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Missouri Green Schools Program

Earth Quest: A game of Environmental Literacy

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Missouri Environmental Education News
October 2019

Table of Contents: Article: Hope Not Helplessness, Lesson: Sprouting Acorns--A Phenomena with Easy Availability, Things to Look Out for This Month, Kudos, MEEA News, Grants, Contests and Awards, Conferences, Workshops, Jobs

Dear MEEA Members,

I hope the fall ushers in good changes for you and yours. September was a time of mixed feelings for me, with so much heavy talk about climate change and species extinction yet so much reason for hope with all the amazing sustainability-related work swirling around. It got me to thinking about big ideas, and large scale systems change. We need a wholesale paradigm shift to heal the Earth that supports us. We’ve just been extracting and polluting for too long. I’ve been wondering what or if there is a big question we could collectively ask ourselves that would usher in that shift. Permaculture has a lot of wisdom for that, and I wonder how much it would change things if we all adopted the permaculture value that waste should be seen as a resource. Or should we all start tracking our individual carbon footprints? Should we focus generally on cutting consumption? Or is the shift already taking place, and the Global Climate Strike is evidence of the collective momentum that has already gathered? Either way, it’s time we start believing collectively in the possibility of positive, large-scale, transformative change. I’m so fortunate to be part of an organization that is working on large, systems-level change, and have so much to tell you about September developments for MEEA!

For MEEA, September was a time of continued growth as a team and lots of learning from yours truly. MEEA’s annual conference is coming up, and the schedule has come together so nicely. I’m really pleased with the lineup of presenters, and we actually had more proposals than time slots. Luckily, several presenters had similar session ideas, so we were able to combine some presentations. More wonderful humans for us to learn from on November 2! I will get the schedule on the website just as soon as I can, but here are some session topics to whet your appetite: · Experiential Education Techniques and Group Process Skill Building · Indigenizing Environmental Education · Case studies and how-to for integrating EE into multiple curriculum disciplines · Youth Presentations on Stewardship Activities It truly is a great lineup of participants, and I hope as many of you as possible can join us. Fun events are planned from Friday to Sunday. Learn more and register at

Another big happening around MEEA in September was the Missouri Foundation for Health decision to fully fund our Missouri Green Schools Expansion proposal. MFH is supporting a 3-year project to build the capacity of MGS to engage and recognize many more Missouri schools and to provide extra support for high needs rural and urban schools in the MFH service area to be successful and be celebrated for their green achievements. Besides MFH, key partners with MEEA in this work are USGBC’s Missouri Gateway Chapter and the Missouri River Communities Network. Already, we are gathering partners for a network to catalyze green practices in schools throughout the state. We are especially thankful for MDC, DESE, and University Extension 4-H for providing letters of support for our grant application and committing to be important partners throughout the life of the MGS expansion project.

This project is an amazing opportunity to bridge environmental education advocates and educational equity advocates, two spheres of influence that have often historically worked in parallel on systems-level change with little or no collaboration. Talk about the potential for large-scale change! This project is going to allow us to collaborate with schools that have typically been excluded from green schools recognition, for a variety of reasons including geographic isolation and racial segregation, and listen and learn how best to support rural and urban schools that have more on their plate than many of our suburban schools. This project is going to facilitate connections and conversations between partnering organizations throughout Missouri. With planning, these conversations can lead to developing a shared language and shared metrics for documenting our collective impact. There are 567 school districts in Missouri. That’s a lot, but that’s not an incomprehensible number. With the many resources that MFH provides its grantees, from media coaching to facilitating new partner connections, we really should think that big.

I hope you’ll join in the fun of making the world a better place. Learn some details about the Project Plan here, and get in touch with me if you want to volunteer in any way, shape, or form. There’s always room for people who want to dream big!Thanks for considering, and enjoy this month's newsletter. Besides a thoughtful article by Laura Seger, MEEA's Board President-Elect, and engaging fall lesson ideas from MDC's Jeff Cantrell, the Kudos section is full of interesting happenings from around our great state.

