Nature Based Education Summer Institute

Session 3

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

Session K: Night Tree: A Celebration of Nature & Family

Location: Landing
Presenter: Leigh Ann Fish (
Who will benefit from this session?

  • Primary grade educators (Pk- Grade 3)
  • Early educators (B-5 age students)

Session Description: In keeping with the notion that children must be allowed to develop a deep love of nature before we can ask them to become its guardians (Sobel, 2008), this session will use Eve Bunting’s book, Night Tree (1994), as the basis for planning a non-secular celebration of nature that can be used with Pre-K and Primary children.

The book follows a family as they engage in their own tradition of celebrating the Christmas holiday by trekking into the woods to find their “night tree,” a tree to which they return each year, and by decorating it using homemade, edible ornaments as a gesture of goodwill to the forest animals. It reinforces a message of appreciation for nature and of environmental sustainability through the use of a living tree and through the creation of ornaments using natural ingredients such as sunflower seeds, apples, breadcrumbs, and millet.

Although Night Tree is a Christmas-themed book, it can be used to create a non-secular celebration of family, tradition, and love of nature.

Goal: Utilizing a “make-it, take-it” approach, this session will give participants an opportunity to design a Night Tree Celebration to use during the holiday season in their own educational settings.

Outcomes: Participants will view, discuss, and modify activities to use with their own students that integrate Bunting’s book with multiple areas of the curriculum. They will also view, discuss, and adapt suggestions for creating a welcoming family gathering featuring literature, music, and children’s own nature-based artwork. The session will culminate in holding our own mini (daytime) Night Tree Celebration outdoors using ornaments participants create together.

The activities presented will support both Maine’s Early Learning and Development Standards for prekindergarten and Maine’s Learning Results for kindergarten-second grade in Reading, Creative Arts, Music, and Science. Special emphasis will be given to indicators within Earth and Life Sciences and Social Studies that relate to understanding needs of plants and animals and understanding human impact on our shared environment by creating an eco-friendly celebration with live trees and nature-based edible ornaments.

Through active participation in the design process, it is hoped that participants will be able to implement Night Tree celebrations in their own educational contexts that will encourage young children to begin to make personal connections to nature — a necessary step toward developing a deep love of nature, and ultimately, a sense of stewardship for the Earth and all its inhabitants.

Bunting, E., & Rand, T. (1994). Night tree. New York: Trumper Club.
Sobel, David. (2008). Children and Nature: Design principles for educators. Portland ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Presenter Biography: Dr. Leigh Ann Fish holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration/Curriculum and Cultural Studies from Miami University and is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). Prior to working at UMF, Leigh Ann served as a K-12 Gifted & Talented Coordinator and as a National Board Certified elementary teacher in Ohio. Her professional interests include high ability girls and societal messaging, the importance of play in schools, and Reggio-inspired practices. When not working this summer, Leigh Ann plans to spend time with her husband and two young daughters as they imagine, dream, plan, and create a nature-based play area on their 18th century farm.

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Session L: The ‘Natural’ Playground? What Does This Mean and How Does It Work?

Location: North Dining Hall A
Presenter: Sashie Misner (
Who will benefit from this session?

  • Any age/grade Educator
  •  Early educator directors/administrators

Session Description

“The Environment is the Third Teacher- There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment”.  –Loris Malaguzzi, Reggio Emilia

Well-designed outdoor spaces support the many ways children play and learn and can be integral to children’s growth and development. This workshop will discuss the importance of the outdoor environment in children’s lives and introduce the design principles and developmental needs that shape effective outdoor learning/play spaces. We will share compelling research findings on play environments and show recent examples of both local and international innovative early childhood play space designs.

Goal: The term ‘natural playground’ has been commercialized and is used loosely to describe a wide range of nature themed play spaces. The goal of the session will be to look closely at the essence of nature play to understand what it is and why it is important.
Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the differences between terms ‘Nature’/Natural Environment & Natural Playspace and why it is important to offer children experiences within natural environments
  • Discuss ways to evaluate the quality of a play environment based on current research and gain tools to assess where best to allocate funding to have the greatest impact on children’s learning/play.
  • Share simple ideas on integrating natural play opportunities within the play environment
  • Educators will learn how the environment can support learning and will develop tools to create an environment that supports quality learning and play.
  • We will be evaluating images of environments and may review the play environment at Sweatt Winter, the Early Childhood Lab School at the University of Maine at Farmington

Presenter Biography Sashie Misner is a play advocate and landscape architect practicing in Portland, Maine. While receiving a master in landscape architecture, she worked to understand the vast research on children’s developmental needs to inform a design process that aims to create play environments that are rich with learning opportunities. Sashie has worked for the past 12 years designing quality school grounds, playgrounds and preschool play spaces.

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Session M: Nature Counts!  Learning Math with Loose Parts and Nature

Location: North Dining Hall B

Who will benefit from this session?

  • Early educators (B-5 age students)
  • Early educator directors/administrators
  • Primary grade educators (Pk- Grade 3)

Session Description:

Goal:  To share knowledge and resources for using loose parts and nature to teach and practice math concepts with young children ages 3-6.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Participants will acquire resources and learn how to use loose parts from nature to teach sorting, counting, addition, subtraction, and making patterns.
  • Participants will learn strategies to increase children’s understanding of geometry through nature.
  • Participants will gain knowledge and skills to use loose parts and nature to explore measurement with young children.

During our session educators will be experimenting with hands on activities through exploration of synthetic and natural loose parts.  We will offer them relevant resources and also provide opportunities to play and discuss opportunities and potential challenges with using loose parts.  They will engage in a group activity in which they will connect the loose part they selected to both science and math standards.  The connection to the learning standards will be individualized as we will encourage the participants to identify the standards for their particular age group and for the emerging skills of the children in their current class/group.  We will provide copies of the standards for this hands on activity.

