Visit Your Local Nature Center

October 28th, 2013 by Krissy

Some nature centers, like the new Robinson Nature Center in Howard County, MD even provide information about the Chesapeake Bay watershed! Image courtesy of

Wonder where to get your students outside and exploring nature?  Look no further than your local nature center.

Nature centers usually offer environment education programs for K-12 students.  Participating in one of these programs is a great way to get your students’ hands wet and feet dirty.  The center’s seasoned staff will take your students on a journey of discovery.  Programs usually cover a variety of topics from critters in the classroom to hands-on restoration or land use issues.

The best way to find a nature center in your area is to search through our online database or a simple Google search.  Some states also have a directory, such as the Pennsylvania Nature Center Directory, which lists nature centers by county.

Krissy Hopkins is a former Chesapeake Bay Program Staffer and is currently pursuing her PhD in geology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Celebrate Earth Day with These Featured Lessons and Activities

April 16th, 2012 by Sarah

For Earth Day or EE Week, have your students learn about Math by examining your school's recycling habits! Image courtesy of Tulane Public Relations via Flickr.

This year Earth Day falls on a Sunday, so you can encourage your students to celebrate with their families by being active outside over the weekend.  Whether they help their parents with yard work and gardening, participate in a stream clean-up, or plant trees at a community celebration your students will be getting some exercise while enjoying the outdoors.

Though your students will not be in class on Earth Day, this week is National Environmental Education Week (EE Week), and it is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the earth in your classroom. During the week, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Earth Day, no matter what subject you teach.  Here is a selection of some activities you could use:

In Social Studies – Have your classes learn about the First Earth Day and watch these video clips of Senator Gaylord Nelson’s April 21, 1970 Earth Day eve address. Your class can discuss why we celebrate Earth Day, how the social, political, and environmental climate of the 60s and 70s may have influenced public support for the grassroots movement, and how that support impacted federal policies and priorities (the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, etc.). Your students can also check out the EPA@40 website from 2010 to learn about some of the progress that has been made since the 70s.

In Math – Have your students inventory your class, cafeteria, or school waste to determine how much recycling and trash is produced.  You can also have them calculate how much of the trash could actually have been recycled.  This type of activity can feed into a longer term Waste-Free Wednesday or Litterless Lunches initiative in your school.  For more information on how to use such programs as teaching tools, please refer to our Waste-Free Wednesday and Litterless Lunches blogs.

In Science – One of the most important components of any Earth Day/EE Week Celebration is simply to get your students outside, and outside your options are limited only by your imagination.  For example, you can get your students outside and teach them about the Chesapeake Bay with the Grasses, Grasses Everywhere Lesson Plan; in which students investigate the properties of aquatic grasses (SAV) and compare them to the grass in the schoolyard.  Alternatively, you could use the Succession and Forest Habitats Lesson Plan. This lesson has several components, and for the last one your students will collect data on trees in the schoolyard, use the information to predict how many birds will be found in the schoolyard, and devise a plan to improve habitat for migratory songbirds in the schoolyard.

In Language Arts – It may seem obvious, but a great way to celebrate Earth Day with your students is to have them read environment-related books (especially outside).  The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a great option for younger students, and selections from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson would work well for advanced readers.  For more literature selections, please refer to Bay Backpack’s Reading the Environment blog, the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Green Reading List for Educators, or the EPA’s Wetlands Reading List for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12.

Sarah Brzezinski a Chesapeake Conservancy Intern and serves as the manager of Bay Backpack. She is a former Chesapeake Research Consortium/Chesapeake Bay Program Fostering Stewardship Staffer.

Reading the Environment

April 11th, 2011 by Megan

You can engage your students in learning about the environment by reading to them! Photo courtesy of the San Jose Library via Creative Commons.

Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.

There is no drop of water in the ocean, not even in the deepest parts of the abyss, that does not know and respond to the mysterious forces that create the tide.”

With these words Rachel Carson initiated a tide change of her own.  Silent Spring, published in 1962, sparked the environmental movement by alerting Americans to ecological dangers associated with widespread application of unexamined pesticides such as DDT.  A wealth of environmental literature, fiction and non-fiction, is available for readers of all ages.  Why not celebrate Environmental Education Week or Earth Day with a book?

Beginning Reader Recommendations

The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss’ Lorax speaks for the trees in a story that warns children of the ecological dangers of smogulous smog and teaches the hope that comes with planting seeds.

A Day in the Salt March, by Kevin Kurtz, illustrations by Consie Powell

This book describes with rhyming verse and bright illustrations all of the bustling activity that takes place in a marsh in one day.

Animal Poems of the Iguazu, by Francisco X. Alarcon, illustrations by Maya Christina Gonzalez

Children can use this book’s colorful illustrations and poems describing creatures found in the Iguazu National Park to appreciate the differences between wildlife in the Bay watershed and around the globe.

Advanced Reader Recommendations

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau describes a two year period he spent living on Walden Pond. This book outlines the author’s thoughts on an individual’s independence and society’s interactions with the natural world.

A Sand County Almanac, by Leopold Aldo

This collection of essays by Wisconsin ecologist Leopold Aldo offer ideas on environmental ethics and dilemmas surrounding the real world application of conservation practices.

Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit, by Daniel Quinn

This novel, which earned the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award, is a classic story of man and telepathic ape. The author explores philosophies behind sustainable living and leaves readers to answer the question “With man gone will there be hope for gorilla?”

For additional resources please visit the Environmental Literacy Council, or your local library.

