For many people, the summer months are an ideal time to get outdoors and connect with nature. The 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed offers a wide range of recreational opportunities, but with the responsibilities of everyday life, some find it hard to set aside time to enjoy them. If getting outdoors is not an option, don’t fret! Here are eight ways to access the Bay from the comfort of your home or office.
Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1. NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) and Chesapeake Smart Buoy Application. The Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) is a network of observation buoys managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The buoys mark various locations along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, capturing real-time environmental and weather data such as temperature, wind speed and wave height. This information is available online and on the new “Smart Buoy” application for the iPhone and Android. It is also accessible over the phone: calling the toll-free “dial-a-buoy” number turns each buoy into a floating classroom, as a narrator offers up parcels of information about Captain John Smith’s adventures through the Bay.
We recommend: The data snapshot page for the most up to date data on all of the buoys.
Image courtesy Chesapeake Conservancy
2. Chesapeake Conservancy's Osprey Camera. Ospreys are one of the Bay’s most resilient creatures. After bouncing back from a nearly 90 percent population decline between 1950 and 1970, their growing numbers are now watched as an indicator of Chesapeake Bay health. They mate for life and always return to the same location come nesting season. This nesting habit inspired the Chesapeake Conservancy to place a camera in the nest of their “resident” ospreys, named Tom and Audrey, and stream a live feed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone who is interested in getting a bird’s eye view of nature’s ultimate “reality show.
We recommend: The Osprey Camera Blog for all things Tom and Audrey. It's an informative and highly entertaining read!
3. Chesapeake Bay Program Website: The Chesapeake Bay Program website highlights the work of the Bay Program and its partners. News and feature stories shed light on our restoration efforts, while data tracks years of restoration work. The website also offers resources that are perfect for students and teachers, from a series of pages that offer an in-depth look at the issues restoration partners must face to a collection of photos and maps.
We recommend: Using our Field Guide to learn about the hundreds of critters that call the Bay watershed home!
4. From your phone! Chesapeake Explorer and National Wildlife Refuge Applications: In this age of innovation, technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we view the world. The widespread popularity of smart phones and tablets has inspired the National Park Service (NPS) and a small New York start-up called Network Organisms to create applications that allow people to explore the Bay from the palm of their hand. The National Wildlife Refuges: Chesapeake Bay application for iPhones encourages users to explore the 11 National Wildlife Refuges around the Bay, sharing wildlife sightings and connecting with other outdoor enthusiasts. Chesapeake Explorer is compatible with both iPhone and Android devices. It helps people find places around the watershed based on specific activities, trail names or types of sites. Both applications are free, so get your phone out and start exploring!
We recommend: Experiencing the region's beauty by planning a trip to one of the National Trails featured on Chesapeake Explorer.
Image courtesy National Geographic
5. National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope: National Geographic’s Chesapeake Bay Field Scope is a tool that promotes the exploration, sharing and analysis of the Bay. Users are presented with real-world data sets about rivers and streams, wetlands, elevation, water depth and more. The information on this site is collected from students and scientists that work directly with the Bay. The site also features a map layering tool, a set of student observations and real time data comparisons.
We recommend: Using Query Point to get instant information about any given point on a map.
6. Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network: The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network was created in 2000 by the National Park Service (NPS) as a resource to connect people to authentic Bay experiences, sights and places. Today, more than 160 parks, wildlife refuges, museums, sailing ships, historic communities, trails and more are part of the Gateways Network. The network allows visitors to search for sites, watch slideshows, make plans to visit and learn about the Bay.
We recommend: Listening to the Sounds of the Bay. These audio excerpts from Window on the Chesapeake: The Bay, Its People, and Places take listeners on a journey through the Bay.
7. Maryland Healthy Beaches: Plan on heading to a Maryland beach this summer? Be sure to check the Maryland Healthy Beaches' Beach Notification System before you go. This application is updated with the most current beach advisories, closures, and bacteria levels. The notification system also provides rainfall accumulation data for every beach location.
We recommend: Visiting the Healthy Beach Habitats page for helpful tips about how to enjoy the beach the healthy way.
8. National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now. Are you a history buff? National Geographic’s Exploring the Chesapeake: Then and Now puts the Bay’s past and its present at a user’s fingertips. National Geographic launched the website alongside the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown, with the intention that it would be used to compare the world that John Smith lived in to the present day. The site includes lesson plans for educators, links to stories about the Bay, travel guides, field trip suggestions and more.
We recommend: Exploring the Chesapeake Bay as if it were the 1600’s with the site's interactive mapping tool.
Environmental education is essential to restoring the Chesapeake Bay: students who learn about the nation’s largest estuary will become the next generation of citizen stewards. But without best practices in place for teaching students, training teachers or gauging the success of outdoor learning efforts, it can be hard to ensure watershed states are on the same stewardship track.
Last summer, a group of experts convened by the Chesapeake Bay Program discussed the best practices that can improve and assess environmental literacy, outlined in a report released this week.
The researchers and evaluators, supported by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), described the essential underpinnings of environmental education and the practices that can drive positive results, from connecting students to the places they live to fostering the belief that they can improve the natural world.
Image courtesy Dave Harp
The Bay Program has formally supported environmental education for close to two decades. Its Education Workgroup recently published the Mid-Atlantic Elementary and Secondary Environmental Literacy Strategy, which sets forth a series of steps to reverse “nature deficit disorder” and equip students with the desire and skills needed to address environmental issues later in life.
The plan was written in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order and calls for the engagement of students in environmental issues like energy use, automobile emissions and urban and suburban runoff. It calls for the increased access of educators to professional development. And it calls for the movement of schools toward sustainability, whether it is a building that has a net-zero environmental impact or grounds that have a positive effect on the health of students, staff and the surrounding community.
Maryland Public Television (MPT) will celebrate the nation’s largest estuary with a week of Chesapeake Bay-related programming, to begin on Sunday, April 21.
