Friday, December 19, 2014

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes

Des Moines – Iowa State Parks will sponsor free, guided hikes in five state parks on New Year’s Day as part of America's State Parks First Day Hikes initiative in all 50 states. 

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1 at a state park close to home. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. 

“We are excited to host First Day Hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks.  First Day Hikes are a great way to cure cabin fever and burn off those extra holiday calories by starting off the New Year with an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau.  

Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD), said last year, state parks across the country hosted nearly 28,000 people who hiked 68,811 miles as part of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. “Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle, for the whole family. Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling, join us at one of America’s State Parks on New Year’s Day,” Geigis said.

Iowa’s state parks boast a variety of beautiful settings for year-round outdoor recreation, and each First Day Hike will offer an opportunity to explore the unique natural and cultural treasures close to home. 

“Studies have proven that getting outdoors is one good way to relax and recharge the body, mind and spirit,” stated Lewis Ledford, NASPD’s executive director.  “We hope that hiking along a trail in a state park will become part of an individual’s or family’s regular exercise routine.”

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Mass.  The program was launched to promote both healthy lifestyles throughout the year and year round recreation at state parks.  Last year marked the first time all 50 state park systems have joined together to sponsor First Day Hikes.

Park staff and volunteers will lead the hikes, which average one to two miles or longer depending on the state park.  Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America’s State Parks website.  Visit to find a First Day Hike nearest you.

In Iowa, hikes will be offered at the following locations and times:
  • Bellevue State Park, Jackson County – 1 p.m. – meet at South Bluff Nature Center
  • Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, Webster County – 1 p.m. – meet at Prairie Resource Center
  • Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, Dubuque County – 1 p.m. – meet at EB Lyons Nature Center
  • Walnut Woods State Park, Polk County – 9 a.m. – meet at Walnut Woods Lodge
  • Waubonsie State Park, Fremont County – 1 p.m. – meet at park office

For more information about the hikes, go to the events calendar on the DNR website.

America's State Parks is committed to promoting outdoor recreation in state parks as a way to address obesity, especially among children.  Getting kids outside and unplugged from video games and other electronic media creates a unique connection with nature that promotes physical and mental well-being and encourages creativity and stewardship of our shared resources.

Media Contact: Todd Coffelt, Chief, State Parks Bureau, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-725-8485.        

Monday, December 15, 2014

115th Christmas Bird Count - Gathering Information for Bird Conservation

The 115th Christmas Bird Count will be conducted from Sunday, December 14, 2014 through Monday, January 5, 2015. This longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, provides critical data on population trends. The data collected by observers over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists, and interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

If you would like to participate, check out the searchable map to find a counting "circle" near you. Below is information about the Jamaica Circle event at the Springbrook Conservation Education Center.

Audubon Christmas Bird Count (Jamaica Circle)
Thursday, December 18, 2014

Early morning owling and birding on your own/join us if you wish

7:00 – 7:30 am - Meet at the Springbrook Conservation Education Center (north of Guthrie Center) to organize parties; optional for those with pre-arranged areas.

12:00 pm - Compare notes and have lunch at Just Ethel’s in Yale. Those who wish to continue will decide areas to cover.

5:00 pm - Return to Springbrook Conservation Education Center for compilation and Chili (You may phone or email results if you prefer.)

If you have questions, please contact: Anne Riordan; work: 641-747-8383 ext 10; cell: 641-431-1455;

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Upcoming PLT/Trees for Kids Training

Implementing the Iowa Core Through Site-based Projects
January 23, 2015
8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Lunch provided
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden (909 Robert D Ray Drive, Des Moines)

Iowa Project Learning Tree is teaming with Trees for Kids and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden to conduct workshops to help educators learn how to develop a school site outdoor project to implement a STEM based approach to your curriculum. We will introduce a variety of teaching methods and materials (including Project Learning Tree)that can be used to develop a project based learning unit to include: tree planting, care and maintenance on or near your school site. Teaching partners/groups are encouraged to facilitate planning/implementation of projects. This training is an opportunity to fulfill your Trees for Kids grant requirements.