Megan Hession is the Chesapeake Bay Program's Habitat Team Staffer.

Celebrate Earth Day All Month Long

April 4th, 2011 by Sarah

Earth Day is a great opportunity to engage children in learning about their environment. Photo courtesy of US FWS via Creative Commons, photographer Rick L. Hansen.

Earth Day was founded by Unites States Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin as a “national teach-in on the environment,” and was first held on April 22, 1970. It became a global event in 1990 with environmentally focused events taking place in 141 countries.  This April, don’t just celebrate Earth Day on the 22nd, make it a month long celebration!  Here are some resources and events to help you get started:

National Environmental Education Week: In 2011, National Environmental Education Week (EE Week), the nation’s largest environmental event, will be held from April 10-16.  Here in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed we will be celebrating the 2011 EE Weeks’s focus on Ocean Connections in the nation’s largest estuary!

National Park Week: Celebrate National Parks Week from April 16-24, 2011 in one of our 364 national parks! This year’s focus, Healthy Parks, Healthy People, highlights the connection between human and environmental health and the vital role America’s national parks play in both.

International Year of the Forest: The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. Learn more on their website!

US EPA Earth Day Website: This website contains information on how to find and get involved in local Earth Day Activities. It also provides teachers with links to EPA environmentally focused lesson plans

Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools: Use this resource to help your school and school district reduce the amount of waste you generate. This detailed resource will guide you through how to conduct a waste assessment and tell you how to start a waste reduction program or expand an existing one.

The Quest for Less: Activities and Resources for Teaching K-8: The Quest for Less is designed for teachers to use as one of the many tools in the development of lesson plans. The activities and concepts in this resource can be used to commemorate Earth Day through their focus on Natural Resources, Products, Waste, Source Reduction, Recycling, Composting, Landfills and Combustion, and Putting it all Together.

Bay Backpack Teacher Resources: Use our Teacher Resources section to find an activity or lesson plan related to the Chesapeake Bay for your Earth Day event!

Sarah Brzezinski a Chesapeake Conservancy Intern and serves as the manager of Bay Backpack. She is a former Chesapeake Research Consortium/Chesapeake Bay Program Fostering Stewardship Staffer.

Help the Chesapeake this Earth Day

April 19th, 2010 by Karey
This rain garden collects water that drains off the roof of the building allowing the water to slowly sink back into the ground.

This rain garden collects water that drains off the roof of the building allowing the water to slowly sink back into the ground.

The 33rd annual Earth Day celebration will be held nationwide Thursday April 22, 2010! What can you and your classroom do to help the Chesapeake Bay?  You probably won’t have to look far on your school grounds to create a project.  Here are some ideas!

Collecting rainwater with rain barrels is a great way to help the environment and it also provides a source of free water.  Source: Flickr, Joebart

Collecting rainwater with rain barrels is a great way to help the environment and it also provides a source of free water. Source: Flickr, Joebart

Plant Rain Gardens, Trees, or Wildlife Habitats
Plants serve as great buffers to prevent runoff, provide clean air, and can serve as homes for local wildlife which can be studied by students at a later date. Students can continue to care for these areas, creating a long-term learning experience for all ages.

A rain garden is full of native plants in a dug-out low-lying area, and collects runoff from roofs, sidewalks, and other hard surfaces. In the garden, this water can be absorbed instead of going straight into storm drains that lead to the Bay. Not only will this decrease polluted runoff, (the only source of pollution to the Bay that is growing) but it will increase available groundwater.

Planting native trees will prevent runoff and erosion, as well as provide a habitat for local birds and other wildlife. Native plants are well suited to the local environment, and will require less care than non-native species.

Both the rain garden and the native trees will provide habitats for local wildlife, but you could also have your local habitat become a certified National Wildlife Federation wildlife habitat. You will have to provide food, water, cover, and places to raise young. This will serve multiple purposes, including providing a perfect laboratory for students to observe local wildlife.

Install Rain Barrels

Rain barrels attach to buildings’ downspouts and collect rainwater from the roofs. This will serve two purposes on your school grounds – it will help prevent runoff from leaving grounds carrying nutrients, sediments, and chemicals to the Bay, plus it will provide “free” water
to use when taking care of the gardens, trees, and wildlife habitats you
just planted!

Work with your maintanence staff to create a "No-Mow Zone" in your schoolyard.  Source: Flickr, Orchid8

Work with your maintanence staff to create a "No-Mow Zone" in your schoolyard. Source: Flickr, Orchid8

Create a No-Mow Zone
Is there a stream, creek, or drainage ditch that runs through/near school property? In addition to planting trees as discussed above, you could have your school designate the areas around the water as a “Now-Mow Zone”. No-mow zones are areas that are allowed to naturally grow and that are not cut the way traditional lawns are maintained. This will allow grasses and shrubs to grow, and provide a habitat for local wildlife as well as preventing runoff, and decreasing the cost of gasoline for mowing this area. Over time, shrubs and trees will fill in this area.

Remember, if you are hosting a school-wide event, the best way to make an impact would be to lead by example. Recycling, composting uneaten lunches, and water conservation while planting are great ways to start! Encourage students to bring reusable bottles to carry their water in, instead of using a fresh plastic bottle each time.

Additional Resources:
Schoolyard Activities/Lessons – Bay Backpack
Earth Day Events – Chesapeake Bay Program
Educators Take Action – Earth Day Network

Karey Harris is an Environmental Management Staffer with the Chesapeake Research Consortium.