Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Let's Get Kids Wild About Nature!

Post by Tawnya Finney
 “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” ~Richard Louv



“Mrs. Finney, are we going outside today?”  This is typically the question that is asked by my Appalachian Trail Club students as they walk into my room on club days.  Most days the answer is yes.  Many times, I have a learning activity in place, be it LNT activities, collaboration with Ms. Hade’s high school students, or engaging the five senses.  Students learn some new piece of information about nature and hopefully apply it and make it meaningful to their life.

There are some days, though, it is great to have the students enjoying and connecting to nature without the confines of a “formal lesson”.  They enjoy getting out, breathing fresh air, and running.  The American Academy of Pediatrics states that Sixty minutes of daily unstructured free play is essential to children’s physical and mental health.” While the club is only 45 minutes, I feel like there’s been an element of good health added to my students’ lives on those days. 

I have found that my students want to be outside, despite the weather.  If it’s a beautiful, sunny day, we can certainly say that it was enjoyable.  However, it can be cold and dreary, and students are still enjoying themselves outside.  Students also want to be “doing.”  Another question that usually follows the inquiry of outside, is the question of “What are we doing today?”  They find enjoyment in looking for different leaves and identifying them.  They get excited about looking for different colors and shapes in nature.  They get really inquisitive if we find a different bug (like the wheelbug). 

There have been occasions where I’ve had a meeting in my classroom after we’ve been outside for clubs.  My co-workers often state that it smells “gamey” in my room on those days.  My reply is that it smells of kids enjoying the outdoors and nature. 
I spent most of my free time as a child outside.  I loved the outdoors, even if it was reading a book in a lawn chair.  My love for the outdoors guided many decisions growing up…who I married, hobbies, volunteer time.  If we are to encourage a new generation to volunteer in their communities and to care for their environment, we must get them outside and get them active!  A study by Nancy M. Wells and Kristi S. Lekies (2006) found “The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in ‘wild nature activities’ before the age of 11.”  While most of my Appalachian Trail Club students are over the age of 11, I’ve found that there is still a vivid interest in the outdoors and “wild nature activities.”  For their health and for the health of the environment, let’s do everything that we can to get kids out and get kids wild about nature!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Our Classroom Defined

by Tawnya Finney, TTEC Alumni

“The Trail to Every Classroom” coined TTEC was launched in 2006 as an initiative to connect teachers and students to placed-based service learning on the Appalachian Trail.  I participated in the TTEC program in 2008 and recently participated in TTECwork this past summer.  These classes and workshops have been a valuable contribution to activities and strategies that I use in my classroom and with my Appalachian Trail Club at school.  However, I believe that as we utilize the lessons and activities that TTEC provides to us, we need to periodically reassess our definition of “classroom.” 


I am sure that many teachers have experienced newly defined terms of classrooms over the past several years.  With the evolution of our physical classrooms and the expectations for our classrooms, I have had to be flexible with my approach to sharing the Appalachian Trail with my students.  This brings me to the questions “What is my classroom?”  “Is it the space within the four walls of my school?”  When I search for the definition of “classroom” on the web, I turn up several results.  Merriam-Webster defines classroom as “a room where classes are taught in a school, college, or university.” One of the definitions of Dictionary.com states that a classroom is “any place where one learns or gains experience.”

This past year has been a flurry of activity in my local town of Waynesboro, PA.  We were officially designated as an Appalachian Trail Community in April.  With that designation came the responsibility and commitment to promote the Trail and educate our community.  Since the official designation our steering committee (made up of community members, business members, municipal employees, PATC members, and teachers) has had a busy year. Our biggest focus this year has been a presence at many local festivals.  We have our 15’ long map of the Appalachian Trail (provided by TTEC) that we display, as well as brochures, and coloring pages and AT tattoos for children.

While at these festivals, I have become increasingly aware that my classroom is not just the four walls in my school building.  My classroom is also my community.  As we speak with visitors, we get many questions about the Appalachian Trail including “How do I know that I’m on the Trail?”  Wow!  It really does get that basic.  Many people in our local communities haven’t hiked on the Appalachian Trail, don’t realize that it is a National Park, and are timid about getting out on the Trail on their own.  People won’t care if they don’t know or don’t experience.

