NEEF Awards 2018 Hands on the Land Mini-Grants

NEEF (National Environmental Education Foundation), in collaboration with Partners in Resource Education, has announced the 19 recipients of the 2018 Hands on the Land (HOL) Mini-Grants. This funding, totaling $65,000, will support high quality place-based environmental education and STEM programming on our nation's public lands and waterways. 

Mini-grants are awarded to partnerships between schools and public land/waterway sites that are part of the Hands on the Land network. These partnerships deliver place-based programming that aligns with national K-12 education standards.

Hands on the Land is a collaboration of NEEF, five federal agencies, schools, and other private sector partners. The HOL network of field classrooms and its website allow users to share information and learn about their local ecosystems, creative teaching strategies, and more. Non-HOL members can apply to become an HOL site to be eligible for future HOL grant opportunities and other HOL benefits.

Grants, in amounts ranging from $1,200 to $5,000 each, were awarded to the following Hands on the Land partnerships:

  • Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (Canon City, CO):
    Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area will expand their partnership by offering fee-free stream ecology programs for K-12 underserved youth. Expanded programs will allow more education on water conservation, pollution, wildlife, and environmental threats. GARNA will use the Upper Arkansas River as a living laboratory, bringing successful models to the Lake County School District to enhance standards-based learning and build on previous skills. Students will learn aquatic ecology; investigate using STEM; monitor and evaluate to make decisions about the environment; and become engaged and responsive watershed citizens. GARNA will integrate a Citizen Science database through to monitor long-term changes in multiple locations, uniting the youth along the river corridor in recording and comparing results. Similar programs charge students $30 per field trip; this is not feasible for Valley families.

    Throughout the year, GARNA youth programs include 7 full-day field trips to the HOL site including pre-trip classroom lessons for each trip. The field trip curriculum enriches grade specific Colorado Academic Standards including Arkansas Watershed history, formation and geography, components of stream ecosystems including habitat and lifecycles, the chemistry of water and human impacts including conservation efforts and detriments. GARNA also conducts middle school enrichment camps using TU Stream Explorers curriculum, a four-day study where students explore aquatic biology, river conservation and fishing ethics and skills.

  • Channel Islands National Park (Ventura, CA):
    Channel Islands National Park will improve their Native Plant Restoration Studies Partnership Program, which enables students to utilize the park as a living laboratory for conducting environmental monitoring and restoration. CHIS is updating the content of its K-12 educational programming to meet the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (C3). The HOL partnership between OVS will help CHIS to administer beta-testing of new CHIS lessons and programs. Program managers will develop standards-aligned lessons and activities for grades 4 (which dovetails with EKIP grants at CHIS) and AP Environmental Science.

    As a result of this partnership, students engage in hands-on experiential learning about restoration ecology and island biology by: working in native plant nurseries; removing invasive vegetation; planting native plants; and gathering and compiling plant restoration and wildlife data. This collaborative effort between OVS and CHIS integrates the expertise of educators and resource management staff to further our joint vision of expanding conservation science and education.

  • Colville National Forest (Colville, WA):
    Colville National Forest and Chewelah School District will partner for the upcoming school year to administer the Snow Investigations program, a place-based learning experience on public land which combines STEM and natural resource education. Students work through concepts such as ecosystem components and interactions, particle physics, states of matter, ratios of available water, density, matter and energy concepts, systems thinking, cause and effect, and comparing and contrasting. The field work has two parts - Snow Survey and Snow Investigation. The Snow Survey is broken up into three stations led by Snow Survey Specialists about water availability, remote communication strategies, and particle structure and function. The Snow Investigation is a snow ecosystem observation hike using snow shoes. During the Snow Investigation, students identify the parts of the ecosystem that they have evidence for and make claims about the interactions they notice. They use a field journal to record their observations and also use measuring equipment to quantify their observations.

    The program also has classroom component designed for practicing the skills required to be used during the investigation. In the pre site activities, students spend time in their school yard observing and measuring their landscape. They are given a field journal to practice recording data. The data is then used in the classroom to classify, support explanations, and communicate their findings.

  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Page, AZ):
    Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will launch a pilot program which willprovide immersive citizen science opportunities to youth via the Christmas Bird Count for Kids. This program will take place along the riparian region of the Colorado River between the Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry. Participants will conduct and record observations on the number and distribution of bird populations along assigned areas and collected data will be reported to the National Audubon Societies Annual Christmas Bird Count. Students will also use historical bird count data from the region to develop predictions about bird populations and habitat. Finally, participants will create native-seed balls to learn more about natural food sources and how to improve habitats for birds. 

  • Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (San Francisco, CA):
    Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will be inplementing another year of their LiMPETS program (Long-term Monitoring Program & Experiential Training for Students). In close collaboration with the Sanctuary, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sactuary Association provides LiMPETS to 1,600 to 2,000 San Francisco Bay Area students per year. LiMPETS staff take students to their local coastal areas, including Duxbury Reef, a Hands On the Land site in Marin County, CA. This citizen science and in-depth STEM education program helps youth develop a scientific understanding of the ocean and a sense of stewardship for their local coastline.

    The core of the program is scientific fieldwork: teachers and students visit coastal sites to record their observations on the distribution and abundance of marine species like Pacific mole crabs, sea stars, and anemones. In their classrooms, students record their data into the online LiMPETS database and analyze their findings with the easy-to-use graphing tools on the LiMPETS website. LiMPETS is one of the only environmental education programs in the Bay Area to engage students in the practice of science start to finish, and aligns with CA state and Next Generation Science Standards.

  • Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest (Helena, MT):
    Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest will implement their Youth Forest Monitoring Program (YFMP), a 7-week summer citizen science program for high school students who live in the communities surrounding the southern portion of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Students will spend one week learning ecology concepts and forest monitoring protocol from program instructors and forest service professionals. Students then split into teams focusing on stream, vegetation, wildlife, and soil health. During the next 5 weeks, students will collect and analyze data from over 40 permanent monitoring sites on the Forest. Students share their findings and recommendations to forest managers and the general public in a report and professional presentation at the conclusion of the program. A highlight of the program is a 2-night backpack trip into the Scapegoat Wilderness, where students monitor recreation impacts and invasive noxious weed populations near popular backcountry camps and trails.

  • Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery (Leavenworth, WA):
    Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery will host an archeological excavation as part of the Cascade Discovery Program, an alternative high school setting for students who need a different environment from mainstream high school. In the spring of 2018, students will conduct an actual cultural resource survey on the grounds of the hatchery where a proposed construction project will take place; dissect two river otters with stone and metal tools; and strip and bury the otter carcasses in preparation for excavation in the fall.

    After the field trip, students will conduct an analysis of the artifacts discovered, and reconstruct the otter skeletons for display at their school and in the hatchery visitor center. They will do a fish dissection with hatchery staff, visit a local museum to observe actual artifacts and learn about local cultures, and interview USFWS employees about their careers.

  • Mammoth Cave National Park (Paducah, KY):
    Grant funds will be used to take Heath Elementary's 4th grade class (80 students) to Mammoth Cave National Park in the fall of 2018 to bring to life the earth-science concepts that they'll be learning in the classroom. Because of the school’s distance from the park (320 miles round-trip), and the fact that well over half — 66% — of the students come from families with very limited financial resources, many of these students may never have visited Mammoth Cave if not for this grant program.

    In alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards for 4th grade, this trip will enhance students' study of the History of Planet Earth, including local, regional and global patterns of rock formations revealing changes over time; and the connection between the presence of certain fossils and the order in which rock layers were formed. Mammoth Cave will serve as a living laboratory to conduct this environmental education. Students will learn about the formation of karst landscapes like Mammoth Cave’s; about the formation of stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, travertine dams and gypsum flowers over millennia through the erosion of limestone and sandstone; about the fossils left behind by ancient marine life like crinoids, blastoids, gastropods and fossil sharks; and more. 4th grade teachers will work with the Mammoth Cave education team ahead of time to design a program specifically for participating students.

  • Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Santa Cruz, CA):
    Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center education staff will develop and launch a new Plankton Discovery program that will provide field-based education to 100 local 5th-12th grade students and their teachers, and train an additional 10 SEC docents in plankton interpretation. Additionally, funds from the project will go towards outfitting the educational classroom with the necessary tools, equipment and learning materials needed to effectively deliver this program. The Plankton Discovery experience will increase ocean and environmental literacy by giving participants a unique opportunity to collect and investigate live plankton, sample oceanographic conditions (i.e. temperature, pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen), analyze and evaluate results, and connect the learning experience with the overall health of the sanctuary.  Participants will become informed about dynamic food webs and environmental issues that affect the sanctuary such as harmful algal blooms (HABs) and ocean acidification.

