Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Fostering an Environmentally Sustainable Mindset With the Design Squad

PBS's Design Squad has always been a go-to for me, as I've shared before. Their design process cycle graphic is the center of what we use to teach our elementary students when it comes to maker activities or STEAM challenges.

Again I turn to them and their website is certainly worth checking out during this season of remote learning.

There's a wealth of videos at Design Squad YouTube Channel. One of my favorites here is their 3 minute video on Environmental Sustainability. Not only does it promote innovation and invention, but it also promotes having an environmentally sustainable mindset. This mindset takes a growth mindset, layers it with an innovation and design mindset, but it also factors in looking at materials and energy sources with a lens of how best to promote caring about the Earth. Perfect while energized from Earth Day!

Here are some other cool Design Squad resources to check out which inspire an environmentally sustainable mindset:

  • This Week's Wow: Smart Soap (which features the hand soap company Forgo)
  • Design Squad Global for Parents & Educators--here they have a bounty of hands-on activities & videos for schools and after school programs including their Design Squad Global Clubs. These 6-12 week clubs are created for middle schoolers. Some of the gems here include:
    • Activities & Videos on the following subjects:
      • Electricity
      • Force/Energy
      • Green
      • Health/Improving Lives
      • Simple Machines
      • Sound/Music
      • Space/Transportation
      • Sports/Games
      • Structures
      • Technology/Materials
    • Lesson plans on the following:
      • Electricity & Circuits
      • Engineering Design Process
      • Green Design
      • Helping Others
      • Simple Machines
      • Structures
    • Training for teachers & club leaders

Video from, design process graphic from, screen shot from

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Google Adventures with the National Parks

Escaping to exotic locales is high on everyone's wish list right now, but not at all in anyone's reality. Sounds like the perfect time for a virtual tour. This one in particular is well timed because National Parks Week this year is April 18th through 26th... timed perfectly for Earth Week!

As part of the U.S. National Parks Centennial, when the National Park Service turned 100 on August 25, 2016, Google created two ways to let you trek without ever leaving your tech.

By way of virtual reality and 360° videos, Google has invited folks into the National Parks from the comfort of your own home.

The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks is an interactive documentary and part of the Google Arts & Culture that launched in 2016. It focuses on these 5 National Parks:
  • Alaska's Kenai Fjords 
  • Hawai'i Volcanoes
  • New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns
  • Utah’s Bryce Canyon
  • Florida’s Dry Tortugas
Not only can you experience these 5 parks online, but also on the Google Arts & Culture App and in the Google Expeditions classroom app.

In Google Expeditions, a classroom teaching tool, students can visit over 200 places spanning the world. When used with the Google Cardboard view, it turns it into a virtual or augmented reality experience in class. If you can't get out and about in reality, you might as well experience something new, virtually!!

Images from and and; videofrom

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Happy 50th Birthday Earth Day 2020

For 50 years, Earth Day has been a time honored tradition, growing more and more important as we see more and more the effects of our human impact. As I showcased in my "5 Decades of Environmentalism" this past fall, we've made a lot of strides to be proud of in these 50 years.

This year, Earth Day won't be marked in marches on Washington or major community clean up events due to the global health issues from Covid-19. However, now, perhaps more than ever, community has taken on greater meaning, and we see the effects of that human impact in major cities that have been pollution-free for weeks for the first time ever, based on our staying home efforts. Additionally, the impact of contaminated waste (such as discarded gloves or masks road side or in parking lots) may be seen by many more (than ever before) for the health problem that they are.

From Earth Day Network's website:

So in honor of that, what can you do this unusual Earth Day? Turns out, a lot:

1. You can join Earth Day Goes Digital With 24 Hours of Action.
During the 24 hours of today, April 22nd Earth Day, Earth Day Network will have a lot of digital "global conversations, calls to action, performances, video teach-ins and more. "

2. Find Digital Earth Day Events.

3. Make Earth-friendly decisions in your home.

4. Do an individual clean up as part of Earth Day Networks' Great Global Clean Up.
Given the social distancing, you should not take part in any group events! Additionally, please take proper precautions if you are handling waste. During this time of coronavirus, gloves and possibly even masks should be worn during clean up. For other individual clean up help, check out their website. Then mark yours on the map!

5. Be a part of the Earth Day Challenge 2020.

What is Earth Challenge 2020? An effort to bring together citizen scientists to empower people around the world to take action for the environment. By tying together mobile technology and open citizen science data, Earth Day Network, the Wilson Center, the U.S. Department of State, and more organizations are working together and hoping to create the biggest citizen science event ever.

