Monday, August 10, 2015

PLT Professional Development Workshops Now Online

Project Learning Tree now also offers educators online professional development opportunities that reflect current research and model best practices. The first online workshop is for PreK-8 educators, and more are in development. Online training to support PLT’s GreenSchools! program, and online professional development specifically for early childhood educators, will debut this Fall.

This online workshop is specially designed to help you:
  • Engage your students in learning about the environment—both outside and indoors
  • Make learning and teaching fun with hands-on activities
  • Teach core subjects (especially STEM, reading, writing, and social studies)
  • Meet academic standards (including Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards)
  • Easily incorporate lessons into your existing curriculum or nonformal education programs
  • Become eligible to receive a PLT GreenWorks! grant to fund a service-learning project for your students
  • Meet your professional development requirements
What’s included:
  • Electronic copy of PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide (print version available for an additional fee)
    • 96 activities that are correlated to State Standards, Common Core State Standards, and support the Next Generation Science Standards' three dimensional approach
    • Topics include forests, wildlife, water, air, energy, waste, climate change, invasive species, community planning, and more
    • Download a free sample of this guide!
  • Self-paced online workshop (approximately 4 hours)
    • Introduces you to PLT by highlighting our supplemental curriculum materials, extensive network, and student-led service-learning programs like GreenSchools!
    • Engaging and interactive learning experiences demonstrate select PLT activities and help you plan how best to facilitate them with your students
    • Course can be completed in your own time, wherever you are
Cost $40.00

Register today -

Monday, July 27, 2015

Young Peregrine Falcons Stretching Their Wings

The next generation of Iowa’s expanding falcon population is taking to the sky as young peregrines begin leaving their nests.

Falcons have already fledged at the MidAmerican Energy building in Davenport and at the Alliant Energy plant near Chillicothe. Two male falcons have fledged at the State Capitol in Des Moines, ahead of two females that are rehabilitating after being blown from the same nest during a recent storm. Check the DNR’s website for live streams of falcon nests in Davenport.

Falcons are also fledging at the American Enterprise building in Des Moines and at the USBank building in Cedar Rapids.

Iowa added six nesting pairs this year, which has not happened before.  Additional pairs have been reported at Bellevue, Clayton, Dubuque, Clinton, Muscatine and Keokuk.
Wild peregrine pairs on the Upper Mississippi River cliffs include Agee’s Bluff north of Lansing, Lansing Power Plant cliff, Leo’s Bluff south of Harper’s Ferry, Pattison Sand Mines near Clayton, a huge rock near the state park at Bellevue, and at Dubuque Quarry near Eagle Point Park.

A second Dubuque pair is nesting at the courthouse, at the Power and Light plant smokestack box in Muscatine and at the energy plant dam in Keokuk.

Clinton County is the southern extent of peregrines historic nesting range.  With the inclusion of the new pair, Clinton now has three nesting pairs.  Established pairs at Louisa and Burlington are active this year.

Young falcons hone their flight skills by engaging in mock combat flights that provide incredible visual, high speed chases and maneuvers often attracting non-breeding peregrines to the area.

Last year 15 falcon pairs were successful at 13 sites that produced 34 young.

Learn more about Iowa peregrine falcon restoration efforts at the DNR website.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer Reading List

Add a few nature-themed books to your kids’ summer reading list. They’ll have fun exploring the wonderful world of animals, plants and habitats.

Arnold, C. 2003. Birds: Nature's Magnificent Flying Machines. Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Arnosky, J. 1997. Bird Watcher. Random House Children's Books.
Bateman, R. 2005. Bateman's Guide to Backyard Birds. Barron's Educational Series, Incorporated.
Boring, M. 1998. Bird, Nests, and Eggs. T&N Children's Publishing.
Burnie, D. 2005. Birdwatcher. DK Publishing, Inc.
Cortright, S. 1995. Birding Basics. Sterling Publishing Company, Incorporated.
Craighead, C. 1994. Eagle and the River. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Herkert, B. 2001. Birds in Your Backyard. Dawn Publications.
Kirkland, J. 2002. Take a Backyard Bird Walk. Stillwater Publishing.
Kress, S.W. 2001. Bird Life. Golden Guides from St. Martin's Press.

Amdahl, P. 2000. The Barefoot Fisherman: A Fishing Book for Kids. Clearwater Publishing.
Carney, M. 2002. The Biggest Fish in the Lake. Kids Can Press Ltd.
Parker, S. 2005. Fish. DK Publishing, Inc.
Pfeffer, W. 1996. What its Like to be a Fish (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science Series). Harper Trophy.
Schaefer, L.M. 2001. What Is a Fish?. Coughlan Publishing.
Sill, C. 2005. About Fish: A Guide for Children. Peachtree Publishers.
Winner, C. and B. Lehnhausen. 1998. Trout. Lerner Publishing Group.