    Each Plankton Discovery program will consist of a SEC guided tour where students will learn about the unique aspects of MBNMS, the importance of protecting this special place and how their actions on land can affect the sanctuary through watersheds. Following the guided tour, students will be introduced to the importance of monitoring plankton and how plankton can be an indicator of various changes in ocean conditions including runoff from urban environments.

  • Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (Boise, ID):
    The Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area will administer hands-on programs for local schools via “Desert Discovery Days” hosted at theinterpretive site, Dedication Point. Grant funding would help to expand the program to more grade levels and schools, as well as maintain the levels given in the past. During this event, students grades 3 through 6 rotate through four stations to learn about raptors and the desert habitat. At the “Critterman” station, students view live raptors, snakes, and lizards while learning about animal adaptations to the desert. During Desert Hunt, students complete an ecosystem scavenger hunt and in the process learn about plant adaptations to an area with low precipitation.  At the Snake River Canyon overlook, students get an opportunity to view the nesting habitat of the largest concentration of raptors in North America, learn about the geology that supports this population, and to look through a spotting scope at a golden eagle nest.

  • Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (Marion, VA):
    Grant funds will be used to subsidize the Avian Adventures program which connects local students with avifauna of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (MRNRA).  In partnership with local public schools and the Blue Ridge Discovery Center, the program will provide students with hands-on and scientific research opportunities, bird ID, binocular use, birding field trips on the National Recreation Area and annual hawk migration count. This program will be completed during the 2018-19 school year with pre-field trip and post-field trip learning activities occurring in the associated schools and specific field trips occurring on Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Program is geared toward 4th, 7th and 10th graders and their Standards of Learning and STEM curricula.

    The 4th grade curriculum will focus around food webs and species diversity through the introduction to birding in the classroom and in the field. Students will learn about bird adaptation to niche and the relationship to size and shape while birding in the field and seeing the birds with their own eyes.

    The 7th grade program will also cover these topics, but go a step farther with the introduction to life cycle, breeding habitat and seasonal migration. Curriculum would be emphasized by a day of hawk migration observation and data collection.

    The 10th grade program would dig even deeper into the scientific process by modeling breeding habitat of the Northern Saw-whet Owl. By using a variety of data collection instruments, information will be collected from known breeding territories to form a foundation for future management opportunities for the species. As a charismatic representative of the high elevations of the MRNRA, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is a perfect ambassador to highlight the unique ecology of southwest Virginia’s Blue Ridge. With little know about the species breeding ecology within Virginia and as a priority for conservation action within the Appalachian Mountain Bird Conservation Region, the students will be able to contribute to the scientific knowledge of the Northern Saw-whet Owl breeding ecology.

  • Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (Everett, WA):
    Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will implement the Mt. Baker Snow School. This program uses Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a living laboratory—blending citizen science, environmental education, and recreation that integrate Next Generation Science and Common Core standards. Middle school students explore the Forest on snowshoes and work in teams with environmental educators, undergraduate and M.Ed. interns, and scientists. During the Snow School trip, students venture to Mt. Baker Ski Area with their class and parent chaperones. They work in teams to conduct real-world citizen science, testing hypothesis on four topics: snowpack, snow algae, snow water equivalency, and watershed health. Hands-on stations engage every student in monitoring conditions, gathering samples, and contributing to the ongoing, cutting-edge research at Western Washington University’s Kodner Lab.

  • Natchez Trace Parkway (Tupelo, MS):
    Natchez Trace Parkway and Tupelo School District partner each year to administer two, weeklog environmental camps based on 3rd - 5th grade Mississippi College-and Career-Readiness Standards for Sience. This year, 4th grade Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi Club members will be in attendance at this camp at the Natchez Trace Parkway from June 18-22. Grant funding will also be used to strengthen the second year's curriculum. Programming will incorporate STEM through the creation of weather tools, collection of weather data, analyzing data to discover trends in climate, and use inquiry skills to make and test hypothesis related to these findings. 

