Monday, November 24, 2014

Balancing Technology and Nature

Technology offers an exciting way to engage your students with the natural world. Use these suggestions to help your students learn new ways to interact with nature and each other.

Get Digital
Take students on a nature walk. Give students opportunities to photograph things in their outdoor environment and bring this information back to the classroom. Early elementary students could make an alphabet book or assemble a display about colors in nature. Upper elementary students could monitor changes over time by photographing plants or trees at different times of the year. Older students could use digital cameras to collect data about the amount of litter in given areas to use in math or science lessons.

Digital Recording Device
Record environmental sounds in a variety of areas around the school. Replay them in the classroom and have students use the information collected to construct a sound map. Or interview several students about a playground event and use the recordings to discuss point of view in writing. Or collect opinions about improving the playground and use the data to construct a variety of graphs. Expand the lesson to teach persuasive letter writing and have students synthesize the data and report it to the school community or leadership.

Apps for Connecting to the Natural World
  • Creek Watch - Be stewards of your local watershed by using this app to snap photos of a local waterway and report how much water or trash there is. The app aggregates the data and shares it with local water agencies to help them track pollution and water resources.
  • Google Earth - Help students explore their natural environment from a bird’s eye view and compare and contrast it with habitats around the world. Layers, including roads, borders and places, provide additional perspective of the surroundings.
  • iNaturalist - Equip your students to record their observations of the natural world and share them with a social network for naturalists, potentially contributing to scientific research.
  • Journey North - Transform your students into citizen scientists by equipping them with this app which allows them to track wildlife migrations and seasonal changes in the environment around them.
  • Nature’s Notebook - Observe and record plant and animal lifecycle events (also known as phenology), such as flowering and bird migration. The observations also help scientists understand how species respond to environmental changes.
  • Project Noah - Engage students in documenting local wildlife by uploading photos to Project Noah as part of a “mission”. A global community can help I.D. their “spottings” which in turn can help scientists keep track of wildlife populations.
  • WeatherBug - Give your students access to the world’s largest network of real-time weather sensors for forecasts, alerts and more. Students can check weather conditions before heading out for field study or collect weather data over time and study how it impacts the local environment.
  • WildLab Bird - Learn the basics of bird identification. This application uses audio, photographs, maps, and the process of elimination to help identify over 200 bird species. Sightings can also be entered into a national bird watching database for comparison.
  • WildObs Observer - Search for and identify thousands of species of mammals, birds, snakes, plants, and more. Log your wildlife encounters for your own calculations or upload them to a national database for comparison.

Field Guides for Outdoor Discovery
  • eNature FieldGuides - This free, comprehensive site provides animal and plant field guides, “ZipGuides” that help you find wildlife based on zip code, mobile apps for iPhone and more.
  • Technology for Field Investigations: Scientist-Driven Technology Practices - Developed by the Pacific Education Institute for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’North American Conservation Education Strategy, this guide describes the technology used by natural resource professionals and available to K-12 students to conduct field investigations, problem solve through stewardship planning and projects and participate in outdoor recreation.

Websites for Digital Exploration
  • BioBlitz Education - Whether participating in a National Geographic/National Park Service BioBlitz (an event that brings together naturalists and citizen scientists, including students, to take a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity) or a schoolyard bioblitz, the experience helps students study biodiversity firsthand with activities that support students to make observations, record data, understand classification and map their findings.
  • Encyclopedia of Life - Educators and students can work within the Encyclopedia of Life to create a collection of schoolyard bioblitz results, generate a field guide to share with the community, and listen to a collection of podcasts that will familiarize students with the diversity of life on Earth.
  • National Geographic FieldScope - National Geographic FieldScope is a web-based mapping, analysis, and collaboration tool designed to support geographic investigations and engage students as citizen scientists investigating real-world topics - both in the classroom and in outdoor education settings.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nominate an Outstanding STEM Teacher Today!

Do you know a STEM teacher that goes above and beyond?