Art, H.W. 2003. Woods Walk: Peepers, Porcupines & Exploding Puffballs! What You'll See, Hear & Smell When Exploring the Woods. Storey Kids.
Dundy, M.R., and K. Richardson. 2010. Forests For All. MDCT Publishing.
Evert, L., A.D. Fredericks and K. Feeney. 2000. Forest Animals. T&N Children's Publishing.
Ganeri, A. 2003. Forests. World Almanac Books.
Hooper, R. 2001. Woodlands. T&N Children's Publishing.
Johansson, P. 2004. Temperate Forest: A Web of Life. Enslow Publishers, Incorporated.
Kubesh, K. 2007. Forest Habitats. Hands of a Child.
Nadeau, I. 2001. Food Chains in a Forest Habitat. Rosen Publishing Group, Incorporated.
Penny, M. 2003. Life in a Rotten Log. Raintree.
Roy, J.R. 2005. Addition in the Forest. Benchmark Books.
Sackett, H.K. 2003. Animal Faces in the Forest. School Specialty Children's Publishing.
Shetterly, S.H. 2003. Shelterwood. Tilbury House Publishers.
Tagliaferro, L. 2006. Explore the Deciduous Forest. Coughlan Publishing.

Arnosky, J. 2002. All About Frogs. Scholastic, Inc.
Beltz, E. 2009. Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World. Firefly Books, Limited.
Florian, D. 2005. Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs. Voyager Books.
Marent, T., and T. Jackson. 2010. Frog: A Photographic Portrait. DK Publishing, Inc.
Porte, B. 1999. Tale of a Tadpole. Scholastic.
Ponds, Streams & Rivers
Arnosky, J. 2000. Beaver Pond, Moose Pond. National Geographic Society.
Arnosky, J. 2008. The Brook Book: Exploring the Smallest Streams. Penguin Young Readers Group.
Beatty, R. 2003. Rivers, Lakes, Streams, and Ponds. Raintree Publishers.
Donovan, S. 2003. Animals of Rivers, Lakes and Ponds. Raintree Publishers.
Jackson, K. 2006. Lakes. Capstone Press.
Johnson, R.L. and P.V. Saroff. 2004. Journey into a Lake. Lerner Publishing Group.
Johnson, R.L. and P.V. Saroff. 2004.Journey into a River. Lerner Publishing Group.
Morgan, S. 2000. Pond in the Meadow. Thameside Press.
Oxlade, C. 2003. Rivers and Lakes. World Almanac Books.
Paulsen, G. 2001. Canoe Days. Random House Children’s Books.
Ross, M.E. 2000. Pond Watching with Ann Morgan. Lerner Publishing Group.
Waldbauer, G. 2006. A Walk around the Pond: Insects in and over the Water. Harvard University Press.

Bannatyne-Cugnet, J. 2002. Heartland: A Prairie Sampler. Tundra.
Bright, M. 2002. Endangered and Extinct Animals of the Mountains, Deserts, and Grasslands. Millbrook Press, Inc.
Cole, M.S. 2003. Prairies. Thomson Gale.
Erlic, L. 2005. Grasslands. Weigl Publishers, Incorporated.
Gray, S.H. 2000. Grasslands. Capstone Press.
Jackson, K. and S. Mather. 2006. Explore the Grasslands. Capstone Press.
Johansson, P. 2004. Wide Open Grasslands: A Web of Life. Enslow Publishers, Incorporated.
Johnson, R.L., P.V. Saroff and G. Braasch. 2000. A Walk in the Prairie. Lerner Publishing Group.
Levy, J. 2003. What Lives on a Prairie? Rosen Publishing Group, Incorporated.
Lynch, W. and A. Lang. 2006. Prairie Grasslands. T&N Children's Publishing.
Patent, D.H. 2003. Life in a Grassland. Lerner Publishing Group.
St. Antoine, S. 2001. Stories from Where We Live -- The Great North American Prairie. Milkweed Editions.
Stone, L.M. 2004. Grasslands. Rourke Publishing, LLC.
Thompson, L. 2004. People of the Plains and Prairies. Rourke Publishing, LLC.
Wallace, M.D. 2001. America's Prairies and Grasslands: Guide to Plants and Animals. Fulcrum Publishing.
Winner, C. 2004. Prairie Animals. T&N Children's Publishing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Project Learning Tree Curriculum Pilot

Project Learning Tree is seeking applications from classroom teachers to pilot test two new online units with their students this Fall: “Energy in Ecosystems” for Grades 3-5 and “Carbon and Climate” for Grades 6-8. Stipends are available.

If you are interested in participating, submit the short electronic application form.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Fun Summer Outdoor Experiences

There are lots of simple ways to get kids outdoors in Iowa this summer. Use this as a checklist to guide your outdoor explorations.

