applying their knowledge in practice. To this end, I am always looking for activities that engage students in hands-on ways with whatever topic they are learning about. Exploration and experience can provide immensely beneficial learning opportunities for students that give them context to process information. For this to work effectively, students must be positioned in such a way that allows them to take action, and the instructor must be willing to take a step back from holding control over the learning. One effective method for structuring such an environment is stations.

In stations-based activities, students are asked to complete a task in a certain location, and then repeatedly move to a new location to complete a different task, until they have visited all the locations, or within a specific timeframe. Oftentimes, there will be a rotation to allow for multiple students to experience different stations simultaneously. Stations offer the structure of spatial and task-based boundaries to keep students safe, while providing the opportunity for them to have agency and independence in completing the assigned task. Additionally, stations can be done individually or in small groups, to either allow students some independent processing time, or as a way to foster collaboration.

Instructors can often set up the stations ahead of time so that they don’t have to give as many directions to introduce an activity. This way, students are spending most of their time actually engaged in the learning, as opposed to waiting for it to begin. This also means that instructors can feel less rushed and give students the space they need to be successful.

Stations often set students up to be more independent than teacher-led instruction. For some students, this agency is very natural to their preferred structure for learning and helps them express themselves more easily. For other students, this independence requires them to engage in productive struggle to figure out the task and collaborate with their peers rather than relying on the teacher for help. In both situations, the stations model is promoting student growth by offering another mode for learning and asking students to try something new.

Stations in Practice:
I find stations to be an effective structure in which to conduct investigations with my students. It helps data collection happen faster, it means students are less likely to be left waiting with nothing to do, and it requires students to independently make connections between their actions and the overarching inquiry that is being investigated.

One such example investigation I have done with students focuses on the different ways that decomposition occurs in compost. At IslandWood, we have three types of compost bins: an EarthFlow that uses mechanical and bacterial decomposition, a high-volume vermicompost that uses worms and other macroinvertebrates, and a garden compost that uses macroinvertebrates and special fiber mats for insulation. In the investigation, students form three groups that rotate between each compost bin and collect data about each bin — temperature, soil color, material, number and type of macroinvertebrates — to understand how natural material breaks down into nutrient-rich soil in different ways. Each compost station has a set of directions and tools available, and every student has a journal with a data table to record their observations. At the end of the data collection, all students come together to synthesize their information as a whole group and debrief what they learned during the activity.

In this activity, I find that using stations can make scientific inquiry more accessible to students, because it offers many entry points to engaging with the material. It also allows me more time as an instructor to check in with specific students. I make sure to include multiple ways of recording data, such as numerically, through written expression, verbalization, and drawing, to ensure that all students have a way of participating. I have also found that students are more willing to challenge themselves if they are engaged in peer-to-peer interactions while learning, which the stations format allows for better than lecture or instructor-modeled kinesthesis. If a student who is concerned about touching bugs sees a friend holding a worm, they might be more inclined to try touching it, because they can see that behavior being modeled with safe and comfortable consequences.

Overall, I have seen stations as a great way to help students experience more agency and collaboration within an intentional environment set up by the instructor. Using stations can be a nice break from a traditional activity format that provides a balance between flexibility and structure to prioritize student engagement.

Lesson Plan:

Students will collect data at three different compost bins to compare and contrast the ways that decomposition happens at each. They will record and synthesize the data they find and draw conclusions.

Students are in an outdoor educational setting with three compost systems. They have been introduced to the concept of producers, consumers, and decomposers in a food web. They are curious about the differences between the three compost systems.

● Students will understand the role of compost in a food web
● Students will be able to give examples of how decomposition occurs
● Students will know how to collect data in an investigation
● Students will be aware of the different kinds of compost systems

● Understanding energy transfer in a food web system
● Taking observed phenomenon and drawing conclusions
● Creating models of data to explore it further
● Exploring the process of decomposition of natural materials

● Journals with data tables (one for each student)
● Pens/pencils
● Drawing utensils
● Direction sheets for each compost bin*
● Large sheet of paper (for whole group data table)
● Thermometers
● Microscopes/magnifying lenses (optional)
*note: the direction sheets can include instructions for collecting the type of data that feels most meaningful to your students. An example has been included at the end of this lesson plan.
1. Familiarize students with each of the three compost bins – their locations, how to access the compost, and what they immediately notice about the differences of each
2. Ask students to consider the question – why do we have three different compost bins?
3. Explain that the students will be scientists conducting an investigation on each of the compost systems to learn about decomposition

1. Break students into three groups, one for each compost bin station
2. Send each group of students to a different station, with a direction sheet, thermometer, and magnifying tool (optional)
3. Students should record their data in their journal data table according to the direction sheet for their station
4. Signal to the groups to rotate to the next compost station, and collect data there
5. Once all groups have collected data at all stations, have the group come together as a whole and write in their data on the large sheet data table

Debrief (students sharing with someone from a different group):
1. Ask students what the differences and similarities between the three compost stations were
2. Ask students what evidence of decomposition they saw at each station
3. Have students come up with a representation — visual, physical, written, artistic — of what happens to natural waste (food scraps, dead plants, etc)
4. Revisit the initial question: Why do we have three compost bins?
5. Connect their answers to the larger food web of IslandWood

*Direction Sheet Example:
Earth Flow
1. Take a compost sample and rub it in the box labeled “earth flow” on page 11 of your journal
2. Stick the thermometer deep into the compost. Wait until the indicator stops moving, then record the temperature
3. Count the number of macroinvertebrates (bugs!) you see, and record
4. Draw the largest piece of material you see in the compost
5. Draw the different macroinvertebrates you see
6. Match the macros with those listed on page 18 of your journal

Allison Breeze is an elementary educator in the Puget Sound, currently working and learning as a graduate student at IslandWood.

Resources for further information:
Aydogmus, M., & Senturk, C. (2019). The effects of learning stations technique on academic achievement: A Meta-analytic study. Research in Pedagogy, 9(1), 1–15.
Chawla, L., & Cushing, D. F. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behavior. Environmental Education Research, 13 (4), 437-452. DOI: 10.1080/13504620701581539.
Gerçek, C., & Özcan, Ö. (2016). Determining the students’ views towards the learning stations developed for the environmental education. Problems of Education in the 21st Century, 69, 29. DOI: 10.33225/pec/16.69.29.

Using Stations to Increase Student Independence: Overview and Lesson Plan

Leaning into Content with Lesson Sequencing

by Zachary Zimmerman
Bainbridge Island, WA

s an outdoor educator, I often get sucked into the false binary that lessons are either fun or informative, that content must be sweetened with games, stories, and activities like applesauce for children’s medicine. But stories are one of the oldest forms of teaching known to humankind, and games and interactive activities help students interpret and internalize what they learn on trails, in classrooms, and at home. In this article, I invite you to stop apologizing for your content teaching and start weaving it into lesson sequences that include stories, games, writing activities, and more. Sequences can make your teaching practices more effective, more equitable, and yes, more fun. 

