Archive for November, 2012

November 27, 2012

“You Unplugged: Nearby Nature” – Challenge #2 in the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps

by Melissa Harding

For one day this past month, over 500 middle and high school students turned off their iPods, Kindles and computers and went outside, as part of an environmental outreach activity we created to simultaneously meet state education standards. The second challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps for both middle and high school students, You Unplugged: Nearby Nature, asked participants to spend an entire day unplugged from all the social and entertainment technology in their lives. Students were required to write a reflective essay describing their time unplugged and to how aware they were and they felt about their relationship to nearby nature before and after their experiment. While some of these essays reflect the drama of adolescence, many of them were striking in their creativity, honesty and scope.

Many students used their time outside to observe the world around them. On describing her time observing nature, this winning author from Mellon Middle School wrote, “Most people probably think, a tree’s a tree, it gives us paper, it provides us with air. But no. It’s more than meets the eye. If you gaze at its bark you see that every piece has a different pattern and is unique in its own way. Not just the appearance, but the texture….No one realizes that a tree is kind of like a person. Tough and adapting on the outside, but soft on the inside. We as humans are closer to nature than we think.”

Another middle school student spent her day outside making a scrapbook with friends. Together they collected flowers and leaves from around their neighborhood, making art from their findings. When reflecting on what her technology use means from a conservation standpoint, she writes, “the whole ‘zero tech’ experience was eye-opening. I realized how much technology I used and how absolutely easy it was not to use any of it…It made me think, if it were this easy to actually not use any of the technology, how much of an impact we could make, if no one used technology for one day. It could be huge.”

The high school entries focused much more on how difficult it was to give up technology; many felt that their lifelines to civilization had been cut. The first place winning author, from Shaler Area High School, wrote that her day without technology made her realize that she was “addicted” to her devices. “It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch.” She goes on to write, “I reflected on yesterday and my technology use and realized it was ridiculous. I literally paused everything to use it. I checked my newsfeed as I ate, watched others live on the television as I sat in my home, I even caught myself reaching out of the shower to respond to a text message! That’s crazy!”

Other students wrote that they were ready to make a real change in their lives. While no one wrote that they were giving up technology for good, many said that they would take more time every day to look out the window and go outside. The second place author, from The Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, wrote, “By the end of the day, I was ready to plug back in. But this time, I knew, that it would be a bit different. I discovered a lot about myself during this time. I found that I actually care about nature more than I thought I did. After that day I began putting my phone away during my walks home so I could just enjoy my time with friends…I realized that I am in control of my own time.”

Overall, most participants reflected that they learned a great deal from their technology fast. They spent more time with family, friends and pets. They also spent more time outside; many reported feeling free and happy outdoors. The consensus was that while this was a tough assignment, it was a good thing to do.

Thomas Huxley, contemporary of Charles Darwin, said about the disconnect between people and nature: “To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or sea-side stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.” Many youth today are walking through a hall of backwards pictures, never knowing what they are missing. Fortunately, through challenges like You Unplugged and others, some are flipping these paintings over and discovering their beauty.

Winners of the You, Unplugged: Nearby Nature challenge will be interviewed about their experience on The Saturday Light Brigade family radio station on Dec. 8th. Tune in to WRCT at 88.3 FM for their 25-min segment! Interviews will be available online about a week later.

The above photos were taken and are copyrighted by Molly Steinwald and Julia Petruska.

November 23, 2012

Follow the Fellows: Real Plant Scientists in the Field!

by Melissa Harding

The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed to both excellent research and educational outreach. Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, the BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences.

Current BIA Fellows are engaged in local research in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland and research abroad in Nepal, Thailand, India, and Brazil. Their work covers topics ranging from the role of green roof plants in urban storm water management and the effects of plant invasion on a rare woodland butterfly to identification of plants used by healers for treatment of dementia.

November’s featured fellow is Kelly Ksiazek. Kelly is a PhD student at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden where she also earned her master’s degree in Plant Biology and Conservation. Currently, Kelly studies green roofs in Chicago. Green roofs are a unique kind of rooftop in which plants are grown; they can provide wildlife habitat, help hold stormwater, filter pollutants from the air, and decrease the heating and cooling costs of a building. Her research aims to determine which combinations of local plant species can survive on green roofs.