Lesli Moylan, Executive Director

Hope Not Helplessness

by Laura Seger
Manager of Learning Experiences, Saint Louis Zoo

Photos from the Saint Louis Zoo

Those of us that are passionate about environmental education, are so because we want to inspire others to care as much as we do about our natural world. We work hard so that others will take action to protect the Earth too. Therefore, it’s our natural inclination to share all that we know about environmental challenges and tragedies with the audiences that we work with. However, that is not always the best approach, and in some cases, it can even be counterproductive, and cause people to disengage from environmental issues altogether.

Ecophobia is a term that author and environmental educator David Sobel, started using in 1996 to describe the fear of ecological problems. He saw this starting to emerge as schools filled their science textbooks with information about rainforest destruction, oil spills and ozone holes. He noted that children were being asked to deal with problems beyond their understanding and control, before they were developmentally prepared to. Today this issue still exists, only it’s children worried about climate change, disappearing bees and plastic pollution in the ocean, because of what they see on YouTube and Instagram. What Sobel maintained, and psychologists and researchers today agree with, is that children must first be allowed to fall in love with the Earth, before they are asked to save it.

What this means in practice is, that children in grades three and below should not be told about ecological tragedies. What this does not mean, is that they cannot help to make the world a better place. Children need to feel empowered, so at a young age, children can certainly help to plant native flowers to benefit bees, without learning about colony collapse disorder, and that the death of pollinators could lead to a worldwide scarcity of food. They can learn to help, and about altruism, and being a part of the natural world, without having the weight of the world on their shoulders. Teaching them simple concrete actions that they can do, like using both sides of the paper, turning the water off when they brush their teeth, or packing a no trash lunch, can give them a vital sense of agency. Making sure that what they are helping with is something local, and that they have a connection to it, is also essential.

Likewise, adults and people of all ages, who do not already have a strong connection to the natural world, should not be expected to be motivated by ecological horror stories of polar bears with no sea ice to swim to, or islands of plastic pollution littering our oceans. While hard-core environmentalist and those whom identify strongly as animal lovers might respond with empathy and action, to such messaging, the average person does not. Instead, the use of these negative tactics often results in the public experiencing fear, guilt and shame, none of which lead to taking positive action. Social marketing research has shown that such negative appeals are more likely to create feelings of self-protection and inaction, than the desired action response.

It’s also important to remember that those of us with a strong connection to the natural world are not immune to what some are calling eco-despair or eco-anxiety. Sometimes our passion and drive to help resolve these issues can inundate us with so much information that we too can become overwhelmed. The phrase “death spiral of the rainforest,” is hard for anyone to hear. In these moments, and when we are trying to motivate others to champion our cause, it is important to provide hope. Be sure to read and share the success stories, the things that have already worked, and the stories of many other individuals and organizations that are working towards the same goal. When we feel alone a problem can seem insurmountable, however, working towards a common goal can feel empowering and motivate you to do even more. Self-care is important; you cannot help motivate others if you have lost your own motivation.

Remember that our greatest tool is nature itself, spend time outdoors doing the things you love and sharing them with those around you. Remember that allowing children and adults to experience those awe and wonder moments in nature, is the first step to getting them to take action on the Earth’ s behalf.

Sprouting Acorns, a Phenomena with Easy Availability

by Jeff Cantrell, Missouri Department of Conservation

Nature journaling is usually recognized as a personal reflection journal, and the marvels of nature are easily incorporated. Students record thoughts, possibly emotions, as well as written and/or illustrated observations. Science note-booking goes beyond the nature journal with a young scientist learning adage. The notebooks may be used to record many styles of observations, collect data, calculations, and student’s procedures. They may sketch or refine methods, design a study, as well as solutions for next steps by recording successes or failures.

Educators find note-booking to be a useful instruction and assessment tool. Phenomena in nature is abundant. The Natural History Calendar of Events that is compiled by the Missouri Department of Conservation is one way to initiate a nature journal and seek entries. One model stage for a phenomena investigation is a close examination of a forest floor…and tree regeneration is certainly accessible for urban and rural communities. Examining sprouting acorns and developing seedlings, plus recording manipulations and controlled samples provide student opportunities to apply authentic scientific practices.

