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Four Reasons for the Leopold Education Project Curriculum Update

It has been a busy fall for us here at the Aldo Leopold Foundation as we’ve been working on a long overdue Leopold Education Project Curriculum update. We’re excited to share the new guide with you soon – it will be available on November 1st.

Knowing there are thousands of educators out there who use the Leopold Education Project materials, we wanted to pull back the curtain and share the reasons behind the coming update.

Before you start that list, remind me— what is the Leopold Education Project?

leopold-education-project-logoBased on the essays in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, the Leopold Education Project (LEP) facilitates interdisciplinary exploration of the arts and sciences with hands-on, inquiry-based lessons that help guide outdoor environmental education experiences with students. The LEP materials are targeted mainly toward middle school and high school age students, but the lessons may also easily be adapted for use with families, adults, and elementary age children.

LEP helps students understand human connections to the natural world by building skills in observation, plant and animal identification, land stewardship, natural history, writing and reflection, and environmental values. Originally distributed by Pheasants Forever, ownership of LEP transferred to the Aldo Leopold Foundation in 2013. Ever since then, we have been working hard to understand the needs of the thousands of educators, facilitators, and State Coordinators who use the materials in teaching. That input has informed a project we’ve been working on this year to consolidate the wide array of existing LEP resources that were developed through its history.

So why update and consolidate? Let’s take a look!

1. Less is More

When we took over distributing LEP, we inherited nine different print resources containing 70 individual lessons! As we began to talk with our LEP State Coordinators and review several surveys that had been done with educators using the materials, we found that only a small fraction of the vast library of lessons were being used on a regular basis.

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What educator has this kind of budget for teaching materials?

We also noticed that a good number of the lessons covered similar content in only slightly different ways. We saw an opportunity to select the best lessons from all of the various LEP resources and combine them into a single, easy to use resource. The added benefit of consolidation is that we will be able to significantly reduce the costs of producing the materials. Before the update, purchasing all of the resources in the original curriculum cost over $80! By consolidating the lessons into a single resource, we’ll be able to bring the production costs way down – a benefit to everyone!

2. NOT Out of Sight, Out of Mind

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A group of educators learning how to read the landscape using an activity from the Exploring the Outdoors with Aldo Leopold CD.

One of our biggest surprises in researching the LEP materials was learning how few people were aware of the great lessons on the Exploring the Outdoors with Aldo Leopold CD. The CD was created in 2009 to incorporate activities that could be more easily adapted for use not only in classrooms, but also at nature centers, parks, refuges, and in other non-formal settings like home schools.

Aldo Leopold Foundation staff were part of the team that developed these lessons, so perhaps we are biased – but we felt like the CD project created some of the most innovative, fun, up-to-date lessons within the whole set of materials. So you can imagine our dismay when we learned that most educators not only weren’t using the CD lessons, but weren’t even familiar with their existence! When we talked to our State Coordinators about this, they echoed the challenges of the CD format. While CDs cost less to produce, we learned that print is still king in terms of user accessibility.

3. The Times, They are a Changin’

By far the most widely used of the LEP materials, the Lessons in a Land Ethic print curriculum launched the success of LEP when it came out in 1994. This longevity is admirable and speaks to the quality of the original resource. However, as we considered how much the educational environment has changed since the original lessons were written, we saw a need to revisit the content and bring it up to modern standards.

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The development of the Exploring the Outdoors CD in 2009 covered much of this ground, so combining similar lessons within those two resources brought us a long way. Formal standards are another big factor in dictating educational needs today. We are currently working with a core group of our LEP State Coordinators to correlate the updated LEP materials with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and we hope to be able to tackle Common Core correlations in the future.

4. Staying True to the Source

The final goal for the LEP update and consolidation project was to take the opportunity to strengthen ties to A Sand County Almanac and Aldo Leopold’s style of teaching and learning. Looking at Leopold’s life, we see that the way he learned and the way he taught shared three common themes: observing the natural world through scientific inquiry, participating in purposeful work on the land, and reflecting on these experiences. Together, these activities informed a lifelong cycle of learning for Leopold, his family, and his students.

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Observation, participation, and reflection components are woven throughout all of the lessons in the updated Leopold Education Project curriculum, including open-ended discussion questions to help guide both individual and group reflection and field-based activities to engage students in hands-on observation and participation activities.

We want to thank all the LEP State Coordinators, educators, and facilitators who have helped share Leopold’s ideas with young people over the years. We hope that the update will help introduce many more educators to the value of land ethic education for the next generation!

The new guide will come out on November 1st. Contact your LEP State Coordinator to ask about scheduling an educator workshop for the best pricing!

Note: We will continue to produce the Leopold Exploration cards as a supplement to the curriculum materials.