During our session we will have natural materials inside and we will also be inviting participants to join us for a geometry activity outside.

Presenter Biographies

Erika Neal began her career teaching infants, toddlers and preschoolers at a nationally accredited early childhood program in Augusta. She earned her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Maine. In her career, she has provided developmental therapy for children with special needs and consultation to other early childhood teachers around special education and challenging behaviors. She has been teaching Pre-K at the WG Mallett School in Farmington since 2010.

Jessica Lewis has her B.S. in Early Childhood from UMF. She opened Inch By Inch Preschool in Wilton Maine in 2006. Jessica has always loved nature and incorporating it into her teaching. She is very excited about the growing trend of nature-based preschool and forest school. She enjoys making connections and networking with other early childhood teachers through social media. These connections allowed her to attend a preschool study tour in Iceland in 2014.

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Session N: Demonstrating Proficiency through Nature Based Education

Location: North Dining Hall C

Who will benefit from this session?

  • Middle grade educators (Grades 7-8)
  • Upper elementary educators (Grade 4-6)
  • High School educators (Grades 9-12)
  • School Administrators
  • Primary grade educators (Pk- Grade 2)

Session Description: The goal of this session is for participants to explore possibilities for using outdoor experiences to demonstrate proficiency in middle school STEM content standards.  The conversion to a proficiency-based model of curriculum design, assessment, grading, and promotion opens the door for students  to exercise voice and choice in how they demonstrate learning in new settings.  This session takes advantage of this shift to reposition nature-based education from a supplement to science learning to the foundation of the curriculum itself.

Presenters will describe their experience with using a nature based education project as a measurable demonstration of science proficiency.  While working to reopen the school’s Nature Trail, seventh and eighth graders at Deer Isle Stonington Elementary School collected and analyzed data, identified native species, and observed the relationships between the living and nonliving components of the site. They demonstrated proficiency through science journaling, investigating their own questions and supplementing outdoor work with independent research and classroom activities.

In this session, participants will learn how to use learning standards to structure nature-based educational experiences, define flexible performance expectations that will allow for multiple pathways to proficiency, and orchestrate outdoor experiences that can supplement, complement, and/or take the place of textbook learning.  Participants will gain comfort with outdoor learning experiences through the example of a standards-aligned Vital Signs investigation of local ecosystems. They will head out into the field to conduct data, analyze their results, and produce multiple artifacts to show evidence of their learning.

Presenter Biographies

Meggie Harvey is a Science Curriculum Specialist for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). She works with the Vital Signs team to help Maine middle and high school teachers integrate authentic science research into their curricula. Before joining GMRI, Meggie worked as a 7th grade science teacher in Chicago and Skokie Public Schools in Illinois. In that role, she implemented problem-posing science curricula for middle schoolers. Meggie earned her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Mickie Flores has been teaching science since 1983 in one form or another. She has taught middle school science classes, high school chemistry and biology, and content and methods science courses as an adjunct instructor for the State University of New York at Potsdam. Mickie was the recipient of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship award and managed Senator Durbin’s education portfolio 2004-2005. Currently, she is the 2015 Hancock County Teacher of the Year and teaches 5th through 8th grade science at Deer Isle Stonington Elementary School in Deer Isle, Maine. Mickie earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and her Masters in Education from Elmira College.

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Session O Making Place-Based Education a Real Education

Location: Conference Room 123

Who will benefit from this session?

  • High School educators (Grades 9-12)
  • Middle grade educators (Grades 7-8)
  • School Administrators

Session Description: The goals of this presentation are to introduce the basic concepts behind place-based education and how it allows teachers to implement curricula that are more environmentally conscious and nature-oriented. This presentation will cover the basic underlying principles of place-based education and how they are implemented in schools around the State. We will focus on two programs at Oak Hill High School: GEAR UP and Integrated Technology. These programs use “pbe” to support the learning needs of at-risk transitioning 9th graders, and to provide them with tools necessary to be successful in the high school environment.

One of the major learning outcomes of this presentation will be the understanding of underlying concepts of place-based education. Place-based education provides an excellent platform for meaningful use of your surroundings to build environmentally conscious/nature based curriculum. This will be accomplished by looking at the two programs at Oak Hill High School. Educators and administrators should take away an understanding of the groundwork of place-based education and how to design a curriculum that is grounded in their own school/community environment.

This presentation also looks to emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary work among teachers of different backgrounds to create a more holistic learning experience. McCarthy and Zuis, as well as Thombs, come from very different backgrounds and expertise, which helps to create the GEAR UP and Integrated Technology program program successful.

This presentation will be interactive. The programs at OHHS had many components that took place outside: compass work and orienteering, learning how to tree ID, tree coring and more. After laying the groundwork of PBE and explaining the GEAR UP and Integrated Technology programs, audience members will experience how the Gear Up pilot program was actually implemented by walking through some of the curriculum components.

Presenter Biographies

  • Larry McCarthy has been an educator for forty five years, holding teaching and leadership positions at the middle school and high school levels. He has also held leadership positions at the Vocational Center and taught educational leadership courses at USM.
  • Ed Zuis has been teaching science at Oak Hill HS for over 20 years. In the classroom, you can see him sing, dance, stand on tables, and tell bad jokes.Ten years ago, they started collaborating in the school’s shop and became early STEM proponents. They presented “STEM projects and lots of ‘em” at the NSTA National Convention in Chicago in 2015.
  • Dylan Thombs is a Bates College student. He came to Oak Hill as a student intern and brought great ideas. Dylan taught the “two old guys” as much as they taught him. Dylan’s work in Placed Based Education was the basis of the Summer GEARUP Forestry program.

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