Missouri’s oak trees may be separated into two groups: the red and the white oak family. There are many differences in the life histories and characteristics contrasting the families. The acorns of the white oak group are the nuts that sprout on top of the ground in the autumn. They don’t have to be buried or go through a cold spell to germinate. Trees in the white oak family range statewide. White oak (Quercus alba), swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), post oak (Quercus stellata) species are a few of these which may be discovered in the wild, or may be abundant in city parks or schoolyards. Their availability and the free use of the mast makes them suitable for classroom and homeschool study.

An observation class lab may be set up indoors or out. The design of the experiment may dictate whether the teacher selects a windowsill or flowerbed. A few easy to follow procedures this October/early November are as follows:

    1) Teachers may lead students into preliminary Missouri oak tree identification. Free tree identification materials are available from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Students might investigate the conservation department’s website for the field guide. Subject findings and distinguishing field marks are recorded in the science notebook.
    2) Educator locates a tree suitable for the students to harvest acorns off the ground. Mast is collected. Acorns that are whole and not damaged are gathered. Science notebook entry includes date/time/location and description of the ground level micro-habitat.
    3) The class may store them wrapped in moist paper towels to keep the acorns from drying out. Viable acorns are selected for the experiment by briefly placing all the acorns in a container of water. Acorns that sink are used for the experiment. Floating acorns will not sprout and should be discarded and composted. Reflections on floating vs. sinking acorns may be entered in the notebooks.
    4) Selected acorns are placed on the soil surface in a flower pot, a shallow saucer of soil or an area in an outdoor classroom. Water occasionally, and within days, the adventure of the autumn forest floor takes place indoors for classroom controlled observations or on the school ground. Young seedlings will grow in miniature for the classroom situation as long as they obtain moisture and light.

    Photo credits: Jeff Cantrell
Teaching Tips for Further Investigation:
    1) Students may check the impact of small amounts of road salt, school compost, worm castings, a natural soap or a substance used around their schoolyard or neighborhood.
    2) Students may investigate moth and butterfly species that consume the foliage of the white oak family for a caterpillar’s host plant.
    3) Rates of growth may be measured with one group of seedlings under a plastic bag filled daily with carbon dioxide. This group compared/contrasted with a control group having a bag covering the seedlings with only classroom air.
    4) Once seedlings are fully “leafed out”, can students manipulate conditions to stimulate fall color?
There are scores of experimental extensions to give a better view of the phenomena taking place at ground level on our forest floor. Ideas and feedback may be shared with MEEA and Jeff at We look forward to hearing some discoveries and sharing different extensions to science note-booking and the investigations taking place in our natural communities. Science notebooks are free to MEEA educators on the teacher portal of the mdc website.
Teacher Portal

Things to Look for (or Look Out for) in October!

(check out all the green holidays)

What to Look for Right Now - MDC's list of What's Out There in October!


Kudos to the youth and adults who attended the Global Climate Strike, and are helping make climate action an urgent mainstream concern. Estimates indicate that upwards of 4 million people participated, making this the largest climate strike to date.

Kudos to the students from Principa, Parkway West High School, and SLU High School for speaking up about climate change at the Youth Climate Action Panel facilitated by USGBC-MGC at the Sustainability Lab event in St. Louis.

Kudos to Project Learning Tree! PLT’s Carbon & Climate online curriculum has been named winner of Learning Magazine's 2020 Teachers’ Choice Award for the Classroom, earning the seal of approval for outstanding educational value. Designed for 6th-8th grade teachers, PLT’s Carbon & Climate e-unit and online training provides activities and resources to help educators introduce students to some of the questions and complex issues involved in learning about climate science.

Kudos to the MEEA Board of Directors for a great discussion at our last meeting about the ethical dilemma around airplane travel. Check out a wonderful video dialogue between an opponent and a proponent of flying, read a Yale Climate Connections article about driving vs. flying, and learn more about personal carbon offsets.