Recently, I learned that teachers visiting Islandwood with their students were passing on the same feedback week after week: many of the lessons our instructors were teaching on ecosystems fell short because students didn’t fully understand what the word “ecosystem” meant. They might be able to give examples (“rainforest”) or describe them somewhat (“habitat”), but they were missing the definition and significance: communities of different living things that interact with each other and their physical habitats. An ecosystem isn’t just a place; it’s a dynamic arrangement of matter and energy; sunlight, water, and nutrients; life, death, and life again. Of course it needs some scaffolding

Because ecosystems are one of my favorite things to teach 5th graders, I took note immediately. Learning about ecosystems helps students understand the world in which they live, sets the stage for deeper sense-making outdoors, and aligns neatly with NGSS standards and cross-cutting concepts. Ecosystems are also teachers themselves, offering lessons on diversity, interdependence, resilience, and identity. When students see forests and intertidal zones as neighborhoods full of unique and diverse beings supporting each other through their mere existence, they may have an easier time valuing their own identities and thinking more about how they fit into their communities. To restate ecologically, they may discover their own niche.

As heady and enticing as these ideas are to me, I know that teaching for equity means letting go of preconceived notions of how students will use my lessons, and creating space and support for them to connect ideas presented in class to their own lives. It also means ensuring that all students are working from the same baseline of knowledge as they explore those more abstract spaces. In the past, I had equated “baseline” with “lecturing” and “lecturing” with “boring”, leading me to approach core content apologetically and half-heartedly.

To address my reluctance and reimagine content teaching as a part of, not apart from, the immersive fun and exploration that drew me to outdoor education, I started experimenting with lesson sequencing: using stories, activities, and games to bookend and contextualize core concepts. What started as an apologetic approach to content has proven an effective and equitable strategy for outdoor teaching that makes complex ideas like ecosystems meaningful, memorable, and fun. Below I outline a favorite lesson sequence on ecosystems that envelopes content with storytelling and modeling activities. But first, a few tips for developing your own sequences.

Work Backwards

Mapping the core concepts you need to scaffold into a larger lesson can reveal where your content time will best be spent. In the ecosystem example below, I use worksheets to get all my students on the same page about producers, consumers, and decomposers: what they are, what they need, and how they relate to each other. Knowing which concepts I need to teach about can also help me select starting lessons that introduce relevant terms or relationships.

Know Your Audience

Are your students quiet or chatty? Do they like individual reflections, pair-shares, or large group discussions? Maybe a combination? Do they ask a lot of questions, or wait for you to give answers? Do any of your students have IEPs or 504 plans? What other accommodations might one or many students need to feel safe, comfortable, and ready to learn and participate? Consider these questions when thinking about your group and reflect on how they might impact your plan. Maybe you need to switch out that starting story for a running game; maybe that running game works equally well walking or sitting.

Find Your Flow

Once you know what information, structure, and supports your students need to reach their learning targets, think about an order of operations that makes sense for the spaces you’ll be teaching, your style, and the energy you expect. Thinking about biorhythms can be a helpful clue here – if you’re starting this module right after lunch, will students be more or less active than if you began your morning with it? There’s no perfect formula here, but Ben Greenwood’s Lesson Arc (Introduction, Exploration, Consolidation) provides helpful inspiration. Personally, I like to start with something engaging that models the ideas we’ll use and end with a game or reflective activity – again, this is where art meets science, so get creative.

Now that you have some ideas for sequencing lessons, let’s look at an example.

Lesson Sequence: Ecosystems and Interdependence


  • Storybook
  • Ecosystem worksheets (Islandwood journal is used in this example)
  • Ecosystem cards (make your own or find publicly available regional sets like this one from Sierra Club British Columbia)
  • Ball of string or twine
  • Writing untensils

Lesson 1: Read The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer (read-along here

This is the story of a young boy who brings home a salamander to live in his room. As his mother continues to inquire about how the boy will care for the salamander (and eventually, to care for everything else he has added to his room in the process), students begin to see not only how different living things rely on each other, but the impacts of removing a more-than-human friend from its chosen home.

Additional discussion questions:

  • How did the room change throughout the story?
  • What else would you have changed?
  • What relationships did you notice?

(Of course, any storybook of your choosing that describes habitats, food webs, nutrient/energy cycles, and interconnectivity will work – I just like this one!).

Lesson 2: Ecosystem Components and Definitions

Transitioning into the content component, begin by asking students if they have ever heard of the word “ecosystem” and what it means. While assessing answers, ask whether they saw an ecosystem in the story they heard. These discussions can help decenter the instructor as the holder of knowledge and assess potential leaders in your group.

Next, pass out worksheets/journals and give students 5-10 minutes to complete the assigned pages, encouraging them to quietly work alone or in small groups. Set clear expectations that they should do their best to fill out whatever they know, and that we’ll fill them out together as a group afterward.












Drawings from a student’s Islandwood journal. Mushrooms are depicted as decomposers, trees as producers, and squirrels as consumers. On the next page, sentence and word starters help students decode core definitions.



When students indicate that they are done, invite them back to a large group. Ask if anyone can give definitions of producers, consumers, and decomposers, or share examples that they drew or wrote in their journals. This helps individual students confirm or correct their answers without judgment and add test their knowledge by adding their own examples to the discussion. Talking through producer growth, animal consumption, and decomposition a few times helps reinforce how different inputs and outputs relate to the process and emphasizes its cyclical nature.

When students have completed their worksheets and all questions have been answered, move on to Lesson 3.

Lesson 3: Web of Life (adapted from Sierra Club British Columbia)

Because a full lesson plan is linked above, I focus here on ways that I consolidate knowledge from the above lessons, assess content learning, and prepare students to apply these new ideas to future exploration.

Pass out Web of Life cards to your students and save one for yourself. If you plan to introduce a new element later (e.g. birds migrating from habitat loss or new trees planted by conservationists), hold onto those cards.

As you pass out cards, ask students to take a moment and acquaint themselves with their element. Some questions you might ask:

  • Are they a producer, decomposer, consumer, or something abiotic?
  • What do they know about this element?
  • What does this element need to thrive?
  • What threatens it?

When students are ready, begin the lesson as described in the linked plan. Empower students to help correct or add to others’ ideas. For example, if a student assigned “worm” passes to “soil” and says, “I relat to soil because I eat it,” invite the group to discuss what they know about how worms relate to soil or how they get their energy (i.e. decomposition, which makes soil).

Once the web is fully developed, you can take this lesson in many directions, inviting students to consider what happens when one part of the web is removed or changed. When they can see that everything is connected, even indirectly, you’re ready to explore ecosystems!

