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Missouri Environmental Education News
August 2016

Table of Contents: Feature: Going Glocal with Biodiversity, Teaching and Learning: Place-Based Education Exercises, Things to Look Out for in August, Kudos, MEEA News, Grants, Contests and Awards, Conferences, Workshops, Jobs

Dear MEEA Members,

Another whirlwhind month around here! Several of the MEEA crew worked hard all month to pull together a grant proposal to expand the Missouri Green Schools (MGS) program in a big way. If you're not familiar with MGS, it's a program MEEA began in 2017 to assist and recognize schools for progress in the three 'pillars' of a green school: 1) reducing environmental impacts, 2) increasing health and wellness of students, staff, and families, and 3) incorporating environmental and sustainability into the curriculum. Through MGS, we partner with DESE to nominate exceptionally high-achieving schools for the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon School award. Right now MGS is largely a conduit for this federal award, but it is poised to be so much more! If funded, we'll be able to take MGS to the next level in terms of our ability to adequately recognize the many schools doing good work AND our ability to support high needs rural and urban schools in adopting green practices. What a great vision to organize all our partners around: green schools for all Missouri students. I am so truly inspired by our plan, and I look forward to working with all of you to see it realized. Stay tuned for updates in the coming months!

This month's feature article and lesson focus on the topic of place-based education, and were written by Board Members and teachers Karen Keck and Sarah Holmes, respectively. Karen teaches science at Kirksville High School and is an instructor for Upward Bound at Truman University, a program to prepare first-generation college students for success. Sarah teaches middle school science at Barstow School in Kansas City and is a National Geographic Certified Educator. Both of these women are experienced educators and curious systems thinkers who don't shy away from complexity. I hope you'll find their ideas as thought-provoking and motivating as I do!

Lesli Moylan, Executive Director

Going Glocal with Biodiversity

by Karen Keck

Have you heard the new buzzword? “Glocalization” is a strategy to put a global message in the context of a local community.  The idea is that people engage with global issues better when they feel a connection to something around them.

Although children have learned about the biodiversity of the rainforest for years, it is an abstract place.  Less abstract are the places around us that harbor biodiversity of plants and animals. A garden is a good place to start.  So is a woodland, if you have one nearby. Rivers, lakes or ponds are also good places to glocalize it up, listening to insects and watching for birds, maybe finding evidence of biodiversity and the cycle of life in an undisturbed section of water’s edge.

The people we teach don’t need to see hundreds of species at once, but they do need to see a few species well.  In the spirit of “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”, teach thorough observation. How does that leaf feel and smell?  Are there eggs on it? What is the pattern of the veins? Are there nibble margins? Is it the same color throughout? Why or why not?  Is it the same size as other leaves on the same plant? What is the name of the plant from which this leaf is a part? If you don’t know then make up a name that’s descriptive.  Those of us who feel comfortable outdoors, and have an appreciation for the diversity of life, have an obligation to pass this understanding on. Of course there are many kinds of biomes beyond what is in our backyard, we must realize what’s in that backyard biome first.

We learn that when rainforests are cut down biodiversity is affected.  Animals are driven off and killed, plants and their accompanying protists, bacteria and fungi are destroyed along with them.  Over time the soils, stripped of their organic matter, harden and become unsuitable for forest regeneration. Heavy tropical rainfalls are no longer absorbed and filtered through a vibrant ecosystem, resulting in erosion and stream degradation.

Compare the intact rainforest and the rainforest that was clear cut with the difference between a native prairie ecosystem and a modern corn field.  In the spirit of biodiversity glocalization, walk into a corn field at the end of the summer or early fall. All that greenery is deceiving. Yes, there is life in an abundant form, brought about by the serious life work of  not only farmers, but plant breeders, chemists, machine manufacturers, salesmen, and the massive remaining network that supports it. In that corn field what do you see? Corn obviously, with maybe grass or other plants on the edges, and deeper into the field thinning out quickly into bare soil between rows.  Perhaps there will be an outcropping of weeds where seed or chemical was washed out, but the goal is containment. It is rare to hear any evidence of life beyond the rustling of leaves.

An effective way to go glocal when teaching about the  extreme effects of biodiversity loss in the Midwest is to study a modern agricultural system.  Although many farmers have embraced conservation measures to make large-scale agricultural production more environmentally friendly we cannot ignore the impact the system has on our soil and water quality, wildlife habitat, and the species richness of plant communities when compared to what native ecosystem it replaced.

Roughly 40% of corn produced in the U.S. is used for ethanol production, 40% is used for livestock feed, and most of the rest is exported.  Interesting discussions arise regarding the use of food for fuel, since ethanol comes with significant fossil fuel expenditures in fertilizer and pesticide production, and the assembly and use of big machinery.  Another interesting discussion has to do with our national meat production and consumption, and how it affects not only farmland, but also water. Our exports are affected by concern other countries have over the genetics of our corn, which is mostly modified, and by volatile international markets.

Compare the corn field with a healthy prairie ecosystem of equal size and we see the ecological differences that accompany biodiversity.  We are all agricultural consumers, and therefore economic voters about land management. Bringing home our own biodiversity challenges will teach us about the pressures of economic gain, larger global populations, and natural resource management, and perhaps make us more humble global citizens.