I propose that not only do we need to connect the Trail to our classrooms in school but also to our communal classroom:  offer a monthly hike; build a Facebook page and invite your community to “like” it; set up a small table at your local town festivals; ask your local library to host an Appalachian Trail talk night.  When people become connected to the Trail, it’s amazing the stories that you hear and the excitement that is generated.  When people become excited about the Trail, they also become passionate.  The knowledge and passion that is generated from community activities will be what protects our Trail and what we teach our young students for years to come.  When defining my classroom,  I believe that I must go back to the definition of “any place where one learns or gains experience.”  Students of all ages should be able to learn and gain experience when it comes to the Appalachian Trail classroom and all of its resources.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TTECwork: Building Your TTEC Community Network workshop July 21-23, 2014

Excerpt from an upcoming A.T. Journeys article by Kathy Seiler

Ranger Betty Gatewood, a TTEC alum, PATC volunteer, and co-Chair of the TTEC Advisory Council, welcomes the group to Shenandoah National Park

The TTEC-work: Building Your Trail to Every Classroom Community Network workshop was held July 21 to 23 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia. This focused and action-packed workshop covered a wealth of Trail-related topics. Projects for both community and student involvement, strategies for building awareness and education, and methods to align group activities with community, state, and national partnerships were explored.

Teacher Michael Smith-Foot of Blairsville, GA putting together the puzzle!
TTEC alumni were invited to apply for the program with the team concept in mind, which is to bring a TTEC alumnus, a "new" teacher not yet trained in TTEC, and a community member or local Trail club representative together. Bringing together different backgrounds of experience and points of reference creates stronger possibilities for networking back in home areas, and strengthens Trail ties for students and communities alike.

Beginning a quest in the A.T. Community of Front Royal, VA.
This new model of TTEC as a network focused on specific goals and ideas, with built-in time for teams to work together and make an action plan for their community. Brainstorming sessions to generate ideas, share obstacles, and suggest possible solutions covered many situations. Teachers and community members from Dalton Massachusetts, Harlem Valley New York, Waynesboro Pennsylvania, Franklin North Carolina, and Blairsville Georgia kept busy from morning until mid-evening after-dinner sessions.

The group also tested a new interactive board game (Thru-Hike: The Appalachian Trail Game; currently on Kickstarter) and gave feedback to its creators, participated in a Quest in Front Royal, and hiked part of the A.T. in Shenandoah National Park, collecting data for the Trail-wide American chestnut MEGA Transect along the way as an example of citizen science on the A.T. Each team member also received a full set of hiking maps for their state.
Shenandoah National Park A.T. marker

The Georgia team shared how their TTEC activities are integrated into their middle school. Sylvia Garner uses the Trail as a year-long theme for art activities. During the unit on Georgia O'Keefe's style, Appalachian flowers are used as subjects for students' art creations. Bob Williams showed photos of their 6th-8th grade students hiking the Trail at various sections near Blood Mountain, and utilizing outdoor spaces as living classrooms. Michael Smith-Foot voiced his passion for continuing this mammoth but rewarding challenge of "No Child Left Inside" for their students.

The Waynesboro team set a goal of creating a Quest with student involvement throughout the upcoming year. This project, a type of treasure hunt/scavenger hunt using facts and history in a rhyming format, will invite the curious to explore the town in a fun way. Having it available and ready to use by next summer's first area "Appalachian Trail Festival" is the goal. (Check out the Facebook page for "The Greater Waynesboro, Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail Community" for updates.)
Historic chimney on the A.T.

Kristina Moe, a librarian from Franklin North Carolina, seemed to speak from the community-at-large group when summarizing her insights into sharing student learning project ideas with teachers, and how both groups can be helpful for each other. The key is awareness − and time to coordinate goals, strategies, outcomes, and evaluations. This TTEC-work workshop afforded such an opportunity.

Turks Cap Lily
Dalton, Massachusetts teacher Meg Donovan remarked that this was her first professional development conference that was multi-state, multi-subject, and sponsored by multiple organizations. She was pleased to find herself energized and excited about taking home more than just a binder of notes.



Enjoying the view on Mary's Rock

Working together with teachers of various grades and subjects definitely spans beyond the usual possibilities.

