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Ky. educators complete Environmental Education Bootcamp

CRAB ORCHARD —Surrounded by the green that is summer in Kentucky, 20 educators from around the state gathered at Maywoods Lodge for the Kentucky Association of Environmental Education’s first EE Bootcamp, where participants spent three days in the green connecting environmental education (EE), conservation, and natural resources with academic standards.

Designed not only for formal educators but also for those working in the field through their roles as staff in state parks or reserves; environmental, residential, and nature centers; or farmers markets, the intensive workshop enhanced educators’ understanding of the Kentucky Academic Standards through environmental education activities. Upon completion of the three-day event, participants were trained as certified educators in Project Learning Tree, Project WET, and Project WILD.

Held in the 1,700-acre natural area and wildlife refuge at Maywoods, Eastern Kentucky University’s Environmental and Research Laboratory, the woods, lake, and streams surrounded the participants during the activities, providing the ideal classroom for the workshop.

The bootcamp was facilitated by Dr. Melinda Wilder, Director of the Division of Natural Areas at Eastern Kentucky University and professor of science and environmental education; Vivian Bowles, retired Madison County science teacher; Brittany Wray, KAEE Education Director; and Ashley Hoffman, KAEE Executive Director. Each day’s activities focused on trainings from Project Learning Tree, Project WET, and Project WILD, with time dedicated to connecting each session to the Academic Standards following the hands-on, minds-on segments.

The bootcamp’s keynote speech came from Dr. Wilder, who has been a member of KAEE for 38 years. She explained that environmental education and “teaching outdoors” are not synonymous, though both are greatly beneficial. The difference, she said, lies in the ways environmental education “uses the environment as a context to teach knowledge, dispositions, and skills as opposed ‘teaching outdoors,’ which is simply going outside to do some type of academic activity.”

The environmental context in EE “is used in a systemic way rather than just tied into random moments,” she said. “You don’t need to use it every day, every week, but it’s intentionally tied into lessons throughout the school year.”

What followed were 13 examples, taken from the training guides for Project Learning Tree, Project WET, and Project WILD, of how to intentionally tie environmental education into lessons throughout the school year. After each activity, the group came together to discuss which Standards were directly targeted in the activity and what additional or different Standards could be targeted if teachers wanted to take a different approach to that particular lesson.

“It’s always beneficial to do the lessons as the student,” said sixth grade science teacher Elizabeth Woods of Floyd County schools. “Completing the activities through the students’ perspective helps you better plan the lessons and realize what would work best.”

While the majority of participants were formal teachers in Kentucky schools, five were nonformal educators who found the workshop beneficial for the ways it gave them a new perspective on the work they do. Connie Lemley, who coordinates educational programs for the Franklin County Farmers Market, said that although knowing the Academic Standards doesn’t relate directly to her work, she’s “grateful for all the deep thinking and ideas about how to present these topics.”

Others in the nonformal educator group said learning about the Standards can help them structure their guided visits with school groups and will allow them to better tailor their lectures to certain age groups. “EE can be tied into about anything we do,” said Debra Necessary of Lake Cumberland State Resort Park. “Now, knowing the Standards, it’d be easy to tie what we do into the class’s curriculum.”

No matter whether they’re teaching in the state’s classrooms or the state’s parks, participants left feeling empowered to intentionally build EE into their work, wherever that might be. “Everything we do,” said Bootcamp participant and University of Kentucky Ph.D student Melissa Benson, “can be built on environmental education.”