Investigate the attributes of one forest tree; explore plant and human diversity in urban areas; identify curiosities and awes in the prairie landscape; emulate a covey of quail in the desert; consider different perceptions of a wetland. These are just some of the activities you can find in the Leopold Education Project’s newest resource: the Habitat Discovery Series!
The evolution of the project
For many years, the Leopold Education Project (LEP) has been used by educators across the country to connect students to the natural world, Aldo Leopold, and A Sand County Almanac. In 2011, Pheasants Forever (previous managers of LEP) obtained a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its National Conservation Training Center to broaden the scope of LEP to address new regions and habitats. Arkansas LEP Coordinator Marc Hirrell provided the initial idea for the expansion and assembled a writing team to begin the project in 2012. The ownership of LEP transferred to the Aldo Leopold Foundation not long after the project had begun. This delayed the overall timeline, but provided a great opportunity for our education staff to collaborate with the original team to help edit and finalize what would become the Habitat Discovery Series. I was assigned to work on this project and was personally excited for the opportunity to combine my environmental education background and curriculum writing skills with the wealth of knowledge about Aldo Leopold and his teaching styles that I had gained in my first six months as an Education Intern at the foundation.
Connecting students to nature, just like Leopold
In addition to being a great writer and talented scientist, Aldo Leopold was an exceptional educator. When thinking about how we would use this new resource to excite students about the natural world and connect them to the land no matter where they live, we had to look no further than Aldo Leopold’s own style of teaching and mentoring. Although Leopold could have simply told his students about the world around them, he encouraged them to explore and experiment on their own, allowing them to achieve a sense of wonder and discovery. The lessons in the Habitat Discovery Series encourage those opportunities, as well as Leopold’s methods of observation, participation, and reflection. Each lesson provides students with the opportunity to observe the natural world, participate in hands-on activities, and reflect on their experiences and values. Many of the extension activities have direct connections to Leopold and A Sand County Almanac, encouraging students to read from the book or to approach tasks from multiple perspectives, just like Leopold.
Making the lessons educator-friendly
While our main priority was to create activities that effectively engage students, we also understood the importance of ensuring the activities would be accessible to busy educators with limited time and budgets. To tackle these challenges, each booklet in the Habitat Discovery Series provides background information on the habitat as a whole and for the specific activities included – no additional time or research is required to successfully lead a lesson. Intended grade level, approximate time needed, learning objectives, and necessary (and easy to come by) materials are clearly outlined so a quick glance can give you an idea of what the lesson entails. Booklets are full-color and laminated, making them easy to use out in the field. We also included a table of Related LEP Lessons to correlate these new lessons to the other great activities in the LEP collection.
Finalizing the Habitat Discovery Series was both challenging and rewarding, as all educators know the process to be. Although it was difficult at times to condense old material and create new activities, I found that asking myself “What would Aldo do?” was a sure way to gain clarity and find inspiration. Considering all perspectives, as Leopold was so keen to do, allowed us to create a resource we hope is accessible to students and educators everywhere. If you are looking for new education ideas inspired by Leopold, I encourage you to order one or more of the Habitat Discovery Series booklets from our online bookstore. And please, let us know what you think!
Update: The Habitat Discovery Series is out of print. We have incorporated many of the activities from this set of lessons into a new consolidated LEP curriculum released in November, 2016.