Read an update on Kelly’s research and life as a scientist at the Botany In Action website!

You can follow Kelly and all of the BIA as they study plants across the US and across the world at the Follow the Fellows section of our Botany In Action website.

The following Botany In Action update was written by Amanda Joy, Botany in Action Fellowship coordinator.

The above image was provided by Kelly Ksiazek.

November 22, 2012

Thinking Outside the Screen

by Melissa Harding

Rachel Carson writes in A Sense of Wonder, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength”. Carson’s wish was for children to truly experience nature and immerse themselves in it. She knew that natural spaces innately stimulate the limitless imagination of childhood.

Perhaps that is why some of the most imaginative and innovative thinkers of the 20th century have documented histories of playing in nature (Source). Thomas Edison grew up on his sister’s farm, spending copious amounts of time trying to hatch chicken and goose eggs. Eleanor Roosevelt was prone to disappearing into the woods and field for hours, making up stories about the animals she encountered. Beatrix Potter and her brother boiled dead animals to make skeletons. Jane Goodall, my personal naturalist hero, slept with worms under her pillow (and then went on to break barriers for women scientists everywhere).

Creativity and nature play isn’t only important to future leaders and geniuses; regular people report the same memorable outdoor experiences from their own childhoods. Creative kids turn into creative adults, but it is harder for children to find poetry and a sense of wonder in nature when they are surrounded all day by screens, stuck inside and captivated by electronics. What if there was a day with no screens and no electronics?

Why can’t that day be today?

If you want to help your child increase his creativity and learn to think outside the box (or screen), let him wander outside. Just five minutes outside can reduce stress and relax the mind; imagine what a half hour or half of a day could do! Without the pressure of their cell phones, homework, friends and parents, children can be free to enjoy and derive meaning from the natural world. Carson herself spent a good deal of her childhood wandering around the rural river town where she was born. She explored and mused, finding solitude in her thoughts and wonder all around her.

“The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love  – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has meaning.” Only by creating a foundation of love for the natural world will it have meaning for our children. If we want them to love it, then we need to let them play in it – without screens.

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

November 20, 2012

David Sobel, the Father of Place-based Education, is Coming to Phipps!

by Melissa Harding

“What’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it, before being asked to heal its wounds.”
– David Sobel, Beyond Ecophobia

You may not know the name David Sobel, but you are probably familiar with his work. The author of Place-Based Education and Beyond Ecophobia, among other notable works, Sobel writes about the importance of outdoor learning, developmentally-appropriate environmental curriculum and place-based education. Long before Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods and coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder”, David Sobel was writing and speaking about the importance of helping children connect to and love the natural world. He is often called “the father of place-based education” and his work has inspired countless other writers and educators over the last several decades to “reclaim the heart of nature education”.

As part of the Inspire Speaker Series, co-hosted by Green Building Alliance and Phipps, David Sobel will be speaking at Phipps Conservatory the evening of January 16th at 5:30 pm on How Schools and Community Institutions Can Utilize the Surrounding Community to Enhance Education and Engage Our Youth. He will then be teaching the following day alongside in a workshop for school administrators on integrating these principles at their own schools, as part of the Green Ribbon Schools program hosted by GBA.

All that aside, you may wondering what he means by “place-based education” or “developmentally-appropriate curriculum”. These two ideas are connected and form the base of Sobel’s writing. Sobel believes that we should be helping children to engage in the plants, animals and character of their own neighborhoods and regions. He defines place-based education as “the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum”. Rather than using a tropical plant to teach about flowers, why not using a native plant? Why not learn about landforms using local topography instead of pictures from a text book? Sobel writes that getting education back to a hands-on, real-world learning experience that uses examples from students’ own lives is the key to helping them develop stronger ties to the community and the environment. By getting kids out in the their neighborhoods and bringing the neighborhood and its leaders into the classroom, we can create a new generation of active and engaged citizens.

