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Kristen Poppleton, Director of Education

Kristen Poppleton, Director of Education

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Thursday, 29 July 2010 15:19

Five Reasons Why...

Throughout the last few months we have been busy planning for our Fifth Annual Institute for Climate Change Education on August 12 from 8:30-4:30(CST) at the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus.  Here are five reasons why we think you should join us, whether in person or virtually via webinar!

Educ0081. Our keynote speaker is Naomi Oreskes. She will be talking about the misinformation campaign that has persisted surrounding the issue of climate change. Her new book Merchants of Doubt, coauthored with Erik Conway, has been the subject of many articles, blog posts and conferences in the last few months.  Here are a few examples:  Climate Progress, Star Tribune, Time, yale360.

2. We will be unveiling our new project, Engaging Students in Environmental Conservation Through Adventure Learning, recently funded by Minnesota's Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

3. We have participants from all over the state of Minnesota and the country flying in and participating via webinar that you will have the opportunity to network with!

4. We will be presenting a new funding opportunity for schools and youth available due to our new partnership with the British Council.

5. An excellent lunch will be included donated from local vendors!

Register now! Scholarships available!

Thursday, 22 July 2010 14:04

When the Kids Call for Better Behavior

This opinion piece was posted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today and we thought it was worth sharing.  It raises another important reason that we as educators should be teaching kids about climate change in the classroom; Parent Education and Awareness.  It often takes the concerns of ones own child to bring the importance of an issue to the surface.  Mr. Commers provides us with the perspective of a parent, educated by his children, willing to take some part of the blame, but also willing to be part of the solution.


When Kids Call for Better Behavior

What makes the parent of young children more anxious – the responsibility of teaching the important lessons, or the knowledge that we’re still learning those lessons ourselves?

Recently, as my elementary-age children have drawn an interest in news, we have had more conversation about climate change. This winter's dumping of thirty-two inches of snow on Washington, D.C. caught their attention due to jealousy, but also concern. Recent reporting that Lake Superior’s temperature is substantially warmer this year than normal also prompted talk.

Based on my sample size of two, kids aren’t just aware of climate change and some of its potential impact. And they aren’t afraid of it, so to speak. But they are absolutely serious about responding to global trends with immediate, concrete behavior change. They gave me multiple suggestions for how. Here are a few:

* Compete against your own driving. Set a limit for how many miles you will drive this week. Reduce the limit regularly. Call it car limbo.

* Grow food in the backyard if you have one, and create greenhouses together for winter growing. Why eat food from far away?

* Use a compost. You can put all of your corn husks and apple cores in it, and then it turns into dirt without having to drive it anywhere.

* If you sell things in plastic containers, you should take them back to recycle them (hear that, grocery stores?)

These are mostly relatively simple measures to implement for many of us, and they're increments toward a solution. But the kids don’t stop here. The immediacy and concreteness of their recommendations become more clear with ideas like:

* Add trees all over. Replace some of the streets with trees. Shrink the city.

* Change the city so that people don’t need to drive across town to go from their home to their work.

At times, these conversations have shifted into early forms of generational charges: Dad, your generation and all the others have blown it big time. We’re not going to face the music with baby steps, so get moving. And they’re right. Attempting to explain why some of these recommendations aren’t a matter of course is dicey territory. Don’t even try suggesting to them that politics present a legitimate reason for inaction. There are plenty of ways I continue to develop and guide my children’s behavior, and in doing so hopefully convey larger lessons about life. At the same time, in cases like these exchanges about “going green,” they serve to develop and guide my behavior, too. We’re all better for it.

By Jon Commers, founder and principal of Donjek, Incorporated. His projects focus on navigating placemakers - planners, developers, engineers - through financial feasibility and analysis, with an emphasis on facilitating public-private sector negotiations.

This week we have been busy working with a group of college students from Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Portugal and France. They are here through the University of Minnesota's Office of International Studies and are studying Climate Change andIMG_2988 Sustainability for five weeks. We have been lucky to host them for a few days up at Will's homestead outside Ely teaching them about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, as well as discussing issues of climate change policy at an international level. It is always exciting for us as at the Foundation to meet with youth from other countries and to have time to have a dialogue on climate change from a global perspective. For one activity, we pulled from our Citizen Climate curriculum a lesson on equity in climate negotiations, and discussed different definitions of equity.  Our discussion was all the more rich because of the diversity of nations represented in our group.  Here are a few photos of the group in action both using their brains and using their hands!


Wednesday, 07 July 2010 08:05

The "so I biked to work today" blog

I feel like most people in the blogging world, especially those of us in environmental nonprofits, get around to the "so I biked to work today" blog. Today is my day.

I have been aiming to bike to work since February when I started here.  I feel like a hypocrite doing the work I do without doing a little of my own carbon offsetting, but there is always a good excuse. Blizzard like weather, day care drop offs, not having a good bike lock, flat tire, training for a marathon, the list goes on. Finally last week the stars aligned. Our car needed to go in the shop and I "had" to seek an alternative transport option.