Kudos to the Interfaith Power and Light nonprofit for sharing about faith-based sustainability partnerships at the Missouri Recycling Association Conference last month. Similar to schools, faith organizations have the potential to make a tremendous positive impact for the environment. For example, one person catalyzed the Sustainability Initiative at the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis. Two years ago, they began recycling water bottles during Ramadan, and this year they incorporated composting and switched to reusable water bottles. Thanks IPL for reminding us that we are an even larger team than we sometimes remember and that EE shows up everywhere!

Kudos to the winners of the EdHub STL Fellowship empowers K-12 education intrapreneurs (those who are employing entrepreneurial skills and approaches within an education organization) to develop and/or expand transformative education systems and practices with education equity at the center. Learn about the 2019-2020 fellows here. Better still, attend an EdHub event and start learning and thinking about the connection between equity in education and environmental education.

Kudos to the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter for enrolling 60 Missouri schools in the Green Schools Quest program this year! With this year's Quest materials, they released a fantastic Environmental Justice Project Idea resource to help you bring equity into your teaching practices. USGBC-MGC is an outstanding partner with MEEA in the green schools movement and are all-in on their vision of "Green Schools for All Within a Generation"!

Kudos to Stan Slaughter and partners Missouri Organics Recycling, Mid-America Regional Council Solid Waste Management District, and MO Dept of Natural Resources for the launch of their new project-based contest to reduce food waste through schools in the KC Region. Check out their new "Food Too Good to Waste" website!

Kudos to the City of Kirkwood's Urban Forestry Commission, Kirkwood Parks n Rec, the Kirkwood School District, and the Jr. Treekeepers volunteers for piloting a 1-day field trip to a local park for students to learn about the values of trees and how to identify some important local species. What a great partnership between a municipality and a school district!

Photo credit: Bill ruppert

Kudos to NAAEE for receiving funding from the Cedar Tree Foundation to develop the CEE-Change Fellowship, which stands for Civics, Education, and the Environment. CEE is designed to create opportunities for these fields to intersect, with the common goals of fostering leadership at the community level, promoting civic engagement and environmental responsibility, and, ultimately, building more resilient and healthy communities.


  • People Team
    • Memberships - Welcome new members Amanda Sauerwein, Ashley Denham, Pam Price, Natalie Randall, and Carly Walton.
    • Outreach - Lesli Moylan presented about Missouri Green Schools at the Missouri Recycling Association Conference in September.
    • Surveys - Thanks to the 3-dozen MEEA members who participated in the educator surveys! Follow-ups with several participants to glean more, in-depth info coming up.
    • Partnerships - Lots happening here. Meetings last month with partners USGBC-MGC, MDC, and DESE to discuss green schools. Lesli Moylan met with St. Louis Zoo educators and attended the September KCEEN meeting to develop those relationships.
    • MELAB - Mark your calendars for December 12, 10 am to 3 pm in Jefferson City for the next MELAB meeting. We will be diving into the creation of a partnership network to support green schools for all Missouri kids and grow the audience for the partners in the network.
  • Purpose
    • Conference - Registration for the MEEA conference is open. Sliding scale registration available, as well as carbon offsets. From Keynote speakers Louise Bradshaw and Sheila Voss to Bright Spots shared by youth to many resources shared in our tabling area, we look forward to a jam-packed day of learning and networking on Nov. 2!
    • Missouri Green Schools - Enrollment open, sign up at If your school is interested in applying for the US Dept of Ed's Green Ribbon School award, the deadline is Jan. 6. See In talks with IT folks to develop a plan and budget to create a more user-friendly, digital version of the assessment and tracking spreadsheet we currently have.
    • Grants - MEEA mini-grants 2019 application online, deadline was Oct. 1.
  • Resources
    • Accounting - The Board approved the August Treasurer's Report at the September meeting.
    • Fund Development - MEEA was awarded a grant from Missouri Foundation for Health for a 3-year project to expand Missouri Green Schools. With MFH and key partners USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter and Missouri River Communities Network, we will work to increase engagement with schools and provide extra support for high needs schools in rural and urban areas of the state.
  • Governance Team

Coming Up in the Next Two Months

(These count for Environmental Educator Certification categories 1, 2 or 3. Visit the EE Certification page here)

EE Jobs details here