In relation to the idea of place-based education, Sobel also writes about teaching children topics that are appropriate to their age and development. In environmental education, there is a tendency to teach young children about great tragedies like rainforest destruction and global warming rather than about animals and plants they can see around their school. This doom and gloom approach to environmental education often creates a fear so great that it can turn into dissociation; children would rather be totally disconnected from the world than face its complex and frightening problems. In order to create engaged citizens who will eventually solve these problems, we need to start on a more basic level.

Creating an attitude of love and wonder towards the natural world in young children and encouraging exploration in middle years creates older children who are capable of taking action against problems rather than retreating from them. Sobel recommends three separate phases of education based on development and age; in early years, activities should center on enhancing the development of empathy with the natural world; in middle childhood, focus on exploration; in early adolescence, social action should take precedence. In this way, children build a foundation to care for the earth as well as learn about its problems in a way that does not overwhelm them.

These two connected ideas, teaching children in a developmentally appropriate way about their local, and eventually global, environments is a model for success. Sobel’s ideas and teachings have been widely implemented in both formal and non-formal education settings, creating a clear and real change in how children learn about the environment.

Read our recent post about Sobel’s latest article in Orion Magazine, Look, Don’t Touch: The Problem with Environmental Education. (And our Director of Science Education, Molly Steinwald’s, photography was featured in the print edition!)

If you are interested in learning more about how to apply Sobel’s ideas to your own life and work, join us at Phipps on January 16th, 5:30-8:30pm for our Inspire Speaker Series. Learn more and register online at Green Building Alliance. Refreshments will be provided.

The top image was provided by the Green Building Alliance and bottom image by Molly Steinwald.

November 16, 2012

Celebrating Stress-Free Kids!

by Melissa Harding

Last weekend we celebrated physical and mental health during our Fitness at Phipps program. Campers learned how to take care of their bodies and their minds through techniques like deep breathing, yoga, calisthenics and healthy eating. This is important, as more and more children are experiencing very high levels stress at school and at home; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends routinely screening children for symptoms of anxiety and depression. One way to help children deal with stress in their lives is to teach them healthy lifestyle techniques like those mentioned above. Our Fitness at Phipps program is intended to do just that through the multidisciplinary lens of camp using games, crafts and healthy cooking. We had a lot of fun and even got a little silly!

First, campers used recycled plastic bags to make braided jump ropes. While the average life span of a plastic bag is 10 seconds, we hoped to give ours a second life! We put our bags to work creating a useful tool for physical activity by braiding three bags together at a time, tying new bags onto the ends of others as needed. Campers added bags to their ropes until their lengths was twice their individual heights.

Eventually, every camper had a braided rope and the beautiful weather gave us a perfect day to play outside using them! We practiced jump rope drills in the Sustainable Beds by the Welcome Center. One leg at a time, forwards, backwards, and in between; the campers could hardly keep up! We also did warm up and cool down stretches, focusing on those areas that we worked hardest while jump roping, and talked about the importance of stretching muscles before and after exercise.

In addition to jump rope games, we also did some simple yoga exercises. Campers learned the poses of Sun Salutation, including Mountain Pose, Forward Fold, Half Lift, Downward Dog, Cobra and Warriors 1 and 2. They also tried some simple balancing poses and practiced focusing on a single spot to prevent falling down. Finally, we did some leg stretches and finished with deep breathing. These poses and breathing techniques are not only fun to do, but are great resources for calming anxiety or stress.

Lastly, campers made healthy smoothies and granola bars. We all tried something new and made apple pie-flavored smoothies; campers lightly cooked diced apples with agave nectar and cinnamon and then blended them with yogurt, bananas and ice. For those feeling brave, we added spinach to a second batch of smoothies. We also made no-cook granola bars out of whole-grain cereal, dried fruit, dark chocolate, sun butter and bananas. Campers put all of their chosen ingredients into a bag and mixed them together to make a gooey ball. They could then either put them in the refrigerator to harden or eat them right away. Most campers chose the latter!