Image courtesy Maryland Sea Grant
During Chesapeake Bay Week, a dozen programs will explore some of the most pressing issues facing the watershed, from the future of the agriculture and seafood industries to the health of iconic critters and waterways. An hour-long special called “Who Killed Crassostrea virginica?” will take a look at the demise of the Bay’s native oyster, while a 30-minute program called “The Last Boat Out” will follow a family of Virginia watermen as they question staying in the business of seafood harvesting.
Bay history, too, will be part of the annual event: “Black Captains of the Chesapeake” will highlight African Americans who have captained on the Bay, while “Growing Up on Tilghman” will explore what it was like to grow up in this quiet watermen’s community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“There is really rich content within these shows,” said Betsy Peisach, MPT’s managing director for education marketing and outreach. Peisach encourages teachers, in particular, to bring these programs into their classrooms where possible. And for those who teach middle-school science, MPT has developed an online interactive that allows students to explore the Bay, whether it is through a virtual tour of the Bay’s varied ecosystems or an online cinema that features clips from Outdoors Maryland.
MPT will wrap up Chesapeake Bay Week with a concert and volunteer-a-thon to connect viewers with volunteer opportunities across the watershed.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is a sponsor of Chesapeake Bay Week this year. Learn more.
Autumn leaves are crumpling underfoot and winter coats are coming out of storage. It might be cold, but for one after-school enrichment provider, the onset of winter doesn’t mean we have to stay inside. In fact, their love of winter is what sets Elements apart!
Image courtesy Elements
Staff-members at Elements lead students through the Washington, D.C., wintertime woods, where a lot of layers keep kids warm on these educational afternoons. Running along trails and climbing up hills, students learn that even an hour spent outside can invigorate us.
Elements’ philosophy follows a growing body of research that points to the benefits of being outside. So what are you waiting for? Grab some gloves and get out there!
When Marcus Moody hears the term “rain garden,” he will smile. Not because those colorful patches of flood-tolerant plants capture stormwater and allow it to gradually sink into the ground, but because he survived seven weeks of planting 27 rain gardens in Howard County, Md., during the hottest summer on record.
For Marcus and the 29 other 16 to 25-year-olds that participated in the Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth program this summer, also known as READY, rain gardens are no longer an intangible concept or an idea to read about in guides to “going green.” Instead, rain gardens are dirty, wet and empowering endeavors that prove that a group of focused youth can make visible, lasting change. And in most cases, rain gardens are a lot of fun to create.
“We all became friends,” said Moody. “The actual experience of … getting to know new people and working in teams with different personalities—that was great.”
READY’s participants included graduate students, fashion design majors and high school seniors looking to fund their college careers. The program provided them with a resume-building career experience, a few extra dollars and a new network of friends.
Working with people from different backgrounds toward a common goal made the summer experience stand out for Afua Boateng, who moved to Maryland from Ghana six years ago.
"Sometimes I find myself thinking about things that I feel like no one in my age group thinks about, because [in Ghana] we are trained to grow up faster. Learning to work with people that have the same interest and that are willing to work together to save something we should all care about—I really love that,” Boateng said.
Image courtesy READY/Facebook
READY was conceived with two goals in mind: first, to provide jobs for young people. Second, to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff entering the Chesapeake Bay.
Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Bay. But rain gardens and other so-called best management practices can reduce the flow of stormwater into creeks, streams and rivers.
For Amanda Tritinger, building rain gardens brought her studies about stormwater to life.
"I studied hydrology and hydraulics as a course in school, but the theoretical doesn't stick with me at all and I don't really get it,” Tritinger said. “Seeing all this stuff hands-on was so valuable for me.”
Image courtesy READY/Facebook
READY is the brain child of People Acting Together in Howard (PATH), a coalition of faith-based organizations in Howard County, Md. READY is funded through a grant from the Howard County government administered by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Like any program in its inaugural year, the leaders behind READY have learned lessons for next summer, with a number of suggestions coming from the participants themselves.
For Nabil Morad, who is enrolled in the Environmental Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, working in an environment where his feedback was valued was highly encouraging. It was also the last thing he expected from a program with the words "developing youth" in its title.
"I was a little worried we were going to be treated like kindergarteners," Nabil said. "But this feels like it's an actual job."
After working in an industry where his age and experience meant his suggestions were not welcome, Nabil said that READY's willingness to listen to its participants is refreshing.
“Here, respect travels both ways in the system. I could make a suggestion to [program manager] Don [Tsusaki], and if the day comes, he'll put it into action,” Nabil added. “Everybody here is developing toward the same goal together, which is really nice.”
That goal—curbing stormwater pollution—will become more attainable if READY continues in Howard County, and if similar programs are established elsewhere in the Bay watershed.
"We have a waiting list of people who want rain gardens for next year," said PATH administrator Guy Moody. "That's a good problem to have."
Image courtesy READY/Facebook
How do rain gardens help the Chesapeake Bay?
When rainfall hits impervious surfaces like sidewalks, roofs or driveways, or when it falls onto grass lawns, it is not absorbed into the ground. Instead, it runs off into a storm drain, collecting fertilizer, pesticides, pet waste, litter and other pollutants on its way.
Rain gardens are shallow depressions planted with sedges, rushes and other flood-tolerant vegetation that capture rainfall and allow it to soak slowly into the ground.
To learn how to install a rain garden on your property, visit Anne Arundel County’s Rainscaping page.