Do you need to be a scientist--no! That's the beauty. You can be an average person that helps collect data on all sorts of environmental data--in a myriad of areas such as plastic pollution, water quality, air quality, biodiversity, and more. This data then will be gathered in a central database, which then can help promote environmental policy and education.

And yes, there's an app for that--both for Apple devices & Android. The information will support their 6 Earth Challenge 2020 research areas:
Whatever you do this Earth Day, take a minute and do something that makes a difference. Just think what kind of world we would live in if we all did just that. 
The power of one can be downright enormous! 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

More Contemplations During Covid-Season

I keep referring to this time, this social distancing, coronavirus, remote learning isolation time as the “zombie apocalypse.”

Partly for my own comic relief, and partly because it’s like the freaking Covid-19 is the battalion of zombies we are at war against, here in the apocalypse.

Two weeks ago I got something in my email box from an education company that said 70% of students were partaking in some degree of distance learning. This does include my own children and my own students, and at this point I feel it must be even more than that as social distancing rules tighten for more and more communities. My role as an elementary school Technology Specialist has me fielding the never ending tech help desk while also supporting teachers and parents in this time of tech triage. We have had 3 weeks of at-home school days and Zoom days and Seesaw days under our belt at the elementary school, semi-settling into this new style of delivering education from afar, attempting to get used to the new normal.

As adults, closest we can get to friends & family is FaceTime and Houseparty hangouts, holidays, and happy hours. I think back on my teen years and couldn’t even imagine this level of isolation that my own children are encountering. Friendships are happening by way of texting, and their main time together are in video chat rooms and on gaming platforms. Thank heaven for the tech time for connection, but man, I know I’m mourning the real face time that my kids are losing out on.

Life in the age of Covid-19.

As I'm pondering all of this, here are some of the things I have noticed, all of which have really surprised me:
  • My inability to shut down and step away from the ever-blurry life, when my home office is my tv room, and my computer/iPad/phone never stop acting like the Bat Signal in Gotham City.
  • My comfort in being home where it’s safe and germ-free, keeping us from exposure out in the world.
  • My delight in the fact that at least this happened in the spring, not the depressing gloom of wintertime or the oppressive heat of summertime. At least the daily view and the backyard patio are a respite from the over-techified world.
  • My over-saturation in mindless "over-scrolling" in Facebook, Apple News, and Words with Friends... which lead to my need to "step away from the phone!"
  • That ever-present, low grade anxiety which has attributed to every aspect life. It’s unshakable, and I found evidence for it in reading a very good article which explained how this constant, lingering angst gets in the way of focus, explaining why I can’t get deeper into books than the comfort food equivalent of Harry Potter and picture books. 
  • That a FaceTime call and visually checking in on people is so much more rewarding than an audio phone and texts--but that after a day of "zooming" sometimes that's the last thing I want to do.
  • That upgraded wifi is worth it!
  • That I’m tired of seeing myself in the 1” x 2” zoom gallery view window.
  • That I can have a fabulous outfit waist-up, cute hair, make up, and even accessories... all the while being in yoga capris and Bobbie socks. This apparently is the new normal when it comes most people's "work from home" outfits, without giving it a second thought.
  • That I’m grateful for my low level, pre-Peloton bike for letting me get my heart beating and my step count above 546, which seems to be my default daily work average unless I make a concerted effort to change it up.
When will this be over is a big time question, and more so everyday is this one: who and where will I be when this is all over? No answers yet as we are all dependent on heeding governor "stay at home" orders, and if the curve is actually flattening. So many new terms that we weren’t even using a month or two ago.

I’m listening to the rain right now. One of those slowing moments of gratitude. I'm especially thankful that it is raining here during the dark of bed time for the hope of a sunny patio day tomorrow. But I'm feeling the cleansing power. May it cleanse, soothe, bring perspective, and lull me to sleep... while also awakening me to a new day, a renewed sense of hope, a newly opened sense of wonder and optimism. Three cheers to the scientists and vaccine creators... and the day we are finally on the other side of all of this. May we remember all we sacrificed and lost, while also hugging our loved ones!

Be safe out there as you take every precaution you can!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Earth Day Quizzes

With Earth Day swiftly approaching just next week on April 22nd, it might be a good time to test your environmental knowledge. Earth Day Network has 7 online quizzes for you to do just that. Dive in and see where you are... and learn a little along the way.

Their quiz topics include:
  • Whale Conservation Quiz
  • Protect Our Species Quiz
  • Climate Change Quiz
  • Oceans & Plastic Pollution Quiz
  • Environmental Literacy Quiz
  • Deforestation & Biodiversity Quiz
  • Clean Energy Quiz
If you need more, you can also check out the Earth Day Quiz over at Conservation International.