I was immediately hooked.  Here are a few reasons why:

1. We are lucky in the Twin Cities to have some amazing bike trails, the best one being the Midtown Greenway running next to our office.7-7

2. There is a community of people out there that bike to work, and they aren't all in fancy outfits and riding fast bikes. Most of them look like normal people, using their bike to get from point A to point B. They are wearing jeans, skirts, dress pants, bike shorts, swim suits, and head scarves.

3. People transport what they need in amazing ways. They have bags on their shoulders, trailers behind them and baskets in front.

4. I feel healthy when I move my body in the morning. I think about my work day ahead and on the way home leave work behind.

5. You cannot safely multi-task when biking. The simplicity of it is a rarity in the life I lead of working Mom/spouse/friend/daughter/sister.

6. If I bike once a week throughout the year I will save 450 pounds of CO2 emissions and $100. Not a huge amount, but something. (Freedom Bike Calculator)

7.  Finally I like the example I set for my kids and for those around me.  I am a firm believer that action inspires action.  I share that I biked to work as my facebook status and within ten minutes three people have commented on or "liked" my status.  Thats three people that have thought about bike commuting and maybe are considering trying it.

As educators you also have an opportunity to set an example for the students you teach.  If you teach in a traditional school with your summers off, try out the bike commute to school on your own time this summer to see what it is like and what the best route is.  Make a goal of biking in at least once a week if it works for you and hang your bike helmet up in your classroom with pride.  Tell your students why you do it, how it makes you feel and share the resources below that might be useful when planning a bike commute.  The What Now? section of our education binder has a great template and steps for taking personal, community and school action.  Spend some classtime discussing ways students already are making a difference (carpooling, riding a schoolbus instead of getting a ride), and more steps they can take.

Bike Commuting Resources

1.  Google Maps now includes bike routes for many communities.

2. There are number of carbon calculators out there. I found the Freedom Bike Calculator.

3.  REI has a number of useful articles and videos on bike commuting, as well as free bike maintenance classes.  Local bike shops in your area may have similar classes.


This is the second in a series of blogs focused on connecting to the natural world in anticipation of our newly funded curriculum project, Minnesota's Changing Climate.

In the upcoming months we will be busy working on our new project recently funded by the LCCMR, Engaging Students in Environmental Stewardship through Adventure Learning. The foundation of this project came out of a recognition that in order to develop active and life-long stewardship of the environment, we had to build awareness and interest in the natural environment and the impact of climate change. We hope to build this through a new curriculum project that brings together an interactive online classroom, with lesson plans and video and audio clips. We will be using examples from Will Steger’s lifelong archives that demonstrate how his early experiences in the outdoors, observing and documenting what he saw were foundational in his development as an explorer, and climate change educator.

One goal of our project is to find ways to bring together the online environment, with experiences and observations that students make outside. In a recent blog post, author Richard Louv, discusses the idea that some people feel “technology is the antithesis of nature.” He argues that a “techno-naturalists” are here to stay, and that “the proof of the worth of any nature-oriented getaway gadget should not be how focused the user becomes on the technology, but on how long it takes that person to put down the gadget, or become unaware of it, so they feel free to look away and use their own eyes and all the other senses.”

This view on technology and outdoor experiences seems worthy. It is nearly impossible to completely eliminate the presence of technology from outdoor experiences today, and in the case of classroom outdoor experiences the integration of technology is what is being called a mandatory “21st Century skill.” However, it is important to be deliberate and conscious about how and when technology is being used. Most importantly always make time to put down the technology, whether it be pencil or smartphone; smell the flowers, see the birds, or hear the wind in the trees.


This is the first in a series of blogs focused on connecting to the natural world in anticipation of our newly funded curriculum project, Minnesota's Changing Climate.

Growing up I would call myself a summer camp junkie. My parents started taking us camping when we were toddlers and we attended a week long family camp every summer in Minnesota's northwoods. When I hit third grade, my parents packed me off to Girl Scout camp for a week and while the friend I went with cried all week from homesickness I reveled in the freedom, the campfires, the wild edible talks and starlit nights. My camp adventures grew longer and more intense as I grew older, I volunteered as junior counselor at family camp, and the summer after my senior year of high school I went on a 45 day canoe trip in Canada's Arctic. I had no trouble knowing what job I wanted to do in my summers during college. The nine months of the year not spent at camp, were essentially a long countdown. It was also during college that I realized that my love for camp, and more specifically the wild places I had the opportunity to explore and get to know, were essentially linked to science and education.

There is no question that camp and the unique individuals that were my camp counselors and mentors, were what inspired me to enter environmental education. It is because of this, that I was saddened to read Mary Beth Mccauley' article in The Christian Science Monitor, Summer camp:  Sunset for an American tradition? The article details how it is increasingly difficult for camps to cater to the life of the modern child and today's parents.  School years are longer, there is more concern about still focusing on academics in the summer, and the idea of "unplugging" from modern technology is becoming so foreign to parents and kids that it is hard to sell.  Mccauley writes;..."there are other places where young people can learn the stout virtues of confidence, teamwork, and resilience; of independence and friendship; of love of nature. But few disguise the lessons quite the way summer camp does – as pure fun."