Kelley Cox knows what it takes to bring fresh seafood to the table—and to keep fisheries thriving in the Chesapeake Bay. Cox is part of a family of watermen that has worked for five generations out of Tilghman Island, Md. When Hurricane Isabelle destroyed 200 feet of their seafood buying dock in 2003, Cox did not want her heritage to be destroyed with it. She envisioned a place where she could preserve her family's legacy while teaching the public to steward the environment and the Bay. Two years later, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) was born.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Named after Cox's father, Garland Phillips, owner and operator of Phillips Wharf Seafood, PWEC now hosts educational programs and tours of the Bay. The center also coordinates a tree planting project and oyster growing program for residents of the three-mile long Tilghman Island. A marine biologist by profession but a waterman by blood, Cox makes sure the center’s educational efforts address both Bay ecology and Bay heritage.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
Mobile Marine Fun
From preschoolers to third-graders, students can hold horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins or play predator, prey and pollution games to better understand how the Bay ecosystem works—all on board a converted school bus better known as the Fishmobile. This traveling marine science center visits schools, summer camps and even birthday parties! Other educational programs at PWEC allow students to race crabs, dress up as a waterman and cruise the Choptank River and the Bay to watch watermen work.
Image courtesy PWEC/Facebook
If you have residential or commercial waterfront property or keep your boat in a marina on Tilghman Island, you can volunteer for Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO)! Participants place PWEC-provided cages of oyster spat into the water and give them a shake once every week or two. After nine or 10 months, the growing oysters are transported to a sanctuary and replaced with new spat. The program has placed 200 cages in the water, but PWEC won’t stop until every pier on the island is growing spat.
Ecology cruises allow participants to see Tilghman Island in a new light—from the water! Excursions for local artists allow participants to paint or draw the island from an evening ride aboard the Express Royale.
Tree stumps to step over and drum circles to join. Slate easels to draw on and animals to meet. Hollow logs to climb through and dirt to dig in.
What kid wouldn’t love it here?
Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook
The Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Md., has joined a growing list of nature-inspired organizations that encourage kids to explore, respect and protect the environment. Thanks to a growing body of research that supports the benefits of unstructured play and child-nature interaction, places like the Irvine Center—with its trails, garden and outdoor classroom—are popping up all over, getting kids to play in fields and forests instead of on plastic and asphalt.
The idea? When given the chance to roam and run in natural places, kids will learn about and come to love the outdoors, becoming curious environmentalists and new stewards of our watershed.
Image courtesy Irvine Nature Center/Facebook
The Irvine Center’s exhibit hall, green building and 116 acres of woods and meadows are open to the public; the Irvine Center’s outdoor classroom is open to members and to those who participate in the organization’s programs.
More from Irvine:
Now that school is back in session, your student may be spending more time indoors than outside exploring his local environment. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your little adventurer’s sense of curiosity alive throughout the school year.
Image courtesy Children and Nature Network/Facebook
Here are some of our favorite ways for parents and teachers to introduce hands-on environmental learning to the watershed’s younger residents:
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr
Look for an area where your students can observe the natural world. Whether their classroom curriculum outlines the life cycle of frogs or the benefits of pollinators, students are sure to appreciate experiencing their textbooks in action.
Field studies often take place in a park or at a nature center. But if you would rather stay close to home, consider creating a schoolyard habitat with your students to attract wildlife and serve as an outdoor classroom perfect for long-term plant, insect and animal monitoring.
2. "Green" your school
What better way to get your kids to care about the earth than to “go green” yourself! Does your school have a recycling or composting program? What about a habitat for local wildlife? Implement sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices where you can and your school could earn recognition as a “Green Ribbon School” from the U.S. Department of Education.
Wondering where to start? Get advice from the Center for Green Schools, a program dedicated to transforming schools into sustainable and healthy places. And be sure to get a tip or two from your state: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, and West Virginia all have green school programs.
3. Get outside
Educators and parents know that outdoor recess can encourage students to expend some of that extra energy. But time spent outside can also foster an appreciation for and fascination with the environment—not to mention prevent childhood obesity and curb attention deficit disorder (or ADD). After all, weren’t today’s biologists once inspired by the gooey worms they used to collect or the bird’s nests found in their backyards?
Encourage your kids to get outside with structured activities, from tag and hide-and-go-seek to geocaching. This latter sport is gaining popularity across the country, as a GPS-powered treasure hunt. Read more about geocaching with students or take a look at our photo slideshow of a geocaching adventure at the Accokeek Foundation. And learn more about how time outside can help your child from the No Child Left Inside Coalition.
4. Get to work
Image courtesy of courosa/Flickr
From coloring a white wall with an orange crayon to planting green trees in a barren field, kids love to feel like they’ve made a lasting, physical change to the environment around them. So why not plan a day of outdoor service learning? A number of schools and community groups hold these events on their grounds. Look for one near you this fall!
If you are an educator in Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Stream Restoration Challenge is a great way for your middle or high school students to learn about the Bay while giving back to their community.
When a day outside just isn’t possible, a selection of nature writing or scenic websites, movies and other multimedia can still engage your students with the natural world. Use Bay Backpack to find curriculum guides and lesson ideas based on your location, grade level and state’s environmental education requirements.
6. Get money
If your big ideas for outdoor experiences stretch far beyond your budget, consider finding funding through an outside source. Some extra support through a grant, for instance, may be just what you need to get that edible vegetable garden started outside your classroom or in your neighborhood. Learn more about funding sources here.
Professional development courses can include kayaking down a river or stream, exploring island habitats or learning how to build a rain garden. These training opportunities give you a chance to connect with other educators and to hear fresh takes on how to connect your classroom with the world outside.
8. Get ideas
Connecting with other parents or educators about their teaching techniques can bring creative juice to your curriculum. Check out the Bay Backpack Blog, which features school spotlights and easy activities for kids. And to discuss the benefits of outdoor play with other parents and professionals, join the Children and Nature Network.
Drivers honk at each other, passing by layers of parking lots and shopping centers; armies of workers wait for a bus; food carts occupy every corner; and pedestrians tow their children through the cement jungle, ignoring crosswalk signals and jumping in front of cars without the slightest bit of fear.