Zachary Zimmerman (he/him) is an outdoor educator, teacher training facilitator, and insatiable problem-solver residing on the traditional Suquamish/Coast Salish land currently known as Bainbridge Island

Sources Cited

5-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics | Next Generation Science Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2023, from

Greenwood, B. (n.d.). What is Lesson Sequencing and How Can it Save You Time? Retrieved May 25, 2023, from

Mazer, Anne., & Johnson, S. (1994). The Salamander Room (1st Dragonfly Books ed.). Knopf

Sierra Club BC. (n.d.). Web of Life. Sierra Club BC. Retrieved May 25, 2023, from

Making Outdoor Education More Accessible

Making Outdoor Education More Accessible

Effective Practices
For Night Hike

By: Grace Werner

The mainstream outdoor industry, as it exists today, is a blanket of whiteness that ignores sacred stories, crucial histories, and traditional knowledge of black and brown people (Brown, 2019). This truth is something I was only partially aware of in my time as an Instructor at Widjiwagan. If there is anything my graduate studies in the field of education have taught me, it is clarity around the many mistakes I have made as an educator. Still, reflection, correction, and reparation is the only way I know to move forward, and thus I’m so excited to analyze the mistakes I made as an instructor and as an employee of an outdoor education organization.

The focus of my “Effective Practices” analysis is on a lack of awareness regarding emotional safety of all students, and particularly black and brown students, on a night hike. In this blog post, I will identify elements of the night hike lesson that could be changed for a more emotionally safe experience for students. Specifically, I will look at the timing of the lesson positioned early in the week/unit, the set-up of community standards/emotional-safety- agreements, and the (lack of) awareness or acknowledgement the instructor is able to bring into their teaching and work community. By analyzing what a night hike looked like as I taught it 3 years ago, I am hoping I can clarify specific changes that may make the overall experience more beneficial for all students.


            I believe that when educators are aware of their positionality, greater safety is maintained. As a white, cis-gender, non-disabled, middle class woman who speaks English as her first language; my positionality holds immense privilege. Specifically as a white outdoor educator, if I do not acknowledge and actively combat the harmful practices ingrained in environmental education, I am not only a part of a history of erasure but also a participant in the perpetuation of racism and injustice. My critical analysis of the night hike is a limited understanding of the industry’s shortcomings, due to my privileged positionality and inherent biases. It is my intention to use this reflection to process my own learning and recognize the changes I hope YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, as well as many organizations like Widji, must make.

Widji’s administration, board of advisors, staff, and summer-participants are predominately white, upper-middle class, non-disabled, and speak English as their first language. From my perspective and collective experiences in the participant, guide, and instructor roles; there is not nearly enough organizational effort given to interrupt or change this cycle of creating a white-centric space. This is extremely important to recognize because of the following participant caveat- Widji’s fall/winter/spring program serves a population of youth who’s demographics much more accurately represent the demographics of MN and much more proportionally include (but are not limited to)- African American, Mexican, Native American, Somali, Ethiopian, Hmong, Salvadoran, Indian, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese, students. This detail is important to acknowledge moving forward in my analysis of the “Night Hike” lesson. Schools (both public & private) from across the state of MN, bring entire classes of students to outdoor school at Widji for a week-long sleep away experience. But how is Widji (or the many outdoor ed schools like Widji) able to create a space that mitigates the undertones of colonization, nationalism, and white supremacy culture imbedded and maintained through the industry, organization, and a predominately white as well as affluent staff (Brown, 2019).

Lesson Analysis & Effective Practices:

One of the more important elements to know about Night Hike at Widjiwagan is that it happens on the first night students arrive at camp. Generally, after a long day of travel, busses arrive in Ely, MN around 3-4pm. Students tour camp, unpack quickly in their cabins, eat dinner, and meet their study-groups as well as their instructor. These groups will stay the same for the entire week. Day 1, for students and instructors alike, is exhausting and overwhelming. It is a day filled with nervousness, discomfort, excitement, and newness. This is the night students are asked to bundle up, dig deep for some energy, and place an unreasonable amount of trust in their instructors and peers to brave the dark, cold for a hike in the woods.

Most commonly students will be presented with pre-hike curriculum. As an instructor, I often outlined the anatomy of the human-eye and how it interacts with light. I would draw a diagram on the white board and have students label the cornea, pupil, iris, rods, cones, and a chemical called rhodopsin. We would experiment with our own vision-quality by turning off the lights in the classroom and waiting for our eyes to adjust. I would then ask students to extinguish all phones, flashlights, or head-lamps for the entire walk, as a way to test our own night vision. Looking back, this measure feels entirely unnecessary and insensitive. The point (I think) was to encourage students to step briefly outside their comfort zone in order to practice their recently acquired knowledge of night vision. The night hike generally proceeded into discussions on stars, light-pollution, nocturnal animals, and sometimes even active-listening activities. There is so much incredible science-related and non-science-related content that is relevant to a night hike, and yet I can’t let go of the fact that it is placing students in what could be an incredibly scary, triggering, and uncomfortable situation on their first night at camp. Finally, if students are deeply uncomfortable, they will not be in a mental space that allows learning to take place.

Moving the night hike to the final evening at Widji is a practice that I think could significantly improve student-emotional-safety. When someone feels emotionally safe, I believe they feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and voice their needs. This requires trust and respect in relationships. A closing night hike would allow students the necessary time to build trust and supportive relationships with potentially unfamiliar peers and a new instructor. It would also allow time for establishing, as well as practicing, community safety standards, communication skills, and group agreements. Added time to learn about students- their individual needs and passions as well as group needs and interests- is crucial to a successful week at outdoor camp. Assuming youth will or should be stoked on being outside is rooted in many characteristics of white supremacy. Individuals have varying and sometimes emotionally-loaded feelings of spending time outside. It can bring up memories of vulnerability, insecurity, fear, or even pain. The outdoors is not a safe place for everyone. More specifically, the outdoors has been historically dominated by white men and their exclusive ideas of recreation and stewardship. In my opinion, acknowledgment of the night hike or any other camp experience as potentially scary is a great place to start in naming a dynamic for students. This acknowledgment lets students know that feelings or desires in regards to participation may vary from student to student, and that is ok. I firmly believe that students should not be forced to venture into the darkness without a light, or even to hike at all in the dark if they do not feel safe. Ideally, if presented as an option at the beginning of the week, and slowly worked towards as a team, students may genuinely not want to miss the experience.

The second important teaching practice I believe relevant to night hike is the knowledge that a student’s comfort level is often rooted in their family’s history or upbringing. In “What Does Culture Have To Do With Teaching Science”, Madden (2013) writes, “For educators to engage families, becoming aware of student prior knowledge and beliefs is essential in making science culturally responsive” (p.67). It is the job of instructors to learn about the communities where they work and implement the many incredible narratives and ways of learning present there. Specifically, as a white outdoor educator, making space for adults whose positionality not only differs from my own, but also may better represent student identity, is crucial. In my time instructing at Widji’s fall/winter/spring program, I largely relied on the standard curriculum presented to me in staff training. Still, there was a lot of flexibility given to instructors at Widji, and I wish I would have used that freedom to make space for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) voices. Madden (2013) discusses gathering stories from parents, community specialists, or even the library as an excellent option for instructors to include a variety of voices, perspectives, and cultural beliefs that may be held by students. For night hike specifically, this could include family or traditional knowledge on any of the topics typically covered such as stars, nocturnal adaptations, light pollution, etc. Another option Madden (2013) presents , if the resources are available, is to invite parents, teachers, or community members into the curriculum building as another way to stray from content reflecting a single story. This could happen through electronic data collection, zoom sharing, or in-person visits.

In outdoor education, the space my body takes up is welcomed and approved by white supremacy, so I must use that privilege to dismantle a system that is centered around whiteness. Night hike at Widjiwagan displays the extensive redesign outdoor curriculum and educational systems must incorporate, rather than relying on assumptions, stereotypes, typical curriculum, and more.

Work Cited:

Brown, S., & *, N. (n.d.). Advice for white environmentalists and nature educators. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from
Brown, S., & *, N. (n.d.). Reclaiming spaces. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from
Madden, L., & Joshi, A. (2013). What does culture have to do with teaching science? Science and Children, 051(01). doi:10.2505/4/sc13_051_01_66

EE Activities K-12

EE Activities F17EE Activities F17

K-12 Environmental Education Activities

Here are some ideas, separated into grade levels and subject areas, that you can use to instill environmental learning when you are looking for something to fill a gap in your activity plan.



Animal Ingenuity
Explore how animal use materials from the environment in building homes. Start by looking at a bird’s nest. Examine the nest carefully. Use a hand lens. List all the materials you find in the nest. How is it held together?

Social Studies

Careers Notebook
Make a “Careers Notebook” of environmentally-related careers. You can start with a fisherperson, mechanic, newpaper reporter, and a fish and game officer. Keep going from there.

Seafood Survey
Many cultures depend heavily on food from the sea for their sustenance. Have students survey family members and friends about the types of seafood they like to eat. This can be graphed on the chalkboard as well. Follow up survey with a visit to a local fish market or grocery to look at varieties of fish and shell fish up close.


How Many Legs?
Post pictures of an octopus, a seastar, a crab, and a gull. Review as a class the number of legs each animal has, and discuss the ways each animal’s legs help it to survive. Next challenge students with addition problems, such as: How many legs would there be if we had added the legs of the octopus and the gull? The seastar and the crab?

Geometric Shapes in Nature
Geometric shapes can be found in twigs, rocks, leaves, insects, and feathers. Look for cubes, cylinders, pyramids, cones, ovals, spheres, spirals, etc. have students put specimens in like piles. Variation: Human-made shapes. Triangles, squares, dcircles, rectangles, etc., can be found at school in sidewalks, buildings, clothing.

Language Arts

Appropriate Stories About Nature
Storytelling about nature, the outdoors, and the environment is fun. School and public libraries can be of great help in selecting books. Build a story repertoire as you would with songs.

Finding Adjectives
Give each child a small piece of paper with one or more adjectives that describe something in nature (e.g., smooth, slimy, triangular, expanded, cool, soft and green, round and gooey). Have students explore a natural area to find items that meet these descriptions. Let students take turns sharing what they found. —JOD

Fine Arts

Be a Tree
Have students identify characteristics of trees. Visit trees in a back yard, in an orchard, in a park, or in the school year.
Have the students do tree dramatizations, using their arms as the branches and their legs as the trunk. How does the tree look during a storm? How does a fruit tree look in the spring? How does a young tree look in comparison with an old tree? What would happen to change the tree in different kinds of weather or during the different seasons?
After feeling what it might be like to be a tree, have the students paint pictures of them. — EGO

Make a Refracting Telescope
Use two small convext lenses, a toilet paper tube, cardboard, rubber cember, and paper.
1. Find the focal length of one of the lenses.
2. Cut a lens-size hole in the cardboard
3. Glue the lens over the hole.
4. Trace around the toilet paper tube with a pencil over the spot in the cardboard where the lens is located.
5. Cut on this line, and glue the cardboard-mounted lens in the end of the tube.
6. Wrap a sheet of paper around the tube.
7. Tape it in place.
8. Mount the other lens in the end of the paper tube.
9. Slide the tubes back and forth.

Natural Balance
Collect natural materials, or have students collect them. Suspend them with string under a crossbar of two sticks. Driftwood, acorns, and pine cones are among materials that are effectively used. Hang these in the classroom to brighten the scenery.



Evaluating Growth
Growing plants in crowded and uncrowded situations will show the effects of overpopulation. Fill milk cartons about three-fourths full of soil. Plant several cartons with seeds — some with two or three seeds, several cartons with a small handful and several cartons with a large handful. Varying the amounts of seed in the different cartons creates different conditions under which the plants will grow. After the seeds have become seedlings, measure and record their heights on a piece of paper and draw a line graph on graph paper to represent each group of seedlings. Evaluate the plants’ growth periods in terms of the number of plants under the different conditions. —CTE

Forest Community
Discuss as a group the items a city has and make a list. Suggestions include people, factories, subways, cemetery, apartments, treffic, plumbing, stores, garbage collectors, streets, etc.
Divide the group into smaller ones of 3 to 4 each. Send each group out in a forest or wooded area and have them try and identify the natural item that corresponds to the ones on the list. —ECO

Social Studies

Non-Pointing the Finger
Take a walking tour of the neighborhood. List possible examples of non-point source pollution, both natural and human-caused. Back in the classroom, compile a class list to see how many sources were pin- “pointed.” Use magazine or newspaper pictures to make an informational display of possible sources of non-point water pollution. — FSS

Water, Water Everywhere…NOT!
Point out that last year water was rationed in parts of California. It was shut off altogether in parts of Rhode Island when a leaking gas station tank polluted it. Our carelessness can hurt the water supply. Also, it is important not to waste water if we want to be sure of having enough for our needs. Have students name some ways each of us can help protect our water supply. (Ideas include using less water, not running water needlessly, not littering near bodies of water. Also some environmentalists suggest eating less meat to save water. A vegetarian diet requires much less water in its production than is used in the raising of cattle, for example.) —KT


Shoot the Moon
Knowing that the moon returns to a given position every 29 1/2 days, have students figure out the dates that will have full moons for the coming calendar year. From this they can make their own calendars and check up on themselves. —JOD

Language Arts

Get Your Story Straight!
Invent or find a story that conveys an environmental message you wish to have your students think about. Divide the story into individual events that have ideas or words that allow the student to sequence them in a particular order.
As a group, or individually, have the students read the passages. Have the students number the passages so that the story can be read in the correct order. Read the story aloud in the correct sequential order.
Use discussion and questioning to strengthen the story’s message. —IEEIC

Wet Words
How important is water to our society? Just think how many different words we have to express it. Have students brainstorm words that mean water or a form of water (e.g., splash, drip, etc.) while the teacher lists them on a large sheet of butcher paper. Can your class reach one hundred? Save the list and use it later for creative writing activities.

Fine Arts

Water Drop Necklaces
Give each student a sheet of paper onto which a large water drop has already been drawn on both sides. On one side of the paper, printed inside the water drop are the words, “I’M TOXIC, DON’T FLUSH ME.” On the reverse side of the paper, inside the water drop are written the words, “WATER IS PRECIOUS, AS PRECIOUS AS…” Instruct students to draw one or several toxic items that should not be flushed down the toilet (e.g., paint, oil, chemicals) inside the water drop on the “toxic” side of the paper. On the other side instruct them to draw pictures of one or more persons or items that are precious to them (e.g., grandma, grandpa, a pet, a bicycle).
Once the drawings are completed, have the students cut out the water drop, then punch a hold near the top of the drop using a paper punch and finally thread a string of yarn through the hole to create a necklace. The necklace has a positive “precious” side and a negative “toxic” side depicted by the students’ drawings. — CON

Torn Paper Art
To help the students understand the fibrous make up of paper, tear a scrap of paper and hold one of the torn edges up to the light. Along that edge will appear a slight fuzz. Here and there tiny strands will project separately, like fine hairs. These strands are cellulose fibers.
Discuss with the children all the different materials from which fibers can be harvested to make paper. Show them fibers from a small piece of cloth to illustrate the point.
Using scraps of construction paper, tear and glue different colors to represent the forest and creatures who depend on the forest for survival. Display these pictures throughout the school to heighten awareness of the need to conserve and protect natural resources. – CON



Rainforest Pyramid
Use artistic talents to create blocks symbolizing rainforest creatures. Build a pyramid, putting the prey species such as insects at the bottom – building up until the top predators like the jaguar and harpy eagle are at the top. Show what happens when prey species are taken away – such as if insects are killed by pesticides, or small rodents are killed as pests. The same activity can be done for temperate forests of the Northwest as well, or any other particular ecosystem. —RC

Adopt a Part of Nature
Adopt part of a stream, creek, river, lake or ocean. Clean up the beaches or shores and spend time there as a class enjoying these special places.

Shorebird Safari
After introducing the class to common shorebirds and the field marks used to identify them, take your class to a beach. Shorebirds are visible year round, especially as the tide goes out. Students should try to identify special adaptations the birds have and predict the type of food they are seeking.

Social Studies

How Did They Do It?
Have students investigate the lifestyles of Native Americans on the prairie or along the coasts or in your local area. How were their needs met by these different environments?

Nature’s Tool Box
Pass out to individuals or small groups of students an assortment of simple tools: paper clips, sewing needle, letter opener, hair brush, straight pin, comb, and so on. Have students examine the tools carefully and decide what kinds of natural objects could be used or modified to make them. After students hike through an outdoor setting and collect materials, have them use the materials to make specific tools. —EGO


Graph the Tide
Purchase a tide table wherever fishing supplies are sold. Enlarge and photocopy each month’s chart on a separate page. Make enough copies so that each student will have one month to chart on graph paper. Post the papers in a line along the wall to see the rise and fall of the tide for the year. Teacher may want to designate a place on the paper for the base point (0.0).

Language Arts

Opposites Attract
Here is a thought-provoking idea: Collect photographs, illustrations and/or paintings from magazines — some that graphically portray a healthy, balanced environment and others that depict a damaged, unhealthy Earth. Hang these on opposite walls in the classroom to stimulate discussion and inspire writing. How does each set of images make students feel? Encourage them to think about how the healthy can be changed into the damaged and how they can help to change the damaged back into the healthy. As students learn about environmental problems and the solutions, they may go to the appropriate sides of the room to record their thoughts and ideas in two separate notebooks. For example, if a student is studying about an extinct animal, that student may record his/her concerns in a notebook located next to the unhealthy Earth artwork. If he/she knows of possible solutions and actions that can be done to help, they may be recorded on the other side of the room next to the healthy Earth artwork. Eventually, your class will have two useful notebooks filled with concerns and solutions to many environmental problems. Prioritize these and use your computer to record the top ten items that can be posted in the room for reference and distributed to family members. – TPE

Students can write a paper that expresses their feelings about going to outdoor schooll. By knowing their anxieties, fears, and excitement, you may be able to better understand their individual needs. It is always fun for students to reread their own papers upon returning home. —JOD
Fine Arts

Touch of Color
While visiting a wooded area, pass out paper to the class and have each student, using natural materials (soil, berries, flowers, leaves, moss), draw a picture of the forest setting. Give the class an opportunity to display their work and describe their feelings about the surroundings. Encourage the students to discuss what materials were used to add color. —EGO



Working with a partner, students research symbiotic relationships amongst intertidal and ocean organisms and choose one to report on. One example would be the anemone and the clownfish.

Human-created Habitats
Assign one water-dwelling animal to each student or team. Students then must design (on paper) an artificial habitat which would suite the living requirements of the animal. To do so, they must investigate and establish the characteristics of the animal’s natural habitat, including food, water, shelter, space, climate, etc. This assignment could be followed by creating models of artificial habitats.

Social Studies

Move Over!
To begin this activity, tell your class they are going to try an experiment dealing with classroom arrangements. Don’t mention the idea of overpopulation or limited resources. These concepts will surface as the outcome of the activity.
Select an area of the classroom to be used in this overpopulation experiment. an area approximately 10’x10’ should be marked with masking tape on the floor and two desks should be placed inside the area. Also provide a “Resources Box” with 4 pencils, 2 pens, 6 sheets of paper and 1 pair of scissors.
Select two volunteers to work in the square. They should take with them only the books they will need. One half hour later, select two more students to work in the square and add their desks to the other two. (Make sure to remove all “resource” from the desks first).
Continue to add students to the area in shorter intervals of time similar to the way population grows rapidly. When the area can no longer hold additional desks, add students and have them share desks. Make sure the tasks the children are involved in will require the use of resources in the “Resources Box.”
When the limited resources and overcrowded conditions lead to bedlam, bring the class together for discussion. How is this like the real world? What “resources” are in short supply? —LLC

Environmental Careers
Plan an Environmental Careers Day. Research various careers associated with the environment and invite people in to speak about their jobs. Try to get a variety of speakers to reflect the diversity of careers and educational requirements. Prepare an outline for the speakers to they will address the questions you are most interested in.

Both Sides Now
A forest management specialist, touring a watershed area, notes that in one part of the forest many diseased trees have fallen and are covering the ground. This is a serious fire hazard for the forest. The specialist recommends logging this area and replanting with young, healthy seedlings. A concerned citizen’s group protests the logging, saying that clearcutting the area will erode the soil, which will make our drinking water unclean.
Your group has been asked to list the pros and cons of logging that area of the watershed. Consider the environmental, economic and social arguments. Can you find a compromise to the problem? How do personal opinions affect your decision? —FSS

Litter Lifelines
Students collect litter in an outdoor setting — school parking lot, playground, camp, or business district. Then each student selects a piece of trash – soda can, chewing gum wrapper, potato chip bag —and makes a life line of the litter, from the origin of its natural materials to its present state. — TGP


Food Chain Figuring
Use the following information to create math problems. A medium-sized whale needs four hundred billion diatoms to sustain it for a few hours! The whale eats a ton of herring, about 5,000 of them. Each herring may have about 6,500 small crustaceans in its stomach, and each crustacean may contain 130,000 diatoms…

Language Arts

Forest Essay
Have students write an imaginary story using one of the following titles: a) The Life of a Pencil; b)An Autobiography of a Tree from Seed to Lumber.

Legends of the Sea
Many cultures have legends about the way the ocean and its life forms were created. Read some of these to the class, then encourage them to create their own legends about how somethings came to be. It would be helpful to have some pictures of marine life forms for the students to view. Some ideas: How the Eel Became Electric; Why Octopi Have Only Eight Arms; Before Whales could Swim; How the Hermit Crab Lost His Shell.

Fine Arts

Mother Earth
Students begin by brainstorming a list of all the ways they are dependent on the Earth. From that list should come some ideas for presenting that information to others. They may decide to have teams of students work on representing different items on the list. They may want to expres their relationship to the land written in story format, in poetry, verbally on tape, through photographs, drawings, paintings, or soft sculpture. They should come up with a theme uch as Native American philosophy, or a celebration of life-giving qualities of the Earth, or getting involved with conservation, and work from there. Ask for volunteers to write letters to local organizations requesting space to set up their display for others to view.
Encourage your students to express their feelings about our responsibility to live in harmony with the land. Is it our responsibility? Can the actions of one person make a difference? What kinds of actions does living in harmony with the Earth require? —LLC

Sources of activities:
CCN — Carrying Capacity Network Clearinghouse Bulletin, June 1992.
KT — Kind Teacher, Natl. Association for Humane and Environmental Education
IEEIC — Inegrating Environmental Education Into the Curriculum… Painlessly. National Educational Service, 1992.
RC — Rainforest Conservation, Rainforest Awareness Info. Network, 1992.
ECO — Eco-Acts: A Manual of Ecological Activities, Phyllis Ford, ed.
JOD — Just Open the Door, by Rich Gerston, Interstate Printers and Publishers, 1983.
LLC — Living Lightly in the City, Schlitz Audubon Center, 1984.
EGO- Education Goes Outdoors, Addison-Wesley 1986.
CON – Connections: Life Cycle Kinesthetic Learning. The Energy Office, Grand Junction, CO 1993.
CTE – Consider the Earth by Julie M. Gates, Teacher Ideas Press, 1989.
FSS – From Source to Sea, Greater Vancouver Regional District 1993.
GGC – Growing Greener Cities and Environmental Education Guide
American Forests, Washington DC 1992
LCA – Let’s Clean the Air, Greater Vancouver Regional District 1993.
NTW – No Time to Waste, Greater Vancouver Regional District 1993.
TPE – The Private Eye, Kerry Ruef, The Private Eye Project, Seattle, 1992.

Teacher Favorite Activity Ideas

Teacher Favorite Activity Ideas

Favorite EE Activity Ideas
from PNW Educators

Practical and proven environmental education activities for all grade levels and subject areas, shared by members of the EE community. What is your favorite?


naturejournalNature Journal

Kristen Clapper Bergsman

My favorite EE resource is a hardback journal with blank pages ready to fill with observations and revelations. Step into a circle of cedars, nestle down in meadow, or sit down on your back porch stairs and nature emerges all around you. Creative nature journaling is a powerful educational tool for young children and adults alike. I use journaling as both an educational activity and as a way to reinvigorate my teaching and writing.

A hardback journal can take the knocks of being thrown into a backpack and carried into the field. You can waterproof your journal simply by slipping it into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Toss in a waterproof pen, a pencil, a sharpener and perhaps a few watercolor-pencils and you are ready for five-minutes or five-hours of immersive journaling.

Some people are hesitant about their drawing or writing skills, but by using some simple journaling exercises, you can soothe people’s fears about their own abilities. Even young children quickly connect with journaling exercises like gesture drawings, blind contour sketches and event maps.

I highly recommend several natural journaling books that provide sample activities and ideas on how to use journaling as an education tool, as well as having pages filled with lush examples of field journal pages. Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles Roth (Storey Books, 2000) is an excellent resource for teachers who want to use nature journaling with their students. Into the Field: A Guide to Locally Focused Teaching by Leslie, Tallmadge and Wessels is available through the Orion Society�s Nature Literacy Series. Hannah Hinchman�s A Trail Through Leaves (W.W. Norton and Co., 1997) will provide pages of inspiration.

Complete Citations:
Clare Walker Leslie & Charles Roth, Keeping a Nature Journal. Vermont: Storey Books, 2000. Pg. 181. ISBN 1-58017-306-3.
Leslie, Tallmadge and Wessels,� Into the Field: A Guide to Locally Focused Teaching. Massachusetts: The Orion Society, 1999. Pg. 83. ISBN 0-913098-52-3.
Hannah Hinchman, A Trail Through Leaves. W.W. New York: Norton and Co., 1997. Pg. 192. ISBN 0-393-04101-8.

Kristen Clapper Bergsman is an environmental educator and freelance writer. She owns her own curriculum development company, Laughing Crow Curriculum. She and her husband share their Seattle neighborhood with over 9,000 crows.



Tracy Mosgrove

Grade Level: Kindergarten through High School.

Students take a designated outdoor space and observe the changes in that space over a period of time (several months during a change of seasons works best). Depending upon the age of your students, the size of space and the way in which you record the changes varies.

Kindergarten through primary grades: Measure out one square meter of ground. This can be one space for the whole class, or groups can each have their own square. In simple field journals, students draw and write words or sentences about what they see. Simple language arts and math integration can be used through what they find in their square.

Intermediate through high school: Each group or individual child measures one square (or cubic) meter. Observations can be recorded through the use of a digital camera, field journals, or PowerPoint/Hyper Studio presentations. Math (graphing, data collection), Language Arts (cause/effect, writing descriptions) can easily be integrated.

Intermediate through High School: Each student measures a square meter or takes a larger area (Iíve had students use a mile long hiking trail in a forest). Use science probes, soil testing kits, digital cameras and field journals to research and record data. Talk to builders, foresters, farmers, etc. to find out how the changes in the ground affect their jobs and work schedules. Math (graphing, data collection), Language Arts (cause/effect, writing descriptions, letter writing to industry people) can easily be integrated.

Tracy Mosgrove
Skyway Elementary School
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Let Them Eat Cake

Sarah Bidwell

My favorite activity is “Let Them Eat Cake” from Facing the Future: People and the Planet Curriculum Guide. This is a very effective and interactive activity for demonstrating the inequitable distribution of resources around the world. Students are divided into world regional groups (i.e. Asia, Africa, Europe, etc) and given a slice of cake relative to their regions’ share of global resources. The Asia group (about half the class) gets only a sliver of cake, while the one person from North America gets a quarter of the cake! Students really see how consumptive Americans are relative to people around the world. You can download the activity from their website,

Sarah Bidwell, Administrative Director Alternatives to Growth Oregon

Fish in the Floodlight

Joanne Day

One of my favorite environmental education resources is the Fisheries and Oceans resource “Fish in the Floodlights.” This package contains nine short plays about salmon for grades 4-7.

The plays are useful for teaching about salmon and there are themes of conservation and also social responsibility.
Drama can be a very creative tool for working with students to both empower them and to widen their understanding of ideas and issues in the world. Critical thinking skills can be developed as the students perform plays adopting different points of view.

Each play also contains suggestions for the use of cooperative learning strategies such as Know, Wonder, Learn, as well as integration with other subjects, such as art and math.

The package is very versatile and allows for plays to be read between students or performed before the entire school.
It can be ordered through the BC Teachers’ Federation Lesson Aids service at
Look for it under the title “Salmonids Go to the Ocean.”

web-gameFood Web Game

Joanne Day

Note: If weather and opportunity permits, you may wish to do this webbing activity outdoors (i.e. in the school field). This webbing activity can also be done as a stand alone activity during any outreach event (indoors or out).

1. Review the definition of a food web.

2. Have the students sit in a circle and hand out the species cards randomly. Ask students to put up their hands when their species name is called out. Have a role of string with you to pull throughout the circle, making connections between different species in the food web. At each connection (student), the student is asked to hold tightly to the string. Start with the Sun and pull the string to the plants that require the sun for energy. Then feed the string to the animals that require the plants for food. Continue this process in the order of species below: plankton and bull kelp, barnacles, sea star, crab and shrimp (scavengers, would go after a dead bit of sea star)…now back to another plankton eater (since there are so many animals that eat plankton) – Pacific herring, salmon, cormorant, harbour seal, stellar sea lion, Pacific white sided dolphin, blue shark, killer whale (top predator), and finally the human. By the end of this exercise, the string in the middle of the circle should look like a spider’s web.

While handing out the string revisit the interesting facts of each species and explain again how they fit into this food web. Some examples have been incorporated above. Since the plankton has not been explained extensively to this point, include some information on these free-floating organisms. Q. What are plankton? A. They are “wanderers”; microscopic plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton) that drift in the ocean currents. Q. Why are plankton important in the ocean food web? A. First of all they provide the base food supply for many of the ocean creatures. Secondly they (along with ocean seaweed) produce over half of the oxygen that we breathe. We always think of the trees in the forests as being important for producing oxygen. They are, however, the ocean plants produce even more than the land plants. Q. Ask the students if this is another good reason to keep the ocean healthy. To reinforce, now or later ask the students to take a big breath and say “Thank you to the plankton and the seaweed!”

3. After the web has been formed get all the students to stand up while holding onto the string. Q. What does the string pattern remind you of? A. Many will say spider web and you can make this connection to the term food web to help them visualize the concept. The students can now see that they are part of a large ocean food web. Revisit with the students some of the factors mentioned earlier on in the presentation that could negatively effect this web (such as oil pollution, overfishing etc). Select one of these disturbances and incorporate it into the activity. An example of this would be oil pollution. Q. After an oil spill what would be the first organisms that would be negatively affected? A. The plankton would die since they would no longer be getting any exposure to the sunlight. Q. If the plankton die what happens to the rest of the food web? A. All the other organisms will be negatively affected. Some of the smaller ones will die and thus will no longer support the larger organisms which in turn will die or have to leave this ocean environment in search of a new food source. Get the students to actively demonstrate this negative impact on the food web. This can be done two ways.

Option 1: Get the plankton to sit down and then a tug the string to the next person in the web directly connected to them. Once the other students feel a tug they also sit down until everybody but the sun is sitting down.

Option 2: Get the plankton to let go of their string. Ask the students what next will get affected (i.e. who has a loose string hanging down, indicating their food source is gone). As the students lose their food source, they too drop their string until everybody is standing up and the entire web is on the floor.

Joanne Day, Information Co-ordinator
Stewardship and Community Involvement Unit
Habitat and Enhancement Branch, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Government of Canada

PacCoastInfo5Pacific Coast Information Cards

Margy Ransford

Here is a bit about one of my favourite resources, which I use in the classroom and in public education.

Pacific Coast Information Cards, beautifully illustrated black and white recipe-sized cards with pictures of Pacific Ocean species (one species per card) on one side, and a description of the following “need to know” tidbits of info. on the flip side: Common Name
Latin Name
Quick Identification (basic physical description)
Predators (or, as I tell the kids, what eats them)
Feeding Type: (“what they eat”)
Commercial Value” (how humans have historically perceived them)
Status: common, rare,
Comments: special features of interest

These cards can be used in many different activities–I like to give a few to each student to sort when introducing classification and let the students loose to come up with their own criteria, or guide them with preset (for example, phyla) categories. Foodchain sequences are another great way to get the students engaged. First nations’ use of the organisms, and harvesting methods in modern economies, are other great focus possibilities.

The Pacific Coast Information Cards were published in 1998 by Oregon and Washington Sea Grant Programs. The artists were Karl Geist, Philip Croft and Mark Wynja, Cooper Publishing, editing , design and production. Gloria Snively at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, one of my “marine mentors”, was the author, and commissioned the creation of the cards to accompany her “Beach Explorations” curriculum. I highly recommend this resource.
You will want to possibly laminate them for frequent use!

Margy Ransford, past-President, NAME (Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators)

crumpled-paper-ballCrumple Your Own Watershed

Erica Ritter

Make your own three-dimensional map, and use it to explore how flowing water defines the areas of land we call “watersheds.” This activity provides opportunities for creativity and for meaningful discussion, a great combination for engaging students.