As an environmental educator, the loss of these intense experiences in the natural world are what concerns me most.  Author Richard Louv labelled this Nature Deficit Disorder, others call this a loss of a sense of place.  Regardless of its name, the less positive experiences in the natural world that children have, the less connection they have and the less likely they are to feel real concern for threats to the environment.  There is in fact an entire field of research in environmental education called Significant Life Experience Research that looks at how, why, when and where experiences in the outdoors are important.  The results are pretty clear.  The more you get people outside, the more likely they are to show an affinity for the environment.

The importance of this is obvious from the standpoint of us at the Will Steger Foundation.  Without a real concern for the environment, how are we supposed to get people concerned for the effects of climate change?  In the next blog I will begin to outline some of the ways we will be addressing this in our new curriculum project, Minnesota's Changing Climate, as well as discuss the possibility of integrating technology with experiences in the natural world in a way that doesn't take away from the experience, but enhances it.

Thursday, 10 June 2010 14:12

Making Behavior Change Fun

Today was Bike/Walk to Work Day and seeing all the fun events to celebrate it around the Twin Cities Metropolitan area reminded me of the project seen in the video below.  It was done with the thought that:

...something simple and fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better. (fun theory)

Events like Bike/Walk to Work Day intentionally build a community of people committed to doing something good for the environment, by limiting the amount they drive to work.  Others can become inspired by these actions in part because of how much FUN the people that participate seem to be having.

Think about the community you live or work in.  What are some things that could be done to improve the energy efficiency or limit your carbon footprint?  How could they be made fun?

In his speech this last week President Obama addressed the oil spill in the gulf mentioning that his eleven year old daughter Malia had asked him that morning, "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"  Her question echoes that of many children and adults throughout the world, and also raises the issue of how to talk to children about disasters like the oil spill.  I have blogged about the issue of appropriate ways and times to talk to children about climate change a bit in the past .  Similar to climate change the oil spill is a scary, but almost unavoidable topic because of the vast coverage by the media.  Recently the National Wildlife Federation put out an article, How to Talk with Kids About the Gulf Oil Spill .  It includes simple, clear tips that are really applicable to a discussion about any environmental issue of concern.  If you are looking for some activities to do in the classroom the following video describes one activity found on the NASA SciFiles website .  Although the program has been retired, the educator guides are still available to download and this activity is from the Case of the Ocean Odyssey.

On occasion we are lucky enough to see the results of teachers using our curriculum. This week we received a whole bundle of posters and final reflections on the carbon cycle, based on lesson one of our Citizen Climate Curriculum.   Many thanks to Aitkin High School Ninth Grade Science!  We've included a few examples below. We'd love to see what you've been working on in your classroom and how you're used on curriculum!  Send it to us via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or to:  Will Steger Foundation, 2801 21st Ave. S. Suite 127, Minneapolis, MN 55407.




ENRTF_logosmallThanks to Minnesota's Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota's Resources (LCCMR), we will be receiving funding over the next two years for a new project, Engaging Students in Environmental Stewardship through Adventure Learning. The $250,000 allocated to the Will Steger Foundation will support the development of a new curriculum, teacher training, online learning and collaboration with schools.  The focus of the project will be on investigating the connection between Minnesota’s changing climate and the impacts on ecosystems and natural resources.  Outcomes will include the development, evaluation, and implementation of an adventure learning climate change education program, which ties Will Steger’s adventures with engaging content on Minnesota’s natural environment and the impacts of climate change. 

The program includes:  a) Grades 3-12 curriculum that is reviewed by educators, aligned with Minnesota state standards, and is interdisciplinary, and experiential in nature; b)  professional development opportunities for over 300 Minnesota educators through our Summer Institutes for Climate Change Education, c) an online classroom, including multi-media resources and social networking features; and d) evaluation.

A big focus of the new curriculum will be phenology, the study of the effects of climate on plant and animal life cycles, and the skills necessary to be a good observer of these phenomena.  We are lucky to have the archives of Will Steger beginning from when he was boy, that show how he has dedicated most of his life to practicing these very skills.  Items from these archives will be integrated into the curriculum(see journal excerpt below).  An article posted today on the Union of Concerned Scientists website, illustrates the importance of developing observational skills.  The article describes that scientists are observing an earlier arrival of spring and the effects this has on animal and plant life cycles.  It is because scientists, and other naturalists have spent time recording their observations over long periods of time, that we are able to understand better the results of climate change.  Through our new curriculum, we hope to build awareness and interest in Minnesota's natural environment and the impact of climate change, and provide educators and students with the skills necessary for active and life-long stewardship.


An excerpt from Will Steger's weather journal in 1956.

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