Tucked away in this impervious kingdom called Prince George’s County is a place of natural beauty, where worms dig through compost, chickens play tag and honeybees busily buzz. Here at ECO City Farms, every inch of ground is precious; a blanket of veggies and fruits is shadowed by rows of hanging pots. The completely solar and geo-thermal powered farm located in Edmonston, Md., raises chickens and ducks, keeps bees and grows enough crops for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation--all on one acre of land.
Image courtesy Eco City Farms/Flickr
Also known as Engaged Community Offshoots, ECO City Farms manages land and grows food in ways that benefit the Chesapeake Bay watershed: with no chemical fertilizers, and no petro-based or non-organic treatments, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
Impressive, but perhaps impossible? ECO City relies on natural processes to deter insects. Did you know planting marigolds next to your tomato plants will keep insects away? These simple but natural technologies define ECO City’s farming methods and ensure that the chemicals typically used in gardening operations do not end up in our food or the nearby Anacostia River and Chesapeake Bay.
ECO City implements farming methods that are healthy for the Bay watershed and its residents, but it also understands the importance of educating and engaging the local community.
The organization's tagline is "creating a just and sustainable world," a mission statement that trumps the money-making agendas of any commercial big-box farm. ECO City understands its role to exceed the agricultural industry and remains committed to connecting community members to their food.
ECO City educates and empowers local residents, giving them the tools and knowledge they need to kickstart their own urban agriculture operation. Dedicated to keeping food in the hands of the people, ECO City is not your average farm.
Image courtesy Eco City Farms/Flickr
What's new at ECO City:
Located in the residential neighborhood of Edmonston, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb, the farm hosts volunteer Saturday work days and tours of the farm.
The New Urban/Immigrant Farmer Training program teaches interested adults the tenants of urban farming over the course of a year, and a new DIY (Do It Yourself) Green Building Series covers how to capture and reuse rain water, how to build a hoop house, how to create a green roof and more!
A new commercial kitchen will allow the farm to offer educational cooking courses and to turn produce into products (basil becomes pesto sauce, tomatoes and peppers become salsa!)
Image courtesy ECO City Farms/Flickr
Here are some ECO City methods that you may be able to take home:
Image courtesy ECO City Farms/Flickr
In the 1930s, Smithsonian botanist Harry A. Allard walked 3,000 miles and collected 15,000 plant specimens in the Bull Run Mountains of Virginia's Eastern Piedmont region.
Eighty years later, Smithsonian scientists collect beetle specimens in the same mountains. A few miles away, volunteer naturalists explain to children and adults why beetles are central to all life; different beetle species pollinate plants (helps plants reproduce), and assist with decomposition (eats dead organisms).
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)
Such a combination of research and education is rare, says Michael Kieffer, Executive Director of the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy, a nonprofit headquartered in the southern 800 acres of the 2,500 acre Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, about 15 miles from Manassas, Middleburg, and Warrenton, Virginia.
"We have the unique opportunity to conduct both youth and adult education programs and to tie those programs to research on the mountains," says Michael.
While the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy leads research, stewardship, and education programs in the natural area, the land itself is owned by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
With plenty of places to search for the region's rare plants and insects, the conservancy's nine miles of trails see 10,000 visitors per year.
"It is wonderful to have public access to this state natural area, but people management is always an issue," states Michael.
Stewardship goes hand in hand with the conservancy's education programs.
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)
Programs such as "nature preschool," "herpetology camp," and even teachers' workshops, allow participants to study the ecosystem through experience, just the way Allard did eighty years ago.
When asked to elaborate on the conservancy's immersion education philosophy, Michael explained, "Just keep them outside. They need to be outside. Yes, it’s based on the research, but no we don’t have camp counselors. It's about getting kids outside with other kids. This is vital to your life."
But as any parent knows, kids learn by example. If adults are not prone to spend time outdoors, neither will their children.
"At BRMC our education programs are equally weighed between adults and children. If adults do not learn alongside their children, then the child’s experience on the mountains is diminished.”
The Bull Run Mountains Conservancy's summer camps begin in June. But nature lovers of all ages are invited to join their naturalist-led walks, trail clean up days, rattle snake surveys, and watershed workshops throughout the year.
(Image courtesy Bull Run Mountains Conservancy)
More from the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy:
A trip through the forested hills of Allegany County, Maryland may take you back to a time before interstate highways and blog posts like this one. Nestled between the largely uninterrupted landscapes of western Maryland, the Evergreen Heritage Center (EHC) honors the region’s past while showcasing environmental efforts of the future.
(Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust)
The Evergreen Museum features the foundation of a home built by an early settler in the late 1700s, and the Evergreen Coal Trail traces the path of coal cars from the early 1900s.
The center’s environmental education programs encourage students to get outside and explore, rather than sit in front of their television or computer. Through partnerships with Allegany County Board of Education, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Maryland teachers can attend workshops that introduce ways to involve their students in interdisciplinary environmental activities. Also, students can participate in on-the-ground learning projects.
The center is also working with 300 students and experts to develop a “green” site project plan that integrates outdoor learning stations, gardens, trails, nature play spaces and wildlife habitats into EHC’s 130-acre campus.
To learn more about Evergreen Heritage Center, read this blog post by EHC’s environmental education coordinator on the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s blog.
The Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting applications for environmental education grants to be released in 2012.
Schools, colleges, universities, county conservation districts, non-profit organizations, municipalities and businesses are eligible to apply for the grants, which will provide a maximum of $7,500 per applicant.
The grants provide funding to create or develop projects to support a variety of environmental topics, including watershed management, water conservation, acid mine drainage, brownfields redevelopment and Chesapeake Bay restoration.
Last April, the Department of Environmental Protection awarded 102 grants totaling more than $538,000 to groups in support of environmental education programs across the state. Since the program’s inception, the department has awarded more than $7 million in grants.
Apply online at DEP’s website or call the Environmental Education and Information Center at (717) 772-1828. The deadline to apply is December 16.