Registration Deadline: January 9, 2015 
Registration Fee: $20.00; Registration form and fee must be received by the deadline to secure your spot at the workshop. Checks made payable to: IA Department of Natural Resources. Mail the form and fee to: Education and Outreach, Attn: School Site Projects, 2473 160th Road, Guthrie Center, IA 50115. Cancellation requests (for a full refund) must be received no later than January 12, 2015.

For questions regarding the workshop, contact: Laura Wagner, phone: (515) 725-8456, email: or the Project Learning Tree office, phone: (641) 747-2200, email:

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Real Scientific Research and Data Professional Development

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). Explore the DNR data resources and learn how you can use them in your classroom.

Each week a new course module focusing on a different topic related to the 5 Essential Features of Inquiry, place-based 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, 2015 - 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.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Chickadee Tax Check-off

Last year, more than 8,000 Iowa taxpayers helped boost wildlife conservation with donations to the Fish and Wildlife Fund on their tax form. This marks the fourth straight year donations to the fund have increased, a trend that Stephanie Shepherd, DNR Wildlife Diversity Biologist, hopes to continue in 2014.

“The amount Iowans are donating to the fund is growing after a 10-year downward trend,” said Shepherd. “Those donations go directly to research and habitat development for some of Iowa’s most vulnerable animal species, so the funds are very important for natural resources.”

According to Shepherd, Iowans donated $136,000 last spring when completing their 2013 tax forms.

The Fish and Wildlife Fund, known popularly as the “Chickadee Check-off,” is a mechanism the Iowa Legislature created in the 1980s for Iowa citizens to donate to wildlife conservation on the Iowa state tax form. At its height, Iowans donated more than $200,000 annually to the fund. According to Shepherd, one of the main reasons for the decline is the increase in electronic tax filing.

“It is easy to pass over or forget, and many tax preparers may not remember to ask whether a client wants to donate,” said Shepherd. “It may be up to the taxpayer to remind their preparer, or check out the completeness of the electronic program they are using.”

According to Shepherd, donating on the tax form is easy: simply write the amount to donate next to the Fish and Wildlife Check-Off (somewhere between lines 55-60 on Form 1040) and the sum is either automatically deducted from the refund or added to the amount owed. As with all charitable contributions, the amount is deductible from next year’s taxes. 

“Currently only about half a percent of Iowans donate,” said Shepherd. “Our goal in 2014 is for more people to find the check off on their tax form, and to increase donations by 10 percent.”

All proceeds from the check-off support the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Diversity program, responsible for protecting more than 1,000 fish and wildlife species in the state. Money from the Check-off helps improve wildlife habit, fund research studies, support the reintroduction of threatened or endangered species, and much more.

DNR CONTACT: Stephanie Shepherd at 515-432-2823 ext. 102 or

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

PLT GreenSchools – Free Kits

Project Learning Tree’s GreenSchools! inspires students to take personal responsibility for improving the environment at their school, home, and in their community. Schools can choose to become certified by Project Learning Tree as a way to honor their students, teachers, and other members of the school community who save energy, reduce waste, recycle, conserve water, and improve their school grounds, among other projects.

PLT has revised its GreenSchools! certification program to reflect environmental education in the curriculum, student leadership, and environmental action. Free kits containing a variety of recognition items will be awarded to the first 10 schools that meet PLT’s new requirements to become a Certified PLT GreenSchool.

PLT GreenSchools! certification recognizes a school’s commitment to teaching students about the environment, and maintaining a healthy and sustainable learning environment. Regardless of where you are on the continuum, there is always room for growth and PLT, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, is proud to provide a variety of resources, grant opportunities, and other support to schools, teachers, and students who lead the way for a more sustainable future.

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.