Learning Outdoors

Resources from Environmental Education - 3/25/21

The SDW Environmental Education team will be sending weekly newsletters throughout the school year. Our hope is that some of the activities will support your classroom learning, inspire you to take your students outside, or spark a creative idea for you. If there are specific topics that you would like us to explore, please feel free to reach out with your ideas or suggestions! We can support you best when we know what you need!

Phenology Phorum

First Day of Spring!

written by EE teacher Laureanna Raymond-Duvernell

It’s finally here! We can feel it in the air, smell it in the trees and see it all around us. The official first day of spring is this Saturday, March 20.

But what does that actually mean? The first day of spring is called the vernal equinox. Vernal = spring. Equinox = Equal day and night. So, the first day of spring is when we celebrate having equal amounts of sunlight and not-sunlight, or around 12 hours of each at most locations around the world.

So while we have been seeing signs of spring for a month or so, it’s REALLY here after this weekend! Keep your eye, ear, nose and intuition out for more signs that the days are lengthening and the earth is being warmed by the sun once again.

A great book for sharing the transition of seasons with kids is Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring by Kenard Pak. Read it together and then go on a hike to search for these signs of spring!

Citizen Science: Salamander Reporting

Check out an interesting opportunity form the WI Department of Natural Resources:

"Wisconsin's secretive salamanders spend most of their lives on land hidden under leaf litter, logs and rocks. They return to fishless aquatic habitats only for breeding, so you may see them crossing roads in the coming weeks to reach breeding ponds. The first warm, spring rains or thunderstorms are usually their trigger to head to their breeding habitats. And it's not just salamanders crossing the road on these rainy nights, it's frogs, too!

Help us save these amphibians by reporting roads where you see them crossing or dead on the road. This helps us identify important crossings so we can mitigate the impacts of road mortality on these species, as well as on snakes and lizards that like to bask on warm roadways during cold days."

Report road crossings using this form!

Leave the Leaves!

Does Spring fever leave you tempted to clean out your gardens and landscape? Please wait! By leaving last year's leaves and growth on the ground until temperatures consistently are around 50 degrees benefits our pollinators! Bees, butterflies and other insects overwinter in dead stems and plants and removing them too early removes the hibernating insects, too! Read more here!

Your Digital Footprint: Data and Energy Use

This video from The California Academy of Sciences explores how our usage of different technologies impacts our energy footprint. They have compiled discussion questions and other follow-up resources here.
Your Digital Footprint: Data and Energy Use | California Academy of Sciences

Music to Save Earth's Songs

Music to Save Earth's Songs is a project sponsored by Oregon State University and is inspired by Kathleen Dean Moore's new book Earth's Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World (Counterpoint Press, Feb. 2021). The project features short "Animal Interlude" performances that feature music, spoken word, and sounds from animals. The hope is that these performances can inspire us to protect species from extinction so that we don't lose the wild songs of the earth. You can find all of the "Animal Interludes" on their youtube channel.

Animal Interlude: Common Murre read by Robin Kimmerer with music by Erika Nagamoto and Titus Young

Planetarium Corner

Each week, Lisa Swaney (the Planetarium Director) will share some fun opportunities here!


Interested in becoming a more avid stargazer? Attached are a few helpful tools to get you started on this journey. First is a monthly printable sky map that shows you the position of the major stars and constellations each month. Three editions of this map exist- one for northern-hemisphere observers, one for observers that live near the equator, and one for southern hemisphere observers. These maps help start anyone at stargazing.

The second tool, which is far more powerful, is the planetarium software called Stellarium. This computer-based software shows a realistic sky, very much like you see with your unaided eye, binoculars or a telescope. Stellarium shows location of the stars and the planets along you to examine the night sky before observing it in person. It is available free for your PC and/or Mac.