As I strode to the front of Ms. Molly Moran's second grade class at Annapolis Elementary School one June morning, I was confident in my lesson plan, so elegantly simple that I didn't even need the 3X5 index card in my shirt pocket on which I had it drawn out.
My former boss at EPA's Wetlands Division, John Meagher, had invited me to talk about what I do in my work through the ReSET program he directs. ReSET is a D.C.-based non-profit volunteer organization that partners working and retired scientists, engineers and technicians with elementary school teachers to improve science motivation and literacy. ReSET's goal is to introduce children in the classroom to science, engineering and technology as being enjoyable and exciting (i.e., fun!).
John did his lesson first. I had scoped out his topic and identified a meaningful connection between his talk and mine. He was going to teach a hands-on, desk-top laboratory lesson about buoyancy, including a key vocabulary word: "gravity." (Did you know that a lacrosse ball sinks in fresh water but floats in salt water?)
I decided that was my link. The audience would be primed. I had decided on the audience participation approach, to put the pen into their little hands.
It was my turn. On the flip chart at the front of the class, I drew a hillside – a single black line – with wavy blue water at the bottom of the hill: the Bay, just like right outside the classroom window. A stick-figure person. A lolli-pop green tree. A cloud. A fish in the water. A swimmer. Rain.
I asked the class: "Where does the water go when it rains?"
The class: "Down to the Bay!"
One smart kid got it right: "Gravity!"
"How many of you have or know people who have dogs?" All the hands went up. Another volunteer drew a red dog on the hillside.
Then the clincher: "What do dogs do when you take them out to walk in the morning?"
The entire chorus: "THEY POOP!"
Ms. Moran interrupted: "Oh, Mr. Mike, you just got them to say their favorite word!" The audience, giggling, was wrapped. "Wait!" I said, fumbling around the front desk, "There's no brown marker!" Ms. Moran stopped the lesson until she could find one.
There was no shortage of volunteers to draw the little brown pile behind the dog. It was not exactly to scale.
"Where does that poop go when it rains?" "To the Bay" "Why?" "Gravity!"
"How do you think the fish and the swimmer feel about that?" "Yech!"
"What do you think you can do about that?" They knew that answer too.
And the lesson was over. I haven't had that much fun since the last time I caught a steelhead on a fly rod in a snowstorm.
Seriously, if you like kids half as much as I do and care about the future of the world, combine the two by volunteering with John for the ReSET program. John has the lesson plans; you and the kids have the fun.
The National Park Service has developed a teaching tool about Chesapeake Bay history, geology, ecology and restoration as part of its online educational resource Views of the National Parks.
The Chesapeake edition of Views of the National Parks provides readers with a background on the Chesapeake’s natural world, from its geologic formation as an estuary to its diverse species and ecosystems. Chesapeake Views also describes the region’s human history and cultural environment, how it has changed over time, and how people can get involved restoring and protecting it.
A Visit section highlights some of the many places to experience the Chesapeake Bay. Other teaching tools include photographs, maps, a glossary and links to additional resources.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, the National Park Service administers the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. The Park Service is a Bay Program partner, helping to promote Chesapeake stewardship by connecting people to the region’s natural and cultural heritage.
We’re all hoping that spring is just around the corner, but for now, the Chesapeake Bay region is still in winter’s grip. But don’t let the cold weather stop you from experiencing the Bay! Check out our list of six great places where you can learn about the Bay and its rivers, wildlife and history.
Located in Solomons, Maryland, the Calvert Marine Museum offers an array of different indoor activities to keep Chesapeake Bay education alive during the winter months. Explore the museum’s 29,000-square-foot indoor exhibit, which features fossils that date back 8-20 million years, a touch tank containing live Bay critters such as terrapins and horseshoe crabs, and rarely seen river otters playing in their tank!
Since tours are self-guided, you can take your time while you explore historic collections, including accounts of the region’s first settlers and artifacts from the War of 1812 pulled from a local creek.
In February the museum will hold a few special events, including conversations with Chesapeake authors featuring William Poe, a “How Animals Survive Winter” program for toddlers, and a “Slavery in Southern Maryland” exhibit.
Live in the Newport News, Virginia, area? Then you must check out the Virginia Living Museum!
The museum’s brand-new facility is equipped with five different galleries that highlight all of Virginia’s geographic regions. Walk through the “Coastal Plain Gallery” to view a 30,000 gallon tank that houses aquatic creatures native to the Chesapeake Bay. Step over to the “World of Darkness” gallery to learn a little bit about Virginia’s more mysterious critters, including pine voles, ghost crabs and moon jellyfish.
The museum also has four different Discovery Centers that display everything from working beehives to a Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank.
Located in what some consider the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, the Annapolis Maritime Museum is a piece of history itself. The museum is housed in what used to be the McNasby Oyster Company, the last remaining oyster shucking house in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Maritime Museum is known for its excellent education programs that get students out of the classroom and help them learn about Chesapeake Bay history.
Not a student? No problem. The Maritime Museum hosts a weekly lecture series that highlights topics ranging from the status of the Bay’s oyster population to discussions with authors of Bay-related books. In February, you can expect to hear from underwater archaeologist Susan B. Langley about the excavation of the ship the Scorpion from the Patuxent River.
The museum’s most popular events are photography exhibits that display iconic images of the Chesapeake Bay taken by locals who know it best. From February 5 through March 19, the Muddy Creek Artists’ Guild will display its “Chesapeake Bay Collection.”
The Great Valley Nature Center in Devault, Pennsylvania, is a great resource for teachers who are looking to bring their class to the environment or the environment into their classroom. The center offers a range of programs for varying age levels onsite during the winter. Have your class participate in the “Fur, Feathers and Fins” program to allow your students to learn about different types of animals. Or try the “Pollution Solutions” activity that not only explores the different types and sources of pollution, but how your students can help reduce it. The center even has a program on winter survival techniques of plants and animals.
