The past three school years have had an upending impact on students, teachers, and parents alike. From countless days spent virtually learning and learning to educate in a hands-off and distanced manner, all educators (formal and non-formal) and school staff deserve our utmost respect for their resilience and dedication to their craft. One of the bright sides that has come out of such an unprecedented time has been outdoor classrooms. Before the pandemic, it was common for educators to see barriers in getting their students outdoors in a way that meets administrative or curriculum requirements. But having fresh air and space to spread out has become an enormous asset since 2020 and expanded the use of outdoor classrooms rapidly in Maine and the country. 

The Maine Math and Science Alliance, a nonprofit organization that creates ways to engage students and educators in science, technology, engineering, and math, conducted a survey in 2019 on the state of community-based environmental learning in Maine. The purpose of the Community Based Environmental Learning Report has been to understand the inequities in these programs throughout Maine and also gauge the need for professional development offerings that help teachers meet their curriculum requirements. Conducted before the pandemic began, one of the needs recognized by the CBEL report was the need for educator professional development that aligns outdoor learning with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that Maine teachers are required to provide their students.

One of the goals of the environmental education efforts at Maine TREE is to reach more classrooms with these tools and to provide more students with the opportunity to learn outdoors, interact with forests, and experience the possibilities of future careers in the forestry sector. Our Forests of Maine Teachers’ Tour creates an immersive professional development experience for formal and non-formal educators to interact with Maines’ Forest Products community. The four-day retreats held in July provide ample opportunities for Maine educators to explore different methods of connecting their students with the ecosystems and local natural resource and forest professionals that surround them. With the help of our industry partners who support our Forests of Maine Teachers’ Tours, our education efforts provide extensive opportunities to link NGSS curriculum standards to outdoor spaces and Maines’ forests. In discussions surrounding complex issues like changes in climate, forests and outdoor classrooms can serve as a model to engage students while bringing these complex global issues to a tangible, local topic. If you are interested in participating in the 2022 Forest of Maine Teachers’ Tour or sponsoring teachers’ participation, you can find more information here! 

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