Credits: Kate Carter, National Center for Science Education blog, 07-07-2019

"Reflections" by Wanda Moore, Winner Best in Show
2019 Focus on Missouri Agiculture Photo Contest

Place-Based Education Exercises

contributed by Sarah Holmes

In the book “Into the Field: A Locally Focused Guide to Teaching”, author John Tallmadge writes about the invisible landscape. He notes that when most people spend time outdoors, they tend to lump living things into categories like “weeds”, “grass” and “woods”.  One of the ways to help students become better observers is to ask them to spend time outside involved in structured activities that involved observing, describing and interpreting what they see. Here are three exercises that you can do with students to encourage them to refine their observation skills.

Paint Chip Activity: Gather a variety of colors of paint chip samples from a home improvement store. Punch a hole in them, and string them together so that each group of students has a few to look at. Take the students on a short walk in nature and ask them to find things in nature that match the color of the paint chip. Students can share what they find and reflect on the activity.

Ecological Role Playing: In this activity, you ask your students to imagine themselves as an organism in the surrounding environment. What would the world look like if they were a toad, mosquito, or coyote? How and where would they spend their time? Who would they be wary of and who might be a helper to them? What would the human constructed landscape look like through their eyes?

Ecological Powers of Ten: This is a powerful lesson in visualization. After students spend time in a particular landscapes, ask them to find a spot that they feel connected to. Have them sit in the spot and ask them to think about what that spot will look like in 6 hours. How would the light change? Would there be different organisms around? Then have them visualize the same spot in 6 days, 6 months, and 6 years.  Students can write about their ideas, or share orally. Depending on the age group of the participants, it could be extended to have them visualize the area in 60, 600, or even 6000 years!

As environmental educators, providing an opportunity for students to look more closely at the environment is a step toward helping them to care, understand, and act for the environment. 

Things to Look for (or Look Out for) in August!

(check out all the green holidays)

What to Look for Right Now - MDC's list of What's Out There in August!

Kudos

Kudos to the U.S. Green Building Council's Missouri Gateway Chapter for their successful Green Schools Quest program, launching its 7th season! The GSQ is a project-based contest that pairs a school with a mentor from the community to work together for a period of six months. It's a great way for a school to engage students and staff in learning about and implementing green practices. Schools have until September 15 to sign up, and Mentors have until August 31 to register. This is a great opportunity for informal educators to team up with classroom teachers! Schools throughout most of Missouri are eligible for this neat program.

Kudos to Saint Louis Zoo Climate Communications. Posted online front & center, the Zoo’s Climate Position sets the bar for response to climate change issues. Zoo actions are science based, drawing on physical, biological and social science resources. Visitors hear first-hand video accounts of the effects of climate change from the indigenous community that was home to Kali the polar bear. Staff and volunteer conversations with visitors are supported by the Zoo’s internal Climate Communications training program. Save the date for Climate Solutions Day at the Saint Louis Zoo: Sunday September 29.

Kudos again to the students of New City School for their civic engagement! The pawpaw, a Missouri native tree, was officially designated the state fruit tree of Missouri when Governor Parson signed Senate Bill 210 on July 11. “Two years ago, during the election, our students voted on a possible new symbol for Missouri,” said Mr. Alexis Wright, head of the New City School, an independent elementary school in St. Louis. “The students thought that the pawpaw had a lot of potential to become a new Missouri state fruit tree because it is native to our state, high in nutrients, and its fruits ripen in August, the same month Missouri was founded. Students wrote numerous letters and received a Resolution from Senator Karla May, and she sponsored the bill.” In 2018, a number of the students involved in the project the previous year traveled to Jefferson City for a Missouri House of Representatives committee hearing meeting to testify for the pawpaw to become a new state fruit tree.

Kudos to the Missourians who submitted photos to the annual Focus on Missouri Agriculture Photo Contest. Congratulations to Wanda Moore for the Best in Show award for "Reflections". Learn about the contest and see all the 2019 submissions at https://tinyurl.com/y6bc3sxt.

Kudos to Christa Taylor, Kirkwood Early Childhood Educator, for the hard work and creativity she pours into her Instagram account outside of her teaching time. Environmental Education takes many forms, and "showme_zerowaste" is teaching individuals how to take steps to eliminate waste in our everyday choices. Way to go, Christa!

Kudos to the St. Louis County Parks and their partners on the "Pollinator Pantry" project. Begun in 2015, this program continues to grow and innovate. Their work to match pollinators with the plants they visit (and share that knowledge with the public) has grown beyond garden centers to include a partnership with researchers at St. Louis University studying bees and curriculum integration in the Ladue and Kirkwood School Districts. Schools interested in certifying their gardens as Pollinator Pantries can go to https://www.stlouisco.com/Parks-and-Recreation/Pollinator-Pantry to learn more.

Kudos to the birders who halted tree trimming at a St. Louis heron rookery and saved 4 juvenile Little Blue Herons whose nest had fallen to the ground. Check out this story to see more about the many herons and egrets nesting at this urban site this year due to all the flooding. https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/news/conservation/tree-trimmers-damage-st-louis-heron-rookery/

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