Attendees enjoyed blackberry ice cream milkshakes at Elkwallow Wayside, four black bear sightings, and the valley view from Mary's Rock while in Shenandoah National Park. On campus, pockets of free time afforded walks to see the endangered animals bred at SCBI, such as maned wolves, red-headed cranes, cloud leopards, and Clint, the Marianas crow. As each day passed, the group evolved from sitting with "who you came with" to new cross-Trail acquaintances, demonstrating the program’s early success through meaningful human connections. As part of the concluding ceremony for participation certificates, the group sang Tora Huntingdon's original "The Appalachian Trail Song" written by her second grade class in Dalton.
Tawnya Finney with a blackberry milkshake!
 Speaking not only for myself but for the entire group − kudos to the fantastic team of TTECwork facilitators: Delia Clark, Facilitator from Woodstock Vermont; Rita Hennessy, Assistant Superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Karen Lutz, Regional Director of ATC’s Mid-Atlantic Region, Kathryn Herndon, of the ATC’s Southwest and Central Viriginia Regional Office, and Betty Gatewood, Shenandoah National Park naturalist/interpreter, and her husband, Mark. Other speakers included Sonja Carlborg from Front Royal, Bonnie Harvey of Portland State University, Dick Hostelley of the Potomac A.T. Club, Marlene Jefferson from Loudon County Virginia, and Pete Irvine of George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

One of FOUR bears spotted in the Park,

Feedback from the entire group, from leaders to participants, shows positive reactions. Nurturing those willing to use their time, energy, and student/parent/community ties with expertise from Trail professionals and the supporting maintenance clubs will help to keep the Trail in good stead for its future.



Trying out a "Hip Pocket Activity"

Getting folks out on the Trail of all ages (it’s always amazing to find locals who know it’s there, but don’t use it) is the main goal. After all, as the African environmentalist, Baba Dioum, remarked in 1968: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” Teaching what the wonders of the Trail can reveal to those who pass over it, and what the Trail needs for its conservation, is why we band together.

The TTECwork 2014 cohort at Mary's Rock!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Report Recommends Giving Teachers Time for Professional Development

May 16, 2014 Reposted from The Joyce Foundation

New Joyce-supported report highlights 17 high-performing expanded-time schools
As demands on teachers increase, schools across the country are expanding their calendars to give teachers more time to collaborate and build new skills. This emphasis on teacher time is particularly important as states implement the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, new teacher evaluation systems, and strategies to turn around persistently low-performing schools.
“Teachers at the schools we studied have twice as much time as teachers in schools with traditional schedules to spend on activities that are crucial to strengthening teaching and improving student achievement,” Jennifer Davis, National Center on Time & Learning co-founder and president, said.“Teachers need more time to develop new teaching approaches and individualize their instruction. This is particularly important for teachers working in high-poverty schools.”
NCTL’s new report on the subject, which was supported by the Joyce Foundation, released May 14, 2014 at an event in Washington, D.C. co-hosted by Teach Plus. Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education at the White House Domestic Policy Council, was a featured speaker at the event.
Time for Teachers: Leveraging Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers examines 17 high-performing and rapidly-improving schools around the country that have taken advantage of expanded school schedules to provide students with more time for engaging academic and enrichment classes and teachers with more time to collaborate with colleagues, analyze student data, create new lesson plans, and develop new skills. On average, U.S. teachers spend approximately 80 percent of their time on instruction, while the international average for countries reporting data to the OECD is 67 percent. Meanwhile, teachers in the schools featured in Time for Teachers spend 60 percent of their expanded school schedule on direct instruction with 40 percent of their time on collaboration, coaching, one-on-one support, and other activities.
Across the 17 schools it examined, Time for Teachers identified six effective practices that have led to teacher and school success. The six practices are:
  • Collaborative lesson planningNearly all of the featured schools provide structured opportunities for teachers – who have varying and often complementary skills – to work together in teams to plan lessons, thereby strengthening each lesson’s quality and rigor.
     
  • Embedded professional development. Through workshops and professional learning communities, teachers at the featured schools spend substantial time with colleagues in active, peer-to-peer learning.
     
  • Summer trainingSeven of the 17 schools convene their faculty for two to three weeks every summer before the school year begins for intensive planning and professional development, including to build a common understanding of their school’s vision and to learn new tools and systems.
     
  • Data analysisThrough the systematic collection and analysis of data on student performance, teachers at the featured schools identify gaps in students’ learning and create action plans to address those gaps.
     
  • Individualized coachingMany of the schools in the report pair teachers with instructional coaches who provide ongoing development, including reviewing lesson plans, observing classroom instruction, and meeting to offer feedback and recommendations.
     