You can have each student make their own, or have groups collaborate.
Loosely crumple a piece of graph paper, unfold it but don’t smooth it out, and tape it onto a stiff backing so that the remaining wrinkles and creases resemble mountain ridges and valleys.
Use brown, purple, or black ink to identify and mark the ridgelines — “where water would ‘choose’ whether to go on one side or another.” These are the lines that define a watershed: on one side, the water will go one direction, and on the other side, the other. (The Rocky Mountains are the classic example of a defining ridgeline: raindrops that fall to earth on either side of the main ridgeline may end up flowing downhill to oceans thousands of miles apart.)
Use blue ink to trace where you think water will gather into rivers, lakes, streams, etc. These are the water-bodies that the water is shed into. Water connects areas of land — discuss various ways water connects landscapes, local bodies of water that define students’ home watersheds, etc.
Use other colors to add farms, houses, factories, roads, cities, etc. If students are planning out an island or city, this process can be quite elaborate. The grid-lines on the graph paper can be used to designate personal land areas in group projects, or to estimate the relative sizes of farms, cities, etc.
When “all done,” bring the landscapes over to a suitable table, and “make it rain” with the squirt bottle. (Squirt water onto the map until it runs down the creases.) See if student’s drawn-in blue rivers correctly anticipated the flow of water; did any cities drown? If landscapes sag, this may be a good opportunity to discuss how forces of nature (including water) can cause similar effects in real life.
In addition to watching the water, watch the colors it carries with it. Colors from uphill things will smear downhill, and water bodies below populated areas will show the effects. If you let the paper dry, the end result is often quite beautiful, with streaks of color from the ridges and valleys.
While watching the colors run, you can discuss connections to local watershed issues, such as dams, agricultural or urban runoff, water-rights negotiations, etc. One of my favorite all-purpose factoids is the “Fido Hypothesis:” in California, Florida, Idaho, and Virginia, researchers have found that dog “doo” runoff from parks and yards contributes dangerous bacteria to lakes and coastal waters, sometimes to the point where it’s unsafe to swim at local beaches. (Dog doo can be responsible for 10%-30% of the fecal coliform bacteria in coastal waters, including the now-infamous E. Coli.)
You can also discuss other kinds of land features, and what their analogies would be: sponges for wetlands, tiny clay dams, permanent-marker forests or other structures that resist runoff.
Some teachers extend this basic activity to teach students to read contour lines. (To make this work smoothly, it’s helpful to crumple the paper around something so that there’s one mountain peak and all the slopes can be reached from outside by the fixed-height pen. This isn’t as useful for showing watersheds, as it tends to eliminate meandering valleys, but it’s way easier to show contour lines around a single mountain.)
Prop a waterproof pen or pencil at a fixed height (tape it securely across a ruler, or stick it horizontally through a paper cup or piece of cardboard, so that the point stays the same height). Slide the pen around against the crumpled ridges, marking an equal-height line. Mark other lines at other heights the same way; 3 or more heights is appropriate. At the end of the activity, unfold the papers. The now-flat paper approximates a topo-map of the origonal surface. (There will be a few discrepancies, and steep slopes will not show up as dramatically as on a real topographical map. A photocopy or photograph of the intact crumpled paper would be more accurate, but not as beautiful.)

This activity has been documented several times, so you may be able to find it online. The version I use is currently available at
2000/watershed/crumple.pdf. Credit goes to Chris Maun for the version in “The Living River: An educator’s guide to the Nisqually River Basin,” and to Greg Dardis who originally adopted that activity for use at OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry).

The “Fido hypothesis” was reported in USA Today (06/06/2002, “Dog waste poses threat to water” by Traci Watson, USA TODAY), and in other sources.

Erica Ritter is a science educator at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.

Photo by Stewart Wilson from Cranbrook Guardian

Photo by Stewart Wilson from Cranbrook Guardian

Macroinvertebrate Mayhem
Karen Lippy

One of my favorite activities, Macroinvertebrate Mayhem, comes from (of course) the Project WET Curriculum and Activity Guide. If you liked Project WILD’s Hooks and Ladders, you’ll love this one!

Students get to act out macroinvertebrates while playing a game of tag. Sensitive critters have challenging “hindrances” to cope with. For example, caddisflies have to play in their case….a pillow case. And, stoneflies need to get extra oxygen by doing push-ups every ten steps. The mayflies flap their gills wildly.

Various “Environmental Stressors” race around tagging macroinvertebrates out. Survivors play on. Tagged macroinvertebrates can come back, but if they were a sensitive species, they return as a tolerant species.

This activity clearly demonstrates how water quality affects macroinvertebrates and how diversity and populations are affected by the health of their ecosystem.

Karen Lippy is an award-winning teacher in Shelton, Washington.

writing in nature journalNaturalist’s Journal

Tim Maze

One of my favorite activities is simply teaching students to make a naturalist’s journal. Using examples of Olaus Murie’s journal or the journals of Lewis and Clark is a good way to model and begin. We go outside for a few minutes and record the date, place and some weather data and then do a field sketch or a writing in response to a prompt. The journals can be worked into lots of areas of instruction or can become a phenological study themselves. A good journal makes for a good keepsake of a field trip or school unit or year.

My favorite EE resource is simply the outdoors. Just stepping out for a teachable moment in the school yard can be very inspiring. Recently we experienced a beautiful frosty morning, so I took my students out for a quick peek at the huge frost crystals that had formed. Great lesson, followed by cool student questions. The entire experience took maybe 15 minutes. You don’t have to be much of an expert to find something pretty interesting right in your own backyard (or schoolyard!).

Tim Maze teaches at Tongue River Middle School in Wyoming

earthwrmDancing Up Worms: A Teachable Moment

Laurelei Primeau

It was a damp, sunny day, and my grade three class was called to the front lawn of the school for a school-wide portrait. Classes from kindergarten to grade five trooped out and jostled for places on the lawn. My third graders, however, were distracted. They were peering into the long grass at the gigantic earthworms that were wriggling at their feet. Seeing other students shy away and shriek at the worms, my class sprang into action, the bravest of them picking up the worms and moving them to the edge of the grass, away from the stampede of feet. Eventually, we were chastised for holding up the photo, and my worm wranglers were themselves wrangled into place.

With the photo shoot completed, the students looked around frantically for the worms. The questions came fast and furious – why would the worms come out when they’re going to get stepped on? One child suggested that worms come out when they feel the ground shake. We decided to test it and find out. We spread out on the lawn and stomped up and down, and up popped a worm. Jubilant, the students danced more vigorously, laughing. The office staff was laughing pretty hard, too. Every student danced a worm up out of the ground that morning. We observed them, and let them go, and finally headed back inside.

Laurelei Primeau teaches in the Coquitlam School District in Coquitlam, British Columbia</em?\>

K-12 Activities: Monitoring Biological Diversity

K-12 Activities: Monitoring Biological Diversity

K-12 Activity Ideas:

Monitoring Biological Diversity

by Roxine Hameister

Developing a biodiversity monitoring project at your school can help students develop many skills in an integrated manner. Here are some simple ideas that you can use to get your students started.

Children and teachers are being pulled in many directions. Children want to “learn by doing/’ but because of societal fears for children’s safety, they are very often not allowed to play outdoors and learn at will. Teachers are encouraged to meet the unique learning styles of all students but the classroom reality often means books and pictures rather than hands-on experiences. In addition, children are under considerable pressure to be thinking about their futures and what further, post secondary, education they might be considering.

Sometimes children just like science. Many are of the “naturalist intelligence” and enjoy learning how to classify their world. Activities that meet all these requirements are within schools’ meagre budgets and are indeed possible. These projects are equally possible for the teacher with little science or biology background knowledge. The science skills are readily picked up; being systematic about collecting and recording the data is the main skill needed. The curriculum integration that is possible from these projects range from field studies to computer skills, to art and literature; the entire curriculum is covered in these activities. (more…)