Nominations are open for the STEM Education Award for Inspired Teaching sponsored by Kemin Industries. This award will celebrate educators whose leadership and dedication to STEM in Iowa increases students' interest and awareness in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. One teacher from each of Iowa's six STEM regions will receive a $1,500 award along with an additional $1,500 to be used in their classroom.

Deadline for submissions is December 12, and winners will be announced March 2015. You do NOT need to be a Scale-Up recipient to participate--excellence is everywhere!

Nominate a STEM teacher today at: 

Monday, November 17, 2014

2015 Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant

Funds Available to Aid in Teaching Students about Agriculture through Social Studies and Literacy

The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation in partnership with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is offering grants up to $200 to support the integration of agriculture into regular classroom instruction or after school programs. Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grants are designed to initiate new projects or expand existing projects that promote agriculture literacy. Grants can be used to fund innovative lessons, activities, classroom resources, guest speakers, outreach programs, field-trips and other projects.  

The 2015 grant program focuses on Social Studies and Literacy and will only fund projects relating to these curriculum areas. The focus of the grant changes each year, to allow a variety of projects to receive funding. 

Grant applications must be submitted electronically by January 9, 2015.   The online application is available at:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Spring STEM-based Natural Resources On-line Courses

Registration is open for the spring sessions of our on-line courses. For more information, contact Shannon Hafner, 641/747-2200.
Exploring Iowa’s Natural Resources On-line Course (K-12 Educators)
January 19 – May 3, 2015
“This course has provided me with information and resources to make lessons more relevant and engaging. The focus on inquiry, sense of place, and many other important aspects of teaching have been beneficial in terms of planning lessons and remembering to keep students and student activities at the core of what I do. It’s not just about the content and this course helped rejuvenate my interest in making lessons more student centered.
Learn how to utilize local natural resources as unifying themes to implement a STEM-based approach in your curriculum. You will work in small groups and individually to create a network of contacts and resources to teach natural resource concepts. Group and individual assignments will build on each other throughout the course.

Each week a new course module focusing on a specific environmental education topic, strategy or skill will be available (time requirement 4-5 hours per week). You should be comfortable navigating web pages, have access to internet and a computer on a daily basis, and possess basic computer skills.

Registration deadline is January 12, 2015 - you must register electronically. Registration fee: $225 (includes course materials and 3 license renewal credits). This course is being offered by AEA PD Online, a joint initiative by all of Iowa's Area Education Agencies. This course therefore uses AEA PD Online's alternative fee schedule for license renewal credit. Transcripts and credit will be issued by AEA PD Online instead of Heartland AEA.

Leading Authentic Place-based Student Investigations: Water On-line Course(6-12 Educators)
February 2 – April 16, 2015
"I have gained so much from this class. ...what the others in this class have shared shows me ... I can adapt all things to meet my students’ needs along with my own, the schools, and the district’s needs. I have learned that I need to allow students [to] question more in science and encourage them to explore to discover solutions for problems they face. Letting go a little and letting their questions lead the class in inquiry projects is not as scary as I originally thought. Accepting their thoughts and ideas but directing them when they need guidance is a wonderful way to learn together." 
Engage your students in real scientific research of a local water issue while you improve your own content knowledge and pedagogy. With your students, you will develop and conduct a place-based water student investigation unit (or enhance a current unit).

Each week a new course module focusing on a different topic related to the 5 Essential Features of Inquiry, place-plased learning and Iowa water issues will become available (time requirement 4-5 hours per week). You should be comfortable navigating web pages, have access to internet and a computer on a daily basis, and possess basic computer skills.

Registration deadline is January 23, 2014 - you must register electronically. Registration fee: $150 (includes materials and 2 license renewal credits). This course is being offered by AEA PD Online, a joint initiative by all of Iowa's Area Education Agencies. This course therefore uses AEA PD Online's alternative fee schedule for license renewal credit. Transcripts and credit will be issued by AEA PD Online instead of Heartland AEA.