  • Peer observationMany of the schools in the report also create opportunities for teachers to observe their peers. These non-evaluative observations help both the observer and the observed to identify ways to improve instruction.
The report also includes a series of recommendations for practitioners interested in implementing the strategies outlined in the report, along with recommendations for policymakers looking to support teacher excellence. Three of the recommendations for policymakers include:
  • Advance policies that enable schools to implement an expanded school schedule that offers teachers more time for professional learning.
  • Incentivize and fund high-quality, school-embedded professional learning communities.
  • Support job-embedded professional development as part of the training for the Common Core.
Reposted from: http://www.joycefdn.org/as-demands-on-teachers-mount-more-time-in-school-helps-strengthen-instruction-/#sthash.qKruSfCp.dpuf


Friday, July 11, 2014

Small Grant Opportunity

Kids In Need Teacher Grants Help Teachers Realize Their Dreams

Kids In Need Teacher Grants provide preK-12 educators with funding to provide innovative learning opportunities for their students. The Kids In Need Foundation helps to engage students in the learning process by supporting our most creative and important educational resource — our nation's teachers. Grant applications are available online each year from July 15 until September 30.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reading Hike Race!

In Hot Springs, NC, Fourth graders who read 2,175 minutes hiked a mile for each minute read.  The reading/ hiking race went approximately 4 months, and these are the winners! Students get really excited about reading AND the Appalachian Trail on this fun project.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Garlic Mustard Galore with Undermountain Elementary's Trails to Every Classroom Students

We are lucky to have such an enthusiastic bunch of A Trail to Every Classroom (TTEC) students within 5 miles of the Kellogg Conservation Center. Fourth grade teacher at Undermountain Elementary, Sue Garcia, recently joined the TTEC program, and is very excited to have this great outdoor resource so close to her students’ indoor classroom.

Her students have had the chance to take to the outdoor classroom of the Appalachian Trail, going on several naturalist and invasive plant identification hikes with ATC staff and Berkshire Appalachian Mountain Club/Berkshire A.T. Committee volunteers, and Great Barrington Trails partners.  They have had guest speakers talk about thru-hiking the A.T., and they learned about the Boundary and corridor protecting the Appalachian Trail.
On May 7th, Mrs. Garcia’s class came to the Kellogg Conservation Center (KCC) to work with us on an invasive plant removal project. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is invading the trail near the KCC, especially on the East side of Route 41. The 13 students with their teachers and chaperones, listened attentively as ATC’s Northern Resource Management Coordinator, Marian Orlousky, explain and show what Garlic Mustard is, why it is non-native, why this time period in May is best to remove it (before it flowers and seeds), how to remove it, and how to dispose of it.


Marian Orlousky shows the students garlic mustard plants.
Working feverishly, the group started filling more bags than they thought, focusing on getting all the garlic mustard in each square of space they were working on close to the trail.   The guessing for the total weight of the bags kept growing. A section-hiker even walked by and thanked them for what they were doing, and the kids asked him what his trail name was. Pulling invasives can get tiring, so the work was broken up by a few Leave No Trace Trail Ethic lessons. How far is 100’ off the trail? Your disposable water bottle takes how long to decompose? These kids have it down. The very excited group predicted they would pull-up about 30 odd pounds of garlic mustard in their 3 hour timeframe. The group was joined by Steven Smith, the Mass A.T. Committee Natural Resources Coordinator, and Silvia Cassano, the Trail Management Assistant in Southern New England  based out of KCC.
Students guess how long certain items take to decompose
Trying out the weed wrench, used to pull out invasive Japanese Barberry. 


Busy at work
In total the 4th graders succeeded by ATC estimation (magical scales of experience) to have pulled up about 287± pounds of garlic mustard! They were very excited to be able to contribute the pounds they collected to the Garlic Mustard Challenge that The Stewardship Network out of Michigan hosts each year.

So many bags of garlic mustard!
We at the Kellogg Conservation Center /Appalachian Trail Conservancy look forward to working with Mrs. Garcia’s class and future classes again! Thank you to Steve Smith for helping to coordinate this day! We hope her students keep teaching what they know to the people in their lives. They already have become great stewards and are knowledgeable on so many topics involving hiking and the outdoors in the Berkshires! Three “Water Hydration Break Toasts” to Mrs. Garcia’s 4th Graders!

Other Resources:
-Read more about A Trail to Every Classroom
-Read Mrs. Garcia’s Blog Post on “Passing on the A.T. Bug” 
 -Another blog on speaking to Mrs. Garcia’s Class on Thru-Hiking the A.T.
-Great Invasive Plant Guide on how to ID and control invasives:  “A Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts” 
-Quick Visual of Common Invasive Plants in Massachusetts by Mass Audubon
-Very Science-Minded article on Garlic Mustard from Harvard
-Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics Activities for Kids!


Mrs. Garcia's Garlic Mustard Pulling Team


And one for fun...

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald