Nature Based Education Summer Institute

Session 2

2017 Nature Based Education Home | Friday Sessions | Friday Evening Lecture | Saturday Sessions

Session F: A Step Along the Journey: Our Beginning to a More Natural Education

Location: Landing

Who will benefit from this session?

  • Early educator directors/administrators
  • Early educators (B-5 age students)

Session Goal:
We want to share our journey in slowly transforming our program into a more natural learning experience.  Our participants will leave with a concept of how to begin the process, the importance of having full staff investment, real hands-on activities for the classroom, as well as, playground design and how this has transformed the children’s play and enriched our curriculum.
Learning Outcomes:
1. Providing, real, hands-on nature based activities for inside and outside of the classroom
2. Understanding and appreciating how play can be transformed through nature based learning
3. Encouraging and implementing nature based learning to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers
Curriculum Connections:
Our participants will leave being able to see the connection between nature and language and literacy, creative representation, problem solving, science, mathematics, emotional development, social interactions, etc.  It truly can be woven into every aspect of education.

Engaging in Nature:
In small groups, participants will interact with sticks in an open-ended activity to engage and stretch their imaginations. We will then read the book, Not A Stick, by Antionette Portis to inspire self-reflection.

Session Schedule:

  • Intro with Not A Stick Activity
  • Discussion on feasibility and importance of full staff investment based on our experiences
  • Our experiences and examples of how nature based education has transformed children’s play
  • Our experiences with transitioning our playgrounds to a more natural environment with more natural materials
  • Our experiences and concrete take away activities with changes we’ve made in our classrooms and added nature education across our curriculum.

Presenter Biographies

  • Sara began working at Heidi’s House Child Care Center back in 1996 and is currently the Center’s Director. In 2000, she completed her undergraduate degree in Sociology from USM and then completed her Master’s Degree in Leadership and Policy in Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College in 2011. She has always had a love for nature and wanted the center’s playgrounds to feel like her childhood experiences in her own backyard. She takes great pride as the founder of the frog pond on the preschool playground that came to fruition a decade ago and quickly transformed into a peaceful play space. Sara lives in Scarborough, ME with her husband and two young children.
  • Will Newburn was born and grew up in Ireland. He has a Diploma in Music Teaching and Performance from the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He worked for many years at Gymboree Play and Music where he first became fascinated with the huge difference environments make in the type of play children engage in. Will is currently the Assistant Director at Heidi’s House Child Care in Scarborough and as an avid woodworker he has been creating most of their playground equipment from tree trunks, branches and cedar boards for a very natural look. Will lives in South Portland with his wife and two young daughters who also have a long list of things for him to build.
  • Beth grew up in Massachusetts, where she graduated from Eastern Nazarene College with a degree in music education. She was the assistant director of a summer camp for many years, where she helped children and adults of all ages connect with the great outdoors. She has worked at Heidi’s House Child Care Center for 10 years, and is currently the lead teacher for the preschool program there. She appreciates finding simple, yet creative ways to bring nature into the classroom, and encourages teachers to plan purposefully for the playground as an outdoor classroom. Beth lives in Old Orchard Beach, ME with her husband and three grown children.
  • Amy began working at Heidi’s House in 2011. In 1996, she received her undergraduate degree in Business Administration, and in 2001 her Master’s of Teaching and Learning from USM. Amy has spent all of her Heidi’s House time in the Infant/Toddler program. She became Infant/Toddler Lead Teacher in 2015. Through her work with this age group, she has been able to witness the dynamic change in play with nature-based education. She continues to work with teachers to incorporate purposeful nature-based sensory activities into the classrooms, as well as redesigning the Infant/Toddler outdoor play spaces. Amy lives in Scarborough, ME with her husband and three children.

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Session G: Integrating Technology into a Nature-Inspired Curriculum – A Project Approach Investigation of Birds

Location: North Dining Hall A


Who will benefit from this session?

  • Early educators (B-5 age students)
  • Primary grade educators (Pk- Grade 3)
  • Upper elementary educators (Grade 4-6)
  • Out of school educators (4-H, museum, camp settings)

Session Description: In this workshop we will share how we used a project approach to integrate nature and technology in an early childhood pre-school setting.  The Sweatt-Winter center is a NAEYC-accredited lab school located on the University of Maine at Farmington campus.  During the session we will visit our classroom and you will have hands on experiences with the tools we used.

We will share about our investigation of birds that allows our learners to be engaged with a table tablet, iPads, digital microscopes, and QR codes as they observe the natural world.   We are surrounded by nature everyday in the great state of Maine, and through meaningful technology integration, we can enrich the experiences that we offer the children in our care. We can also extend the experiences through the use of technology.  Join us to learn about the curriculum, pedagogy, and incorporation of technology to enhance learning.

Participants will have an opportunity to explore the various tools of technology mentioned above and you are encouraged to bring a mobile device with a QR reader downloaded.

Presenter Biographies

  • Julie Farmer is the Director at Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center, having been employed there since 1992. She holds an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education. Sharing her love of nature is something she truly enjoys.
  • Emily Nutt has been a Preschool teacher at Sweatt-Winter Child Care for the past 17 years and holds an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education. Emily’s interests are in nutrition, healthy living, and cooking, and teaching children about the natural world.
  • Dori James has been an Assistant Preschool teacher at Sweatt-Winter Child Care for 7 years, though she has been in the field for over 20 years. Dori is a firm believer that nature is an important piece of children’s natural learning.
  • Kathleen Marshall has been teaching for 21 years in various preschool settings. Since 2014 she has been a preschool teacher at Sweatt-Winter Child Care. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, and is working hard to incorporate nature into the curriculum.
  • Valerie Pinkham is a Preschool and School-age teacher at Sweatt-Winter Child Care. She holds a Masters Degree in Early Intervention. She is a great admirer and participant in all of the natural resources Maine has to offer, and loves to share that knowledge with others.

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Session H: Explore the Wonderful World of Watersheds!

Location: North Dining Hall B

Presenter: Cami Wilbert (

Who will benefit from this session?

  • Upper elementary educators (Grade 4-6)
  • Out of school educators (4-H, museum, camp settings)

Session Description: No matter where you live in the world, you live in a watershed. But what exactly is a watershed? Upon hearing the word in a sentence, discussing the environment, water or general science topics, many people use context clues to assume what the word watershed means, but many don’t actually know exactly what a watershed is and the importance of healthy watersheds to our health, recreation and environment.

A watershed is a body of water and the surrounding land that drains or sheds water into it. When it rains, that water runs over the land and eventually into the water. Some people might say, “Okay, so the water runs from the land drains into the water, so what?” Well, what we do to the land, we also do to our water because everything is connected! Everything that was deposited onto the land is then washed away into our water bodies.

The Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed (Friends) was established in 2001 as a small non-profit organization with a huge goal of “engaging individuals, communities and businesses in protecting and improving the 28 lakes, streams and ponds of the Cobbossee Watershed”. One of the main goals of the Friends Watershed Science Program is to prepare future stewards of our local watersheds and ignite student’s interest in science related fields. We strive towards this goal every day by engaging students in hands-on observations and inquiry based activities, connecting subject content to locally relevant issues and providing opportunities to go outside of the classroom to put skills learned to use.

Every session participant will have the opportunity to discover how the Friends Watershed Science Program promotes awareness of the local natural environment and water quality issues, facilitates understanding of key ecological concepts, the interconnectedness of humans and their environment, and fosters stewardship and empowerment to protect our local natural resources. As part of the session, a sample of Watershed Science lessons will be introduced that are designed to be active and engaging, and since they focus on local natural resources, are extremely relevant to everyday lives and futures.

Our first activity “What is a Watershed?” works to introduce participants to the concept of what a watershed is and how/why they are formed. They are then able to create a “watershed” using given materials and observe the flow of runoff into low lying areas. Each group is also introduced to a variety of everyday pollutants and asked to observe the effect of the pollutants on the water body it enters.

Our second activity enables participants as a small group to build their own landscape using given materials such as green shelf liners, soap dishes, sponges, foam sheets, and a dish drain board. Participants are introduced to new terms which include pervious and impervious surfaces, runoff and polluted runoff, shrub, buffers and vegetation. Groups will learn that some land surfaces are pervious, some are impervious and some are in between. Increased areas of impervious land surfaces increase the amount of runoff and most likely polluted runoff.

Watershed science is the study of terrestrial (land), aquatic (water), and riparian (where the land meets the water) ecosystems and their interconnections. Watershed science also includes humans and their interactions with these ecosystems; namely human decisions and actions that affect water quality, either directly or indirectly.

Our ultimate goal of this session is for participants to understand that watershed science provides a real-life and locally relevant context which is essential and easy to integrate across subject areas. Additionally, watersheds are an excellent way to build skills that require making connections and understanding complex systems.

Presenter Biography: Cami Wilbert is the current Education Coordinator with the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed. (Friends) She is responsible for the implementation and evaluation of all facets of the Friends Education programs ranging from Nature Day Camps to the Watershed Science Program. Her career with the Friends began as her youngest children became actively involved with many of the various offered programs. She became intrigued with the Friends varied educational offerings and actively sought out volunteer opportunities within the organization. Her volunteer experience began in 2012 and continued as she completed an educational internship with the Friends during her senior year of college. After she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science and having many years of experience working with children, she was hired by the Friends in early 2014 as a Watershed Educator and later promoted to the position of Education Coordinator.

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Session I: Journaling with Adolescents: Build Connection to Nature and Achieve Learning Goals

Location: North Dining Hall C

Presenter: Amanda Ripa (

Who will benefit from this session?

  • Middle grade educators (Grades 7-8)
  • Any age/grade Educator

Session Description: The primary goal of this session is for educators to learn research-based strategies and practical tools for using nature journaling to get children outside, observing and connecting with nature as well as reaching content standards. Participants in this session will engage with nature through composing a nature journal entry using a template/prompt to guide thinking, writing, and observation.

After this session, educators will:

  1. Understand the interdisciplinary possibilities of nature journaling to reach learning goals in all subjects
  2. Understand research based strategies and tools for integrating nature journaling into current curriculum
  3. Understand strategies for overcoming obstacles to taking children outside in a traditional school setting

Scientists, naturalists and explorers alike have been using journaling to document observations and discoveries around the world throughout history. Journaling with students is also not a new strategy used by teachers today however, focused nature journaling through combining narrative and art to record observations is a creative way for students to communicate their findings and build personal connections with nature. Nature journaling is also naturally interdisciplinary; combining all subjects into an anecdotal assessment tool. Student learning is presented in a portfolio format, showing thought processes, systems thinking development, observation skills, nature connection, language development, and fine motor skills. The nature journal, when aligned with goals and specific content can provide many benefits for children beyond curriculum, including building a lasting connection to their local place.

Presenter Biography: Amanda Ripa, Messalonskee Middle School science teacher has her B.S. Environmental Science and M.S.Ed Teaching and Learning from the University of Southern Maine.  Amanda currently teaches middle school science with an environmental focus to 7th and 8th graders at Messalonskee Middle School. Having a strong background in science and a passion for the environment allows her to build problem and place based curriculum for her students, connecting content to local/global issues and professionals. She has also worked to develop their school garden program with students and raise brook trout to release each spring. She has presented (with and without her students) at the Maine Environmental Education Association Conference, the Maine Farm to School Conference, and to their school board to raise awareness about the need for renewable energy technologies.

2017 Nature Based Education Home | Friday Sessions | Friday Evening Lecture | Saturday Sessions

Session J: Crowdsourcing Local Field Data with Geographic Information Systems

Location: Conference Room 123


Who will benefit from this session?

  • High School educators (Grades 9-12)
  • Upper elementary educators (Grade 4-6)
  • Middle grade educators (Grades 7-8)
  • Out of school educators (4-H, museum, camp settings)
  • School Administrators
  • Technology Coordinators

Session Description:

Would you like your students to crowdsource local field data into a single, collaborative map? You can do this easily with ArcGIS Online! We will show you how to create an app within ArcGIS Online, which will allow your students to add geolocated field data and images with a smartphone. This is a hands-on, inside-outside workshop that offers practice and inspiration using ArcGIS Online. You will receive a step-by-step guide for practice at home. This activity supports your school’s efforts at citizen science, place-based, inquiry projects using your local data as well as satisfying the Common Core and National Geographic Geography for Life 2 standards.

Please bring your laptop or tablet and smartphone. At least a week prior to the workshop, please request a free ArcGIS Online Organization account for your school at

Learning outcomes

  • Students will understand the relationship between data collected in the field and how that information is translated to a model of the earth.
  • Students will be able to use a collection device (smartphone) to collect field data.
  • Students will be able to examine an online map and uncover possible spatial relationships that are inherent in the field data.

Connections to Nature
We can only really understand our natural and human landscapes by interacting within it. This session will put students in the field, observing, measuring and collecting information about features in the natural landscape. Back in the computer lab, students will use online mapping software to explore the relationships between features, but seen in bird’s eye view and with the addition of supporting layers, such as topography, rainfall, and the built environment.

Presenter Biographies

  • Matthew McCourt is an Associate Professor of Geography, University of Maine, Farmington. Matt is a cultural geographer with a background in GIS and community planning. He teaches courses on landscape, planning, GIS, geographic concepts and globalization. . Matt’s current research with the UMF/Rangeley Sustainability Project involves working with students and community partners to understand how people take care of their local economies, cultures and ecological communities. Matt and his students use surveys and participatory mapping techniques in the field, create beautiful web and paper maps with GIS, programming tools and graphics applications, and present their research at regional and national conferences.
  • Margaret Shaw Chernosky recently retired from Bangor High School where she taught World Geography, AP Human Geography and GIS in Geography. Today, Margaret is a teacher consultant with the Maine Geographic Alliance, an arm of National Geographic Society, writing geography and GIS curriculum and instructing Maine teachers.

2017 Nature Based Education Home | Friday Sessions | Friday Evening Lecture | Saturday Sessions