Catch Fireflies
A simple, fun way to get kids interested in bugs and other small wildlife. Remind kids to be gentle to avoid crushing the beetles, and if you want to collect them be sure your container has air holes. Take care not to handle fireflies if you’ve applied bug spray to you and your child, as the chemicals in the spray can kill the insects you touch.

Learn to Fish
Every kid needs to try fishing at least once - check out our tips for taking kids fishing. To commemorate the first time your child catches a fish, take a picture to upload onto a congratulatory certificate you can find at

Skip Rocks
Skipping rocks is a great way to relax and spend quality time together. Throw with the current of a river to help you get more skips, making it easier for young arms with less throwing power to achieve success.

See a Goldfinch
Our state bird lives just about everywhere in the state, and their bright yellow plumage makes them easy to spot. Put thistle seeds or black oil sunflower seeds in a finch feeder and wait. Goldfinches are social, so when they come you’ll see plenty.

Make a S’more Over a Campfire
The process of finding a suitable roasting stick, burning a marshmallow or two, and finally getting a golden gem is rewarding. Don’t like marshmallows? Try fire-roasted Starburst for a fruity twist.

Swim in a Lake
Taking a dip is a great way to cool off. Kids can build sand castles and look for shells on shore when they’re done making a splash. Make sure to stay in designated swimming areas, and consider bringing water shoes to protect your feet from debris.

Pick Wild Raspberries
Black raspberries can be found in many public parks throughout the state in late June and early July. Show your child how to pick berries without hurting themselves or the plant, and point out the differences between berries that are safe to eat versus poisonous ones like honeysuckle.

Go Stream Walking
Iowa streams and creeks tend to run cool, and walking in the middle of them wicks away body heat with continual water movement. Take into consideration how deep the stream you want to walk in is beforehand, as kids can tire quickly from slogging through deep water. Wear sturdy footwear that can protect you from debris.

Catch a Frog
Frogs of all types and sizes live in Iowa, but leopard frogs are particularly fun to chase. Their tremendous jumping ability keeps you on the move, but distinctive dark markings and bright gold eyes help you keep track of them. When catching any frog, remind your child to be gentle, as the soft amphibians can be easily hurt by excited fingers.

Visit a Fen or Marsh
These wetland habitats are home to an entirely different set of organisms than we usually see. Bring along binoculars and watch a heron stalk the water for frogs and fish, or look for other animals like ducks, geese, muskrat, cranes, egrets, and shorebirds. Don’t forget the plants; you could find Iowa’s endangered pale green orchids right under your feet. Remember not to pick anything, as these habitats are very ecologically fragile and many of the plants there are protected by federal law.

Chase Butterflies
Catching butterflies can be a great way to get kids excited about insects. Demonstrate catching the butterfly and holding it gently for your child, ideally by carefully pinching all four wing segments between the sides of your fingers. Holding it this way allows you to examine the butterfly without the animal being able to flap its wings, thus preventing damage to the tiny scales that help it fly.

Go Hiking
Iowa’s parks and forests collectively boast over 600 miles of hiking trails, with more being added every year. Go for a stroll or a more difficult excursion, and take plenty of snack and water breaks to enjoy the nature around you.

Try Geocaching
You need a GPS and a list of coordinates, which will take you to sites where you can search for a small container. Geocaching coordinates can be found online for free. The containers at the sites usually contain a notebook with the names of those who have already found the container and a pencil to write your own name with. Some caches have little trinkets inside, but geocaching etiquette says to only take the trinket if you have something of equal or greater value to leave in its place.

Go Camping
Camping gives kids the opportunity to be fully immersed in nature. Bring along children’s creature comforts from home (like blankets from their bed or a favorite stuffed animal) to help them get comfortable with the new environment.

Look for Fossils and Geodes
A very long time ago, Iowa was part of the ocean floor. Over time, sediment built up and created the limestone we now use for making concrete. This type of rock is excellent at preserving fossils, and at multiple sites collectors can look for and keep their finds. Particularly good specimens have been found in the Mason City area, and visitors can learn more at the Floyd County Conservation Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve and Center.

Visit State Preserves and Parks
With 72
state parks and 95 preserves, Iowa has a rich diversity of public lands available for exploration. Seven sites were developed and planned as recreation areas, and offer extensive options for all sorts of activities. Most state parks have camping options, ranging from rustic to the occasional glamourous cabin.

Go on a Bike Ride
Iowa is one of the nation’s leaders in cycling, with nearly 700 miles of paved bike trails. Biking in Iowa is a great way to see the state and get exercise while taking it easy on your joints. The High Trestle Trail is a popular favorite, stretching 25 miles through five towns and featuring a 13-story-high trail bridge over the Des Moines River.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Come along with me….to save energy!