Can’t get your class to the center? They will come to you! The center provides all the materials as well as a speaker; all you need to provide is the audience. Your students can learn about the animals living in their backyard without having to leave their own classroom. It’s the perfect way to bring the outdoors inside during the cold of winter.
Located on the banks of the Nanticoke River, the Seaford Museum was established to commemorate the history of the town of Seaford, Delaware. The museum is housed in a 1935 Post Office that the local community restored.
The museum includes more than 60 exhibits arranged in a timeline fashion. Topics range from the Nanticoke Indians to shipping and agriculture. You can even learn about one of the most notorious murderers in U.S. history, Seaford local Patty Cannon.
The Seaford Museum is located near the restored Governor Ross mansion and plantation. Here you can learn a little more about the lives of the people who lived in the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1850s and the mystery behind why their popular Governor Ross fled to England.
Want to experience what life on the Eastern Shore was really like 100 years ago? Then head to St. Michaels, Maryland, and visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. The museum is known for its summer outdoor programs, but the winter exhibits are just as exciting and interesting.
Explore the museum’s famous Maryland lighthouse, which has been restored to resemble what it would have looked like while fully operational in 1879. Or take a self-guided tour of the museum’s 10 exhibit buildings, which feature displays on the life of Native Americans, early waterman, and animals that live in the Bay.
On Saturdays from January until the end of February, the museum hosts a two-hour Kids Club, where 4 to 9 year olds participate in hands-on games, arts and crafts, and storytelling.
The museum also has special exhibitions on artwork and artifacts from private collections. One recent special exhibition featured aerial photographs of the Bay area to demonstrating how land use has changed over time in the watershed.
What are some of your favorite indoor places to learn about the Chesapeake Bay or the environment? Let us know in the comments!
On September 21, the Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously to incorporate environmental education (EE) into all K-12 school systems, but held off on making it a graduation requirement for high school students. Maryland is now one of only three states to formally incorporate EE into the classroom.
Since there is no graduation requirement, school systems are expected to incorporate EE into existing classes, such as biology, and complete one local project that helps to “protect, sustain or enhance the natural environment.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, one of the main reasons for not passing the graduation requirement was that some Board of Education members felt that it would reduce the amount of flexibility high school students had in crafting their schedule. Board member Donna Hill Staton thought that by adding a requirement, they would have “started to overwhelm the system.” Maryland would have been the first state to require EE for graduation.
Growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I can only remember one instance that EE was incorporated into my lesson plans. This consisted of a 4th grade class trip to the Chesapeake Bay, where we used waders and a net to collect aquatic species for cataloguing and study. I remember being so excited that I was able to experience the outdoors and the Bay, and that trip has stuck in my memory for more than 14 years.
My other EE experiences came from classes that I chose to take during my high school years. I voluntarily took an Environmental Studies course and participated in the Montgomery County Area Science Fair for 3 years with a project that studied the ecological impairments of a local creek. Neither one of these was a graduation requirement, and if I hadn’t been interested in the environment already, I probably never would have been exposed to them.
Some critics may think that incorporating EE into already existing classes will be overwhelming and interfere with teaching key concepts. But teachers need to look no further than BayBackpack.com to see that that’s not the case. Launched in the spring of 2010, Bay Backpack was created to help teachers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed find lesson plans that include the Bay and the environment. Bay Backpack catalogues hundreds of EE lesson plans that span various subjects other than the sciences, including art, social studies, and language arts.
For instance, the “Wood, I’d like to get to know you” lesson from Pennsylvania State University incorporates learning tree anatomy and importance with sculpting and crafts. In another lesson titled “Who Killed SAV?”, provided by the Virginia Department of Education, students are asked to examine four major causes of bay grass decline, and then use their writing skills to “defend, compare, and discriminate between arguments for and against a given factor, while evaluating the level to which certain natural and human factors led to the decline of bay grasses.”
It may seem like a new EE requirement would add more pressure on teachers, but Bay Backpack shows that there are easy ways to use existing classes to teach EE. Incorporating EE into existing classes can also make some lessons more relatable and understandable by applying what students are already learning in the classroom toward a real life situation. Hands-on learning in the classroom can help students absorb more of their lessons while learning about the Bay and the environment at the same time.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question comes from Christina in Havre de Grace, Md., a high school mathematics teacher looking for ways to work the Bay into her lesson plans. “Since the Bay is in our backyard, I would like my students to analyze some of the statistics from the Bay. Where can I find teaching resources related to the Chesapeake Bay?”
With school about to start back up, tying the Chesapeake Bay into your lesson plans is a great way to ease students back into the swing of things. It’s likely that many of them spent some time on and around the Bay during the summer, so they will have some personal connection to the topics of your lesson plan.
Fortunately, there is a great resource right on the web for all your Bay education needs, Bay Backpack. Clicking on Teaching Resources at the top of the page will bring you to a handy search tool that will help you narrow down the hundreds of lesson plans and curriculums available on the site. You can refine your search by subject area, education level, type, alignment and keywords.
In Christina’s case, we could select “mathematics,” “high school” and “data,” which will bring up about 10 resources to use to create lesson plans. Data sets will become available for her students to analyze in their statistics class, and the data will actually have meaning to these students who live right on the Bay, as opposed to using “canned” data with no personal meaning.
If just looking for data in general, the Chesapeake Bay Program website has a significant amount of data available for download. However, it is probably easier to find data that is easily adapted to lesson plans from the Bay Backpack site.
Lesson plans aren’t the only thing Bay Backpack can provide educators. Field studies, training opportunities and funding resources are all available on the site, free to be used by educators at all levels.
