With the emphasis on science-related programs, the natural sciences often get overlooked… overshadowed by the chemistry or the technology and engineering parts of the STEM puzzle. How can we use natural resources and the outdoors to engage our audiences and help to fulfill some of those STEM needs?

If you are lucky enough to have wide open spaces on or next door to your library property, making use of it can come in many forms. There are a number of Environmental Education (EE) curricula available that can not only help the amateur to do this, in some cases they actually supply ready-made programming ideas. And there are likely to be community resources in the form of agencies, organizations, and volunteers available to help. There are a number of EE curricula offered that have facilitators trained to deliver their programs throughout the country (and internationally!) Checking with state environmental agencies or extension offices should reveal resources available in your area.

In Kentucky, oversight of the training and availability of some of these curricula happens through the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education (KAEE http://kaee.org/ ), and for others, through state directors of the individual programs. Some of the most widely recognized and available of these curricula include the following, (with brief descriptions taken directly from the website of each project, as listed.)

Project Learning Tree https://www.plt.org/

“At PLT, the goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think about complex environmental issues. Recognized as a leader in environmental education for more than 35 years, PLT enhances critical thinking, problem solving, and effective decision-making skills. PLT materials are multi-disciplinary and aligned with state and national education standards.”

Project WILD http://www.projectwild.org/

“Project WILD is one of the most widely-used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students in kindergarten through high school. It is based on the premise that young people and educators have a vital interest in learning about our natural world.”

Project WET http://www.projectwet.org/

“We envision a world in which action-oriented education enables every child to understand and value water, ensuring a sustainable future.”

The Leopold Education Project http://www.aldoleopold.org/Programs/lep.shtml

“The Leopold Education Project (LEP) is an innovative, interdisciplinary conservation and environmental education curriculum based on the essays in A Sand County Almanac. Originally created by a Wisconsin high school science teacher, LEP uses Leopold’s writings as a springboard for engaging students in natural science curriculum.”

Project Underground http://karsteducation.org/

“The Project Underground Education Program provides materials and activities on karst resources. The lessons in the Project Underground guide can be used to teach citizens of all ages about karst topography and the management needs of the karst resources. Use these materials with students in classrooms and in outreach programs with citizens and agency staff.”

In each case, facilitators are trained, who then train educators, both formal and nonformal, to use the curricula. In all cases, there are lessons outlined with clearly stated goals (broken down by age or grade level) and in many cases, they are also aligned with educational standards. Lessons contain suggested background reading, hands-on activities, and suggestions for extension activities. Activities include lists of necessary materials and preparation, step-by-step instructions, and follow up to help answer questions and to suggest further exploration. Often the lessons are indexed by topic, age level, types of activity, and even educational standard or goal. They are very often cross-referenced with other similar lessons. While environmental education may not immediately come to mind when considering library programming, it can easily be a STEM tie-in with farther-reaching community impact. And not only are they educational, they are fun! Project activities range from such things as pretending to be deer competing for resources; to pretending to be bats and learning to use echolocation; to designing towns to work with the topography of an area; to learning the parts of a tree by “becoming” the parts of a tree and building the tree part by part.

With a little bit of searching, it would be possible to find facilitators in your area to offer educator training, which would allow those who are trained to use the curricula. Further training as a facilitator would allow trainees to not only use the curricula themselves, but also to train others. This could not only provide library personnel with new resources for their own use, it could also enhance the resources offered by the library to the community at large, and notably to the community’s teachers.

I have been trained as a facilitator in all of these projects, and would be happy to answer questions about any or all of them. If you are in Kentucky and interested in training in your area, I can help connect you to the appropriate people if I cannot help you myself. Please feel free to contact me at jennifer.beach@kentonlibrary.org.