Might be some good resources to send out if you are doing remote learning!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Family Celebrations in the Age of Coronavirus

During Spring Break, I was supposed to go visit my mom for a "Mom and Me" solo venture where I flew in for the bulk of the week. It's become a bit of an annual tradition, and one of our favorite times of the year. This year, that trip was canceled, due to the growing concerns over coronavirus.

Mid-March, we were also supposed to have a family gathering with my husband's family for his father. Again, amidst the closing of schools and the encouragement of social distancing and self-quarantining, that was canceled. And don't even get me started as we curiously await what's to happen with senior year prom and other events like graduation, and my daughter's birthday. All the while doing remote learning school using Zoom & Seesaw.

Passover was this week. Easter is tomorrow. More big family events for many people. Again, quarantines are in place and it's far more prudent to social distance as I see the growing numbers on the maps I daily stalk of Johns Hopkins, World Health Organization, and US's Center for Disease Control.

It's making for a weird spring, that's for sure.

It's certainly the right thing to do to try to flatten the curve for the hospital and keep this growing pandemic from doing just that--growing. But even with the right mindset of being "safe" versus "stuck" at home, it's still makes for an awkward spring season.

That's where gratitude comes in handy: I'm grateful it is spring, because it's the return to my back porch & the birds and flowering trees. I'm thankful we live in a time of tech where I can FaceTime & call my mom several states away, be connected with all via social media, binge watch whatever I'm watching these days, & be able to teach remotely via the computer. I have my family of four under the same roof & we are all safe. We live in the day of modern medicine. We still have access to everything we need. We have the gift of time in a way we've never had before.

No, we won't be having the Easter we expected, but just like everything--it's a matter of perspective and the attitude you bring it. One day, this will all be behind us, and my hope for you is the memory of this time lasts so you can really find that gratitude in the little things. For some inspiring Easter quotes for those of you who celebrate that holiday, check out Parade Magazine's list of 100 Easter Quotes--both sacred and secular. May your weekend be as beautiful as you make it and a gift, no matter what!

Image from and and

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Science for Remote Learning

As more schools are moving to remote learning (mine included), I've been trying to get a storehouse of resources for educators. Theme du jour: for the science minded!

Here are some stellar science sites, just for you!

Science Around Cincy
Complete with Teaching Resources, this website's goal is to help "build the next generation of scientists, inventors, engineers, and researchers." This video series shares the stories of scientists in the Cincinnati area and has activities paired with each video to connect the science lessons from school to the relevance of everyday life

Science Over Everything
"Science Around Cincy's" sister site
Of particular interest you'll find remote learning resources, videos, "60 Seconds with a Scientist," classroom resources, and National Parks Projects.

Common Sense Media's "Terrific Websites for Science"
Here you'll find 48 vetted science websites from Common Sense Media.

Mystery Science
Typically a membership site, Mystery Science has an open, K-5th grade leveled website of activities that are perfect to share at home.

Images from

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Recertifying as a Green School: A Reflection

I alluded to the fact a week or so ago that I had been knee deep during the last few months working on our Maryland Association of Environmental & Outdoor Education [MAEOE] Green School recertification. Our school was initially certified in 2016, and given it's a 4 year process, we were back in business this fall and winter collecting data and navigating the MAEOE checklist.

I'm happy to report that our green school recertification has officially been submitted, meeting the St. Patrick's Day deadline. (A humorous irony that I appreciated.) What a huge relief to send that off, as it had become the 'round the clock life for me and my committee, especially during the last two weeks. A "perfect storm" tie in during the last 2 weeks before our Spring Break while we also were busy facing the daily changes that needed us to put do some tech triage to get all systems ready for remote learning if needed.

The MAEOE application included deep investigation on all the following parts--a task that seemed to grow considering the nature of our Preschool to 12th grade independent school program. Additionally, everything needed documentation. The requirements were as follows:

   Summary of the School & Top 5 Achievements (over the past 4 year certification period)
   Objective 1: Systemic Sustainability
        1.1 Curriculum and Instruction: Environmental Issue Instruction
        1.2 Professional Development
        1.3 Sustainable Schools
        1.4 Celebration
   Objective 2: Student-driven Sustainability Practices (4 of these 8)
        2.1. Water Conservation/Pollution Prevention
        2.2. Energy Conservation
        2.3. Solid Waste Reduction
        2.4. Habitat Restoration
        2.5. Structures for Environmental Learning
        2.6. Responsible Transportation
        2.7. Healthy School Environment
        2.8 Citizen Science / Community Science
   Objective 3: Community Partnerships, Awards and Special Recognition
        3.1. Community Partnerships
        3.2. Awards and Special Recognition (Optional)

The school as a whole answered our committee's emails or division surveys to indicate what they had been doing, environmentally-speaking. Our team of 7 went out on expeditions in the school's Flickr account, the school website and digital newsletter, our elementary division's digital portfolios, on foot taking classroom pictures, and in person--hitting up our teachers for all sorts of documentation.  There was also a metrics form to be filled out and submitted, separate from the website we needed to create to compile all of this eco-information.