Even if you were not able to be a part of our Celebrate!, you can still practice these stress relief techniques with your child:

1. Prevent stress by keeping your body fit and active; healthy eating and taking time to unwind with vigorous exercise are important for both adults and children. A healthy body is better able to withstand stress-induced illness.
2. Use visualization: Take a break and sit quietly for a few minutes while  imagining a peaceful scene. Five to ten minutes of picturing a soothing image like playing at the beach, walking through the woods or floating in the air can relax and distract a stressful mind.
3. Muscle relaxation: Tense and relax each muscle group while lying in bed; start at the top of the head and work down to the toes. Tense each muscle group and move onto the next until the whole body feels light and relaxed.
4. Breathing exercises: Concentrate on slowing down breathing by counting slowly to four as you breath in; do the same thing as you breathe out. Continue for several minutes until the stress starts to melt away.
5. Go outside: Being in nature for as little as five to ten minutes can reduce stress levels and create a peaceful feeling.

These techniques are useful for children and adults alike. Be a good example to your child and show them stress management in your own life; they will model your behavior and learn that stress does not have to control them. They can control their stress themselves!

How do you help your child deal with stress? Share your tips in the comments below!

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry and Melissa Harding.

November 13, 2012

Blossoming Badges at Phipps!

by Melissa Harding

Our first Girl Scout Day, Blossoming Badges at Phipps, was a great success! Over a hundred Brownie Girl Scouts, parents and troop leaders met at Phipps to earn three badges: Senses, Snacks and Bugs. With the help of our wonderful volunteers and Scott Creary, our resident insect expert, the girls learned how to be thoughtful scientists and stellar chefs through three multidisciplinary programs.

The first program, Senses, focused on the power of observation. During this guided tour, the girls were each given a scavenger hunt and told to use their senses of sight and touch to find different plants and exhibits in the Conservatory. They also stopped at stations to utilize their remaining senses, learning about specific plants along the way. The girls used their ears to observe the sounds of the Conservatory and their noses to guess secret scents like chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg and coffee. Finally, they tasted bitter, salty, sweet and sour plants to learn about the parts of the tongue.

The second program, Bugs, focused on the importance of insects in the ecosystem. Girls were able to observe insects all through the Conservatory and learn about their habitats. They also learned how Phipps deals with “bad” bugs, especially aphids; Scott and the girls released several bags of lady bugs and observed the effects they had on both the aphids and the ants that protect them. Finally, they learned why insects are an integral part of nature and why they should care about them.

The third program, Snacks, focused on healthy eating. During this hands-on cooking lesson, the girls made several different snacks and learned easy ways to prepare healthy food at home. They made smoothies, vegetable sushi and home-made energy bars to eat on the go. Using organic, whole foods, the girls experimented in creating their own concoctions. Many of them were very brave, trying new combinations like apple in their sushi and spinach in their smoothies. They not only learned techniques to make these items at home, but also that it is always important to try new things.

Overall, the girls had a really great time and so did we! Not only were they extra excited to be at Phipps, but many had never been to the Conservatory before. By encouraging them to use all of their senses to learn and experience Phipps, we hope that they take those skills out into their own communities and learn about the plants and animals that live there as well.

Do you have a Brownie Girl Scout that missed our Girl Scout Day or scouts of a different age at home? Check out our school programs, seasonal Celebrate programs and Evening Ed-Ventures; keep your eyes peeled for our next Girl Scout Day in the spring!

If you would like to register for a scout program, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Pam Rusell, a wonderful Phipps volunteer.

November 12, 2012

Upcoming Little Sprouts: My Favorite Fruits

by Melissa Harding

This Thursday, join us for the next installment of our popular series, Little Sprouts: Single Servings. Our next serving is called My Favorite Fruits.  Little Sprouts: Single Servings is a one-day version of our popular Little Sprouts series for 2- and 3- year-olds (with an adult). In My Favorite Fruits, campers will learn how a flower is pollinated to make fruit and why this is important for plants. Join us for a morning of songs, crafts and snacks that come from fruit! We will also take a fruit tour of the Conservatory, looking for special fruits enjoyed by both people and animals.

Please join us on November 16, 10:30 a.m. to noon for My Favorite Fruits.

If you would like to sign up your child for this or any other Little Sprouts program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, please visit our website.

We hope to see you there!

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.


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