First graders at Hilldale Elementary working on PLT’s The Closer You Look. Photo credit: Stephanie Baker

By: Hope Light & Gavriela Mallory

The 2023 Forests of Maine Teachers’ Tours brought Maine educators to commercial timberlands, recreation areas, mills, conservation lands, and family forests. Immersed in hands-on professional development, teachers learned about Maine’s forest industry, forest ecology, green job opportunities for their students, and accessible models of outdoor education at any grade level. Through this program, Maine TREE facilitates connections between two of Maine’s most critical workforces: professionals who steward the lands we depend on and professionals who educate and care for our children. 

The 2023 Forests of Maine Teachers’ Tours traveled through Maine’s Katahdin and Downeast regions. While each tour explored a different part of the state, Teachers on both tours built foundational understandings of Maine’s forestry sector, visited a spectrum of managed woodlands, toured a mill, and worked collaboratively to start integrating key takeaways into their back-to-school planning. We’ve kept in touch with participants; many have shared how they’ve already implemented what they learned.

Fifth grade students at Lamoine Consolidated School record observations of their tree from the “Adopt A Tree” activity. Photo Credit Tiara Woods

Some participants, like Stephanie Barker of Halldale Elementary in Hallowell, have focused on promoting students’ personal connection with Maine’s forests. Stephanie’s first-grade class started a “Tree Study,” using the Project Learning Tree (PLT) activity guide and other resources. Starting with PLT’s The Closer You Look activity, they examine different parts of the tree, observe the changes through the seasons, take a photo next to it, record observational drawings, and compare it to other trees. Adding something from each lesson to their individual Tree Study books, students will create a personalized record of learning that they can then bring home to share with their families. Through this activity, Stephanie hopes her students feel more connected to the natural environment and acquire positive memories of exploring, studying, and appreciating the outdoors.

Other Teachers’ Tour participants gained a deeper appreciation of the green job opportunities available within Maine’s forest economy. Tiara Woods from Lamoine Consolidated School said that while she has always been passionate about teaching about trees and their importance in our ecosystem, “the Forests of Maine [Teachers’ Tour] has inspired [her] to introduce forest health through forestry and the many careers that support the forests of Maine to my students.” The Lamoine Conservation Commission leads 5th-grade students from Lamoine Consolidated School on a tree identification walk at a local preserve each year; this year, students were hooked on trees before the walk began. Tiara said that their heightened interest was due to the PLT “Adopt a Tree” activity her students had done in class, which inspired students’ curiosity to learn more about tree identification. Tiara saw this annual event as an opportunity to incorporate a forest science unit into her 5th-grade curriculum during the fall trimester while connecting with community members. Educators from more urban regions of Maine gained a greater appreciation for the value of sustainable forestry practice. Sarah Lucas of Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner noted that her most significant takeaway from the tour was “that even here in the capital area where students live in a mostly urban area, forestry practices are still pertinent to our lives.”

We are inspired by the many varied ways participating educators have implemented what they learned through the 2023 Forests of Maine Teachers’ Tours. We are excited to see how their efforts positively impact their students and the larger community and look forward to helping them connect with foresters and forest-economy professionals in their communities.

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