Monday, November 03, 2014

2015 Take It Outside Art Contest

Celebrating wildlife artist, Maynard Reece & Iowa Fish

Category III First Place 2014 Winner 
Carmen A

“We really had a good time doing the contest. It brought in a lot of good discussion and even the teacher aides were surprised at some of the facts I shared from the DNR website. The kids loved it.”

The Department of Natural Resources invites you to enroll your class in our fourth annual “Take It Outside” Art Contest.

This year’s contest will celebrate the great contributions of wildlife artist, Maynard Reece. Reece is considered one of the founding fathers of wildlife art. As a child, he spent many hours exploring Lake Okoboji. His teachers discovered his artistic ability at the age of 13 and entered one of his drawings in the Iowa State Fair. As a young adult, Maynard worked at what is today known as the State Historical Museum collecting specimens for the museum’s collection and painting fish to create the plates for the original publishing of Iowa Fish and Fishing – this was instrumental in launching his career as a freelance artist. Reece’s fish drawings can be viewed on the DNR website

Students are encouraged to use their artistic skills to create an image of their favorite Iowa fish (see the eligible fish list in the complete contest rules) in its natural habitat. Fish species fact sheets are available on the DNR Education website (click on Fact Sheets/Fish in the Document Library). Starting next month, check out our Take It Outside: Fish Iowa! blog for more information about Iowa fish and Maynard Reece.
New This Year!
We are partnering with the Wildlife Forever® State-Fish Art® Contest to host an Iowa State-Fish Contest in conjunction with our annual Take It Outside Art Contest. The first place artwork in each judging category will be submitted for National Awards. First place winners at the state level will be honored at the annual State-Fish Art Expo this summer.

For more information visit our website.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Seasonal Visits to a Special Outdoor Place

Find a special place outdoor where you and your students can observe nature throughout the school year. Your county conservation board naturalist is a great resource to help you find the perfect spot. Visit this same place each season and observe the changes.

Let each student identify their own special spot within your selected area. To help students select their personal space, play one or both of the following games:
  • Eagle-Eye Game - Close your eyes and pretend to be an eagle soaring over the area. The eagle needs a place to land that is its own special place – find a place to land.
  • Cat-Walking Game - Walk as if you are a cat. Slip along quietly in the shadows on the edge of cover. Walk a few steps and then stand still to sense danger. Turn your eyes and whiskers left, right, behinds, and up. Use your “body radar” to feel which way to go next. Walk a few more steps, the again stop, look, listen, and adjust your course. Keep walking with cat-like awareness until the perfect spot attracts you – settle in.

Have students record their observations in a nature journal or science notebook.
  • Write down what you see, hear, smell or feel.
  • Draw what you see, record how many you see- was their more than one animal?
  • Can you tell the story of what happened when they walked by?
  • Write down what sounds you hear, where do you think they are coming from?

Nature Journaling
Notable scientists, naturalists, and philosophers such as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and John Muir were all known for keeping journals of their observations, poems, and discoveries. Many of their famous literary works and groundbreaking observations were published from their journals.

Check out these great resources with tips on creating nature journals and using science notebooks.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Signs of Fall

Lead students on a walk through a wooded area, schoolyard, local park, or neighborhood sidewalk to look for signs of fall and investigate why leaves of deciduous trees change color.
  • Point out the differences between deciduous and evergreen trees.
  • Ask students to look for signs that indicate winter is approaching and record their observations – encourage students to look for animal signs as well (e.g., birds migrating, squirrels storing nuts).

Encourage critical thinking by asking:
What signs of fall can you see in the trees and on the ground?
How many different leaf colors can you find?
How do leaves change after they fall?
What will happen to the leaves?

Why Do Leaves Change Color?
With fall’s colder temperatures and shorter days, the cells of deciduous tree leaves begin to die. The dead cells block water and nutrients from the leaf. Chlorophyll, the green pigment in the leaves, breaks down and the yellow and red pigments begin to show through.

Native Americans had legends to explain the fall colors. Invite students to create their own imaginative stories.

For more information about Iowa Fall Colors, visit the Iowa DNR website.