Bay Backpack is a great resource for teachers looking to incorporate the Chesapeake Bay into the classroom in new and innovative ways. We often underestimate the ways we can instill values of environmental stewardship into the classroom beyond science classes, but this website helps to break down those barriers. Working awareness of the Bay into day-to-day lessons across all subject areas helps to establish an environmentally conscious mindset among students from a young age, ensuring that they will become the stewards of the Bay and our environment in the future.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week!
“It was a good day!”
This was the phrase several members of the Earth Conservation Corps used to describe the June 11 service learning day on the Chesapeake Bay. The Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) is a nonprofit youth development and environmental service organization located where the heavily polluted Anacostia River runs through Washington, D.C.’s most disadvantaged communities.
As a part of a partnership formed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), Corps members get to experience the Bay while learning about green jobs and careers.
As part of their service learning day, members aboard a NOAA vessel operated the drag net to collect blue crabs, mummichogs, flounders, anchovies and other species.
Along the shoreline of the Rhode River, Corps members did seine netting and compared the collected species to those collected from the vessel.
NOAA, SERC and EPA staff also discussed the types of habitats these species live in and highlighted the effects of upstream activities on the Bay and its aquatic life downstream.
This summer, Corps members will apply and interview for an internship program that includes more species sampling, identification and recording on the NOAA vessel, as well as participating in environmental outreach to kids who visit SERC.
Upon leaving SERC, Corps member Cory Palmer said, "That was all right!" Chesapeake Bay Program Acting Director Jim Edward, who also attended the service learning event, echoed Corey’s comment.
Other Corps members had similar positive things to say about the service learning day:
This post was adapted from the Bay Backpack blog.
Get involved in National Environmental Education Week, which runs from April 11th to the 17th. The theme this year is Be Water and Energy Wise. Water and energy conservation are a very important part of the Chesapeake restoration effort. As more and more people move into the Chesapeake region, our need for electricity and water increases while the supply remains about the same. So how can we address the needs of a growing population? The answer is simple: through CONSERVING our resources.
So how can YOUR school conserve during National Environmental Education Week?
Hold a School Water Audit
School water audits are a great way to get the entire school involved in a project for EE Week. Audits are fun, hands-on and educational. During a water audit your students will examine the ways they use water everyday and then discuss ways they can conserve water by using it more efficiently. Look through the Water Audit Teacher’s Guide to find out how to get your school involved before, during and after your water audit.
Then use the Water Audit Lesson to actually conduct an audit at your school. In this lesson students will examine the school’s water use over the past year, use flow meters to determine how much water sinks and toilets use and finally compare water use between classrooms. Once your school completes its water audit you can share your data online with classrooms around the country!
Test the Water in Your Creek
Testing the quality of the water in your local creek or river is a great way to engage students in hands-on learning about our water resources. By purchasing a simple water testing kit (about $30) you can test your stream for the following:
Using the water testing kit students can record observations about the health of their local stream. With data in hand, you can examine the land around the stream to hypothesize why the stream is healthy or polluted. Your class map pipes from stormdrains and development in the area to try to determine the source of your water pollution. Using this information students can then suggest ways to redesign development to minimize the impact on our water resources.
So get involved and BE WATER WISE this week!
A group of high school students in New York is getting real-life experience monitoring environmental conditions on the upper Susquehanna River as part of a regional program for schools in the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s northernmost reaches.
The Upper Susquehanna Watershed Project is a collaborative effort among high schools from Cooperstown to Afton, New York. Students analyze water samples and monitor stream flows at seven satellite reporting stations along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.
A casual observer of the students who gathered in early December at the sixth annual Upper Susquehanna Watershed Project Conference to explain the results of their research likely would have thought they were listening to advanced college students, rather than high schoolers.
“The Upper Susquehanna Watershed Project offers students real world experience and engages them in locally meaningful projects that benefit local organizations,” said Rich Townsend, a teacher at Sidney High School and co-founder of the project.
One of the local organizations benefiting from the students’ work is the Sidney Center Improvement Group, a local non-profit organization guiding watershed management efforts in Carr’s Creek, a Susquehanna River tributary. The students will analyze water samples from the creek, and the improvement group will use the data to complete a watershed plan and pursue reductions in harmful water pollutants.
The project “is truly a win-win for all,” said Joe Lally, president of the Sidney Center Improvement Group.
Jeff Lape, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Peter Freehafer, an official with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, attended the project conference and were impressed with the students’ work.
“Here is the next generation embracing the principles of watershed management,” Lape said, adding that it was very encouraging to see that the students “understood the science and how it affects their own backyard.”
Manassas Park Elementary School in Northern Virginia has installed a rainwater collection system and other great green features that are helping the environment and the Chesapeake Bay. Check out this video to learn more about the school's awesome efforts!
The Bay Program has launched BayBackpack.com, an online resource for teachers and environmental educators to engage students in hands-on learning about the Chesapeake Bay and its local waterways.
Bay Backpack includes:
Additionally, Bay Backpack uses a blog to feature new education initiatives and in-depth resources, such as ideas for classroom projects. Educators can share information with each other on the blog by leaving comments or writing guest entries about their own environmental education programs.
Bay Backpack provides educators with the necessary resources to give their students a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE), which are extensive projects that allow students to gain a deep understanding of environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay and its local streams and rivers. Bay Program partners work with state and local education departments to ensure that all students in the Bay watershed receive three MWEEs before they graduate from high school.
Last week, a family friend who teaches at a local middle school invited me to her classroom. She wanted someone to teach her sixth graders about sediments, nutrients, and the Bay. I agreed, and took Krystal, one of my co-workers, along. We had an amazing day. All in all, I think we talked to about 300 incredibly smart 6th graders! They knew that sediment clouds the water and covers any organisms on the bottom, that the watershed is made up of six states (naming them was more challenging), and that oysters used to be able to filter the entire volume of the Bay in three days. (It now takes almost a year!) The kids had a great background of information, so we added to it a little bit.