As I mentioned, this was our recertification process, so we had our 2016 website application as our springboard. I've also taken part in helping another school maintain its certification 2 other times, so it was not a new process. But big jobs are big jobs, no matter what!

That said, as I reflect on it (now that I've comfortably met the deadline AND caught up on my sleep), a few things come to mind by way of reflection:
  • While the task was large--one might even say behemoth, the results were rewarding. For us to see our completed package of all of our green accomplishments--it felt good, and continues to feel good. More than just from a "tackling the task" perspective, but also from being able to see the sum total of all our school collectively created over the past 4 years.
  • Were there times I wanted to give it all up, as head of our committee? You better believe it! But not only was it too important to me (as a resident greeniac), but it was important for us to continue to fight the good fight. It certainly was an experience in dedication, perseverance, responsibility, and grit--all lessons that we teach our kids, and ones we are never too old ourselves to learn, relearn, and be reminded of!
  • Are we perfect? No. But then again, no one (or no school) is. Part of the whole Green School certification process is about "darkening our shade of green." We have maintained elements we put in place in 2016 and have shown we have grown from there, environmentally-speaking. Again, that feels good, and it's something of which to be proud.
  • Will we pass? Who knows. We certainly gave it a valiant effort, so that alone stands on it's own two feet. And, if we don't, it becomes part of the design process, where we tweak and modify, then resubmit. It becomes a "First Attempt In Learning" if we initially fail. It is what we teach our kids. It is who we are.
Revisionist history might find itself in places like this, after the fact. Much like having a baby, people don't necessarily want to relive the pain of actually giving birth--but the baby is certainly worth it. Looking at all we accomplished these past 4 years across the board in all grades and all divisions... it certainly was worth it!

Now, all we have to do is cross our fingers and wait!

MAEOE images from,"Outdoor Education" image created at, and Quote image from

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hiking For The Win

I mentioned a few posts ago that I'm on Spring Break right now, while also on the "stay at home" plan given our global health issues. As a way to offer up a change of scenery to my family, we went to a state park that is about a half an hour away from home. The spring weather was upon us and it was a perfect day to be outside. Better yet, after a week at home, in "Spring Break mode but yet not," it was the perfect time to NOT be at home.

My family and I needed the fresh air, time to move our body (and scale some mega hills), to hear the birds, to hear at the sound of the water, to get the chance to skip some stones, to embark on nature's scavenger hunt, to be in a no-phone-zone. The purposeful unplugging was what I needed to stop endless, mindless scrolling of Apple News & Facebook, too much texting, and stalking different health websites and pandemic maps. It was 2 hours well spent, just "being." It really was bliss and a welcome respite. I think for all 4 of us!

A day or so after our hiking adventure, I ran across this Collective Evolution article by Alanna Ketler, published nearly 4 years ago, entitled "Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains." Despite its age, it's still timely--perhaps moreso in this time of being banished under social distancing and house arrest. The woods and hiking were the perfect place to be and the perfect change of pace. I had been finding myself during this week very unfocused. I had just come off a huge project, and I knew I was on the cusp of embarking on remote learning right after my 2 week break, so I felt the need to take some level of an actual break. But most of my week was more in canceling my planned pre-pandemic travel plans, couch potatoing, website surfing and news overloading, leaving a low-to-high-grade sense of anxiety, lack of focus, tiredness, and overall aimlessness.

Just as Ketler's article suggests, everything that I needed to change my brain was really out in those woods. Along with our trek, it reminded me of everything I have read and know about the calm that comes with time from outdoors. The reduction in stress hormones and mental fatigue. The ability to improve focus. The major points of the article come in its headings:
It also was a good opportunity for family togetherness--something you'd think we'd have more than enough of in the house we've been in for a week. But with teens and devices and their own rooms to hole up in, quality time doesn't happen the way you'd think it would with our "quarant-teens." 

The shared experience gave our family new scenery to ponder, the outer world to investigate, and even the opportunity to help Mom cross the stream by way of walking across the fallen tree--all without falling off and into the stream below! It was just what the doctor ordered! We need to make more time for it!

Photos from my phone--who's only use & purpose that day was to snap some shots, map our route, and in case of emergencies. All other phones stayed safely locked in the car--much to the original chagrin of my teens, but a well-played Mom move that reaped its rewards!