The World of Environmental Education
by Allan Berkowitz, Executive Director

In October, our staff was fortunate to attend the national conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). NAAEE is a professional organization of environmental educators, and this year their annual conference convened in Oakland.

Whereas Brittany, our Education Director, attends the conference every year, and I attend occasionally, this was a unique opportunity for the rest of our staff to experience a quality professional conference. And for two of us –Brittany
and myself – it was an opportunity to present sessions and teach our peers. Let me tell you about it.

Over 1,400 participants attended the conference: environmental educators, program staff, funders, and researchers. There were hundreds of sessions over the course of 4 days. To give you a sense of the breadth of opportunities, here is a list of sessions I attended over just two days:

  • Collaborative Conservation Through Birds and Citizen Science
  • The Long-term Effectiveness of Experiential Education in Connecting Youth to the Environment
  • Building the Field of Environmental Education Through Collaboration
  • Mangrove Dilemma: What To Do With An Invasive Species?
  • Kids and Nature National Youth Poll – Understanding Current Connections, Barriers, and Attitudes
  • Impact of Advanced Placement Environmental Science Exam on Students of Color
  • Play Again – a film examining the consequences of a childhood removed from nature

The conference provided us with the chance to learn from, dialogue with, and be inspired by our peers across the continent. It allowed us to engage in new learning, and it fostered new ideas. For some of us, it was also an opportunity to teach our peers. Brittany co-led a really excellent session entitled “Using Computers to Get Kids Away from Their Computers.” Along with Lori Mann, who developed the content for our smartphone app, she gave a presentation on the development of both our BaylandsTour app and the new touchscreens in the EcoCenter. They focused on how we use technology to ‘augment reality’ and enhance a visitor’s experience in the preserve. We most certainly do not want kids (or adults) to spend their time in the nature preserve in front of a screen. But programs like our “What Did You See?” app on the touchscreens allow visitors to learn about birds, animals and plants they experienced while out in the preserve. Our E-Bird program encourages visitors to record bird sightings and enter that data for use by ornithologists at Cornell University. I sat in the back of this session because I wanted to beam with pride at seeing the really excellent work of our education team, led by Brittany, being shared with and inspiring our colleagues across the country.

I co-led a session with Carol Olson, Director of Environment & Stewardship Programs at the Morgan Family Foundation, a partner and funder in our collaboration work. Our session was titled “Collaboration: Better Results and More Grants, Too.” We shared our journey to increase educational impact by working in collaboration with peer organizations; presented the administrative structure and educational model we employ to manage our collaborations; and shared ideas on how others could begin a similar conversation in their communities with their prospective partners. It is noteworthy that several participants followed up with inquiries and requested further assistance regarding their interest in the model we developed. One participant returned home to Massachusetts, presented the idea to her board, and the board decided to move forward and develop a collaboration in their area.

At a recent staff meeting, we shared about the NAAEE sessions we had attended.  Each person said a few sentences about the learning they experienced and the ideas they had generated as a result. It was clear to me that this conference was a wonderful opportunity, and I am glad we invested in our staff and facilitated their participation. Next time you interact with a staff member, ask them about their conference sessions. You’ll find it interesting to learn what they learned.