We’ve all heard that nutrients in the Bay are harmful and cause algal blooms and dead zones. The best question of the day, however, came from a student who asked, “If plants need nutrients to grow, why aren’t the bay grasses growing a lot and providing oxygen for the animals at the bottom?” I had been waiting for someone to ask that! He was right, the plants have all the nutrients that they could ever want; the problem is that the plants don’t get enough light. Algae float near the surface, soak up sunlight and nutrients, and form a layer over the water’s surface. That layer, (plus the murkiness due to sediment), blocks sunlight. Not enough reaches the bottom to let the grasses grow. As the plants and older generations of algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose. Decomposers use oxygen. Without plants to provide oxygen, whatever was left in the water is sucked out by decomposers, leaving an anoxic or “dead” zone every summer.
Krystal and I had a wrap-up discussion with the students, where we all listed things we could do to help the Bay. They knew the basics, like recycling and car-pooling, and that every little bit helps. They were excited to hear other opportunities, though. Some students live on waterfront property, and were eager to go home and ask their parents if they could grow oyster spat for a year. Some have yards that are fertilized twice a year, and were concerned when it was suggested that they skip the spring treatments and wait until fall. Several students even asked if there was someplace they could volunteer.
Krystal and I left that day feeling like we’d made a small impact, but apparently we did more than we thought. The next day, I was handed a hundred or so thank-you letters from the students. Most were the typical “thanks for coming,” but several got me really excited! One said that they went home and told their dad not to fertilize this year. Another said that she’ll make sure her parents clean up after the family dog. A third got permission from her parents to raise oysters and wanted more information. All of this reaction came out of a 30-minute talk! The kids were so eager to help, once they saw the real problem. It didn’t take much; an explanation of what’s happening, a picture of the Bay from last summer, and some easy tips to help out. All they needed was to know what they can do.
I sincerely hope they continue their enthusiasm through adulthood, and I hope it’s as contagious for everyone else as it was for Krystal and me!
Krissy Hopkins is the Communications and Education Subcommittee staffer with the Chesapeake Research Consortium at the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Last weekend, I, along with more than 550 other passionate environmental educators, attended the annual Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) conference in Ocean City.
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Doug Tallamy, a witty, insect-loving professor at the University of Delaware. I never thought about the connections between birds, caterpillars and oak trees until Doug commented that a single oak tree is a host to over 500 different species of insects. But instead of filling our yards with oak trees, we plant them with manicured green lawns and non-native (sometimes invasive) plants.
Birds and insects native to this region view our backyardsas if they were the surface of Mars. Landscapes dominated by plants imported from around the world serve an ornamental, rather than functional, purpose. We suburbanites have crafted completely sterile landscapes, as we’ve been taught that bugs are a problem and Raid is the solution. Now, hundreds of bird species are declining in number because we have cut out their food source: the bugs we loathe.
So what’s the solution? To turn our lawns back into native habitats that benefit both the birds and the bugs. Many Maryland schools are already taking this advice and landscaping with native plants to create schoolyard habitats.
Some schools take their projects a step further to become certified Maryland Green Schools. One statistic that astounded me was that primary and secondary schools spend $6 billion annually on energy -- more than they spend on books and computers. Imagine if we could cut that cost by 30 percent, or $1.8 billion. Sounds good to me, right? But how?
As I learned in one MAEOE conference session, 30-40 percent of our energy use is at the discretion of the occupants of a building. So by simply raising awareness about our energy use, we can cause substantial deceases in energy consumed. Energy conservation isn’t just about changing light bulbs; it’s about changing behavior.
This conference reaffirmed my belief that simple solutions and engaged citizens can make Maryland grow greener.
The state of Maryland has launched a new commitment to help children throughout the state re-connect with Maryland’s mountains, forests and waterways.
The Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature will promote structured and unstructured play activities for children in the outdoors through a 21-member panel made up of representatives from public, private and non-profit organizations from across the state.
The Partnership for Children in Nature will help the state’s youths improve their environmental literacy and increase their time spent outdoors by:
The Partnership for Children in Nature complements the federal No Child Left Inside initiative, which also promotes environmental education. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) is the lead sponsor of the No Child Left Inside bill, which will likely head to a vote in the House of Representatives next month.
According to the No Child Left Inside Coalition, which supports the bill, incorporating environmental education into core curricula has a measurably positive impact on student success in science, reading, math and social studies. Increased time outdoors has been shown to benefit children’s cognitive functioning, self-discipline and emotional well-being.
The No Child Left Inside Coalition currently has more than 640 member groups from across the United States, ranging from environmental and education advocates to businesses and public health experts. In the Chesapeake Bay region, member organizations include the Anacostia Watershed Society, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Virginia Living Museum.
Yesterday morning, a group of college students from Hampton University’s Multicultural Students at Sea Together (MAST) program came to our office to learn about the Bay Program. We the Chesapeake Research Consortium (CRC) staffers are generally only a few years removed from our Bachelor’s degrees, making us perfect candidates to represent CBP for this particular group.
As the group approached the Fish Shack, I couldn’t help but think they looked very clean and well put-together to have been sailing the Chesapeake for close to two weeks!
Everything about this group varied: one was a graduate student and another will be starting college as a freshman this coming semester. Majors ranged from marine biology to women’s studies and political science. English is not the first language of several of the students, and they allowed me to use my Spanish with them as we continued discussing CBP during the break. The students in this program create a fun and enthusiastic group — once they started talking, you could tell that they would continue talking about the summer of 2008 for a lifetime.
I and the rest of the CRC staffers were able to share with the group many of the opportunities afforded us by working here through the CRC Career Development Program: projects we have played a role in, people we have met, and volunteer activities we’ve completed. In addition to information about the subcommittees we support, we shared things from our own college experiences such as internships, research projects, study abroad…even ID pictures and school spirit. It was definitely a different feeling standing in the Fish Shack as the “seasoned veteran” passing on words of wisdom.