  • New River Gorge National River (Fayetteville, WV):
    New River Gorge National River will implement a Water Quality and Aquatic Species Survey Program over the course of 3 months in the fall of 2018. Participants will be New River Gorge Learning Co-op students ages 6 through 12. The program's objective is to allow students to explore first-hand the elements that comprise their local ecosystem and their own role within our ecosystem. During the course of the program, students will: conduct stream-side water testing labs and aquatic species surveys; learn the importance of water quality monitoring, and indicator species in determining the health of the aquatic environment within the watershed and locally; identify the meaning of good water quality and how people’s use of water potentially contributes to water pollution; participate in a stewardship project that helps protect the Park’s water resources and teaches students positive actions that they can do to reduce, minimize, or eliminate water pollution. 

  • Olympic National Park (Port Angeles, WA):
    Olympic National Park will host approximately 271 8th grade students at Stevens Middle School in a one-day field trip during which they will run scientific experiments along the Elwha River in Olympic National Park. Students will design their own experiments on topics such as pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, macro-invertebrate, birds and sediment size and take data during the field trip. Students will compare this data to data taken by other students over the past 12 years including pre, during and post dam removal data on the Elwha River and determine if the Elwha is healthy. While one group collects data the other half participates in team-building, science games and Native American stories. This include the  “Macro-invertebrate Mayhem” game, a nature art project that encourages students to look around at the beauty in nature as well as the creation site story of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, to which some of the students belong.

  • Presquile National Wildlife Refuge (Charles City, VA):
    Presquile National Wildlife Refuge will partner with the Newport News Public School System to host 50 AP Biology students at two 25-student overnight trips during the 2019 Spring semester. Students will engage in experiential learning about their local aquatic and terrestrial ecology, the challenges of environmental conservation and stewardship, the complexity of watershed management, and their role as citizens and stakeholders in the James River watershed. Students will participate nature walks, canoeing, and water quality monitoring, as well as trawl netting, and fish identification on our 44-foot educational vessel, Spirit of the James will provide valuable outdoor education experiences, but also encourage students to be active and explore the outdoors while fostering leave no trace ethics. In class activities will spur collaborative examinations of STEM concepts, as well as challenges facing the James River watershed, and efforts being made to incorporate STEM in formulating solutions.

  • Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge (Maxwell, NM):
    Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge will engage 250 underserved middle and high school students from the New Mexico cities of Mora, Las Vegas, Espanola, Mesa Vista, Santa Rosa, and Bernalillo in a one-day STEM-focused wildlife and ecological conservation program in the fall of 2018. In the second annual program of its kind, the Rio Mora partners (USFWS, Denver Zoo, and New Mexico MESA) will engage students in hands-on, STEM-based conservation programming. The overarching goals of this STEM-focus conservation program at Rio Mora NWR are to expand northern New Mexico students’ knowledge and experience with applying STEM skills in the practice of wildlife and ecological conservation; increase students’ understanding of, support for, and engagement in conservation in New Mexico; and advance students’ capacity for and interest in pursuing STEM majors and careers focused on conservation.

  • Rock Creek Park (Bethesda, MD):
    11th and 12th grade students from Theodore Roosevelt High School will partipate in field trips to the East Side of Rock Creek park, an area that has been historically disconnected from Rock Creek Park. The goal of this lesson sequence is to introduce students to biodiversity and the key role that indicator species play in the health and wellness of the Rock Creek ecosystem. Students will identify macroinvertebrates present in two separate sites along Rock Creek using real data they collect, count the population of these various macroinvertebrates, calculate the health of the stream, and compare and contrast the two sites. By the end of the lesson sequence, students will be able to use their counts and comparisons of the two Rock Creek sites to draft a stream site report card. This stream site report card will be used for an actual project in which students engage stakeholders, community members, and other students within their school about the status of Rock Creek in Washington, DC.

  • Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge (Toppenish, WA):
    Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge will partner with Heritage University to develop a long-term, sustainable, place-based and culturally-relevant environmental education (K-12) training program called Project Topp-Ranger. The program will partner with Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge to promote underserved communities (Hispanic and Native) in the use of local public lands and waters as living laboratories to conduct environmental education, stewardship, environmental monitoring, and citizen science.

    Project Topp-Rangers will: introduce students to avian field ecology and theory; show methods for bird species identification (i.e. field marks) and monitoring (i.e. spot counts); teach use of technical equipment for collecting and analyzing field data (i.e field scope, GPS, Kestrel Weather Meters); and prompt discussion of aesthetic and ethical appreciation for birds and their role in the environment. The program will be conducted over a series of field trips (between 2−4 trips) per year and will expand student understanding of basic environmental processes that impact avian populations in different seasons throughout the year.