Tree Benefit Calculator

The Tree Benefit Calculator developed by Casey Trees and Davey Tree Expert Co. allows anyone to calculate a first-order approximation of the benefits individual street-side trees provide. This tool is based on i-Tree’s street tree assessment tool called STREETS. With minimal inputs of location, species and tree size, users will get an understanding of the environmental and economic value trees provide on an annual basis.

Not sure what species of trees are living in your neighborhood? Download the Urban Tree Key to help figure it out!

Virtual Classroom Visits from a Tree Farmer

Thanks to a grant from the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) Implementation Committee, the Wisconsin Tree Farm Committee is currently offering free “virtual visits” from a tree farmer to your classroom, and LEAF is partnering to help bring this opportunity to you. These talks from a forest industry professional can be personalized in length and content to fit your needs. Please feel free to share this invitation with interested colleagues. The WTFC has also released “Virtual Tree Farm Field Day 2020,” a series of videos that may be of interest to you personally, or to show in your classrooms.

Learning Opportunities

Summer Biotech Courses from BTC Institute

Two courses this summer on the basics of biotechnology - July 12-16 (maybe in-person) and July 26-30 (virtual). Courses are free and teachers receive a $100/day stipend for attendance.

Stanford NGSS Assessment Project - Free Online Courses

Three, free online courses on assessment in NGSS (applies to WSS) that progressively dig deeper into integration of performance tasks. They are starting now.

Summer Ecology Summits

UW Madison with Wisconsin Tribes and Native partner organizations have a series of summer sustainable ecology summits. These are free and virtual.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology- Virtual Educator Retreat

Inspiring Investigations through Citizen Science includes six weekly webinars to provide networking opportunities, meaningful discussion, and inspiration from guest presenters. July 6-Aug 11, 2021

X-STEM Speaker Series for Students - April 20-23

This free virtual conference series takes place at 12pm CT each day from April 20-23 and is designed to showcase diversity and inspire students about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. Each session is 45 minutes long.

Step Outside and into Health and Wellness Engagement: Outdoor Classroom Leadership

Harness the benefits of the most interactive instruction possible: learning on school grounds, outside the four walls of the classroom. This workshop is designed for K-8 teachers who are new to conducting class outside and are looking to boost their skills with beginning level resources. Participants learn how to conduct class outside on any type of school grounds (from urban concrete to rural forests) in order to engage and inspire students in learning. Guidelines, rules, safety considerations, resources and handouts will be provided so teachers have everything they need to lead confidently. The class also includes training in Project Learning Tree’s K-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide, and you will receive an e-book version of the PLT guide. You'll also receive a Step Outside kit in the mail for hard copies of resources and supplies for conducting a project-based environmental education product. Cost is $50, register here

Conservation Career Day - Virtual Panels

Please help us spread the word about our virtual Conservation Career Day! We've brought together an exciting group of professionals in four panels: Science & Conservation Biology, Engineering & Technology, Wildlife Veterinary Medicine & Rehabilitation, and Education & Outreach. This online event is held on Zoom and is ideal for families with 7th-12th graders and undergraduate students. Students are invited to pick and choose which panels to attend. Join us on April 18th to discover amazing careers in conservation.

NASA STEM Challenges

Check out these engaging STEM Challenges for students in grades 3-8. Resources for students are available in English and Spanish.

Explorer Mindset

Inspired by the learning framework of National Geographic Education, a team of teachers set out to create web resources to help students foster and Explorer Mindset in their learning. Their project has expanded from a website to an interactive app for students. Check out all of the resources here.


It may be getting colder but that doesn't mean that learning can't happen outdoors! We are still offering sit-upon kits for classrooms. These are cushioned, waterproof spots where students can take a seat during outdoor learning. If you are interested in requesting them for your classroom, email Emma Koeppel at ekoeppel@waukesha.k12.wi.us

Support for Outdoor Learning

The SDW EE program wants to support you in bringing student learning outdoors! Access our full flyer for more information, including who to contact with questions or ideas.
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Science Joke of the Week

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