Heading out to the campground this weekend to celebrate the 4th of July?  Enjoy fishing, boating, hiking or just relaxing around the camp fire and sharing stories.  But before you step out the door this weekend remember to get rid of your phantoms!  Phantom energy that is! 

Phantom energy, also called phantom load, vampire power or vampire energy is simply the energy that is “sucked” by appliances and other electronics when you aren’t using them.  Most electronics and appliances use energy just by being plugged in.  That cell phone charger left plugged in until you need it again?  Using energy.  The toaster that only gets used in the morning?  Using energy all day long.  DVD players, televisions, iPods, you name it, all use phantom energy just by being plugged in.  And while the energy used by each individual electronic or gadget may not be much, when you add up all those little pieces you get 10% of a home’s electricity use.  Simply by unplugging all unused electronics and appliances in your home you could save a month’s worth of electricity use every year!

Before you head out the door this weekend take a moment to rid your house of phantoms!  Unplug the toaster and other appliances, unplug the TV, DVD and iPod and turn off any power strips.  Have a fantastic time outside.

Tips for Saving Energy
  • Use a power strip with an on/off switch to plug in a group of items — for example, cell phone and MP3 chargers. When you unplug a device from the charger, just flip the power switch off.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to lower utility bills and manage your heating and cooling systems efficiently.
  • Air dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher's drying cycle.
  • Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
  • Open your blinds or curtains on sunny winter days to let the sun shine into your home.
  • Save hot water by taking short showers instead of baths.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Celebrating Iowa Catfish


Celebrate National Catfish Day (June 25) by learning more about Iowa’s most abundant and widely distributed sport fish.

Catfish are opportunistic bottom feeders that are active at night. They eat all types of living or dead animal and plant material and are most often attracted to odoriferous or "smelly" morsels of food. They depend heavily on their sense of smell and taste to locate food.

Their characteristic barbels are highly sensitive to touch and contain taste buds as well. Catfish have taste receptors all over their bodies. It has been estimated that an adult bullhead has perhaps 100,000 nerve sensory sites on its body.

Iowa Catfish
channel catfish: abundant in most Iowa rivers and have been stocked in nearly all lakes and reservoirs; spawn in the late spring and summer in secluded, often enclosed, places along the bank or bottom – the male guards the eggs until they hatch; eat at all times, but are most aggressive night; an important part of the commercial fishery catch in the Mississippi River

flathead catfish: one of the largest catfish- commonly reach twenty pounds; a "big-water" fish found mainly in the border rivers and large interior rivers; usually in deep pools with mud bottoms; spawn in secluded hides during June and July – build nests and guard the eggs and young; feed mostly at night; an important part of the commercial fishery catch in the Mississippi River

blue catfish: primarily a “big river” fish; spawn in June and early July – construct nests similar to those of channel catfish; omnivorous and eat everything that is available; adults weighing up to 20 or 25 pounds are common

black bullhead: most common of the three bullhead species; abundant in most natural lakes and some man-made lakes; spawns in May or early June usually in weedy or muddy shallow areas; strictly omnivorous – eating nearly every conceivable thing in the water

yellow bullhead: found in clear streams, rivers, overflow pools, lakes and reservoirs; prefers streams with permanent flow, but avoids strong currents; spawns in May and early June in water from 1 1/2 to 4 feet in depth - nests are constructed by the male and the female deposits 2,000 to 7,000 eggs

brown bullhead: found in swamps, ponds, inland pools, lakes, reservoirs, impoundments, and the backwaters and tributaries of larger rivers; prefers clear, cool, well-vegetated waters with bottoms of sand, gravel or dark muck; spawns early in the spring, usually late April or May - male fish fan out a saucer-shaped nest in the mud or nests in natural cavities where the female deposits eggs; feed eagerly on nearly anything available, either living or dead - travel in schools and feed on or near the bottom; seem to be hungry at all times of the day and night

tadpole madtom: found in large interior rivers and the Mississippi River; females usually mate several times during the June through July breeding period; most active at night – eats insects and occasionally algae and other aquatic plants; have a poison gland at the base of the pectoral fin that secretes a mild but painful venom when danger is threatened

slender madtom: found in major tributary streams of the Mississippi River; live entirely in riffle areas of small or medium size streams

stone cat: largest of the madtoms; found in swift-flowing streams; spawns in the spring in areas of darkness, such as under rocks or in bank hides - builds a nest and guards the eggs and young; prefer stream riffle habitats, but are also found under rocks or weedy shorelines of lakes and ponds

freckled madtom:  an endangered species - added to Iowa’s species list in 1984; prefers medium-sized creeks to large rivers of low to moderate gradient with clear to moderate turbidity and silty-gravel or sand-gravel substrates; often found in riffles and pools where organic debris such as leaves or twigs tend to accumulate