Friday, February 16, 2018


Taking time to blog takes time...and I have been bad about it!

This week I caught up on two student blogs about a topic I love. Can you guess it? 😉  ANIMALS
So reading about their topics, cats and elephants, is super exciting. I loved reading about animals, but truly loved seeing students research and talk about topics they love!  There are no doubts I will be a domestic cat and pachyderm expert by the end of the semester.

Their posts made me reflect on my own posts (and lack of). My original thought on starting this was to document my OLC field experiences as "OutdoorAmy" with our NISD students and teachers. Maybe this will be simple enough to get me in the groove to blog, and maybe along the way, inspire a few to be environmental stewards and lifelong learners.

SOOOOO what happened this week at the OLC?

We have had a quiet semester so far. Many campuses choose not to come to the OLC in February due to weather and cold temperatures. It has been quiet. On Wednesday, we had our first group since December!

  • Animal sightings (and smelling)? ✅ Birds, deer and the most exciting, decomposing animals. YUP! Students spotted a raccoon carcass near our pond and then an armadillo carcass about 5 feet from a main trail. (Please note teachers and students are told during PreVisits NOT to ever approach live animals or to touch animals - dead or alive.) 
What's so cool about that? Ask any of the Clara Love 4th graders and they can tell you! "you can see it's gnarly teeth and how it was snarling at the predator before it attacked!" or "I never knew an animal smelled disgusting when it was dead." or "It's teeth told me what type of food it ate."  or "due to it's matted hair, we know it has been a while." 

These comments stemmed some VERY interesting theories on how each animal died, decomposition and even the why of not touching dead animals. And them explaining and justifying, some using scientific language, there theories is entertaining. :)

  • Wildlife scat? ✅ Did you know you might not ever see an animal when you come to the OLC, but there are no doubts you will see evidence of them through their scat and tracks? I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had on animal scat. The theories of what animals it is, or what it ate. Tall-tales are made out of moments like this. ;)
Academically what does coming across wildlife scat provide for our students? Students are able to take evidence they have and develop theories on what animal it came from. They can collect data through measurements, environmental observations and prior knowledge of Texas species to deduct an idea on what creature it is. Greatness is when two students have opposing theories and debate using the tools and field guide (reading for information ❤) they have to prove the other wrong. It is a great moment seeing students respect each other while communicating differences. 

Some students get so animated about their scat findings, that they continue to ask questions and keenly observe the trail to find more and more! There is a whole art to tracking animals, and two of those ways are through scat and tracks. This may be a great PBL to solve the mystery of if we have a bobcat or not. 

Lots of questions about movement in water, nests in trees and rocks. 

And that's it! We only had one campus visit this week, but I assure you they are coming more frequently starting next week! I wonder if our visiting 4th graders and Kindergartners will have such interesting sightings! What else will they observe? What will they connect with? And what will they want to share about when they get home?

Take time to get outside this weekend. Sure it will rain, but we need it. Take a moment to enjoy the cold shock of rain on your skin, the way it smells and how it effects our environment. You will be surprised what you notice and with that, the type of conversations you can have with your students.


Monday, October 9, 2017

BOO! Animals that Scare Us!

October is here with Halloween and many other cultural celebrations to bring us closer to Fall and cooler weather. (and hopefully spending more time outdoors!)
Halloween also brings out some traditional animals we tend to decorate (or dress as) to be "creepy and spooky."

Ideas on what those animals are?

You bet! SPIDERS......BATS......WOLVES.....some may say Owls, rats and black cats. What comes to mind when you see these animals? 

Since your students will be seeing these decorated at school, home and any retail store, let's talk some facts about these amazing creatures!

What do you think about when you hear a bat or see a bat?

I remember my first bat experience – and it was not in person. And it was probably what the stereotypical reaction to bats is – negative and creepy. My opinion of bats, even at a young age, was based on myths reflected in TV shows, movies and books. Why would I think they are creepy? Well, they come out at night, they are associated with vampires and they live in caves. As a 6 year old and growing up, I would define that as creepy. In retrospect, it is more along the lines as the misunderstanding of a flying mammal. (another oddity to add to the “creepy” list, wouldn’t you say?)
Zoobooks Bats cover of magazine

As I got older, I was still reluctant to read about bats or watch anything involving them. THEY WERE CREEPY!! However, my curious animal lover side got the best of me when my monthly edition of Zoobooks came in with the title:  BATS.

Let me tell you. I loved my monthly Zoobooks! They always fed my curiosity, my thirst for wildlife facts and even little tips towards conservation – and NEVER disappointed me. So of course I was going to read it despite the subject. My Zoobooks gave me accurate information about bats – anatomy, habitats, and food sources for different species, described how echolocation worked and even myths. That’s right, it took time to address those myths so I knew how to distinguish between fictional information and the reality.

So bats kinda have a bad reputation, but at that point, I was willing to understand they were a “good” creature in an ecosystem.  But honestly, they were still on my “creepy animal” list.

My next bat encounter happened when I was an adult on a family trip and got to see them in flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico).  

After a day of walking the caverns, we sat outside the cave entrance, near sunset, with hundreds of other visitors from across the World to see the creepy bats.  A Park Ranger told us some cool facts about the creatures:  like they are born hairless and blind, they are the only true flying mammal and they eat insects! They let us know how sensitive they are to electronic devices during their exit flight, and to be respectful and quiet while we watch them exit. These bats happened to be insectivores, feeding on insects for miles and miles. Over 500,000 Brazilian Free Tailed bats were about to fly out!

I remember this experience vividly. The evening was full of color from the recent sunset and there was a cool breeze. Everyone was in total silence as you could gradually here the humming of thousands of wings beating towards us. And then goose bumps! These little winged creatures funneling out of a long, dark cave to open freedom and fresh air. In perfect harmony as they blasted past out in search of the night’s food. Occasionally you could hear their squeaks. No one spoke. Everyone there was in total amazement of these creatures.

It was a total opposite experience of the first time I “saw” a bat. I officially did not think they were creepy anymore. Have you had a bat viewing experience? How was it and did it change your opinion of the flying creature?

And that’s kinda, why I think, it makes for a particularly good creature for Halloween and mysteries. From first impressions, these creatures have a “costume” of creepiness, but when you look at the true creature, you find a very cool one indeed. Lots of Halloween stories involve mistaken identities, tall-tales and speculation.

Let’s reflect on my bat encounters (and do so on your own bat encounters). How drastically different these experiences were. What made them so different? An indirect experience versus direct experience? Fictional, skewed information based on myths versus accurate information backed by scientific observation and data? Age? Environment? Being alone versus being with family and friends?

Experience is the key word. I had a memory made with family, outdoors, watching a creepy, yet eerily magnificent animal with just enough facts to keep it real, and enough mystery to make it feel magical.

So why don’t we try to give more experiences like that for our students? Experiences like this increase knowledge and awareness, while also reducing fear and debunking inaccuracy. Sure sometimes access to experiences is a constraint, so let’s start with the facts.

 (Remember to never handle bats or other wild animals! )

Get to know your Bat Neighbor

Here are some facts that grabbed my attention:
  • Texas is home to the most bat species in the US. We are home to 32 of 47 species found in the US!
  • Bat moms know their pups (that’s what an immature bat is called) from hundreds of others based on its smell!
  • bats can eat their body weight in insects in one night. Ummm, could you imagine eating your  body weight in Halloween candy? :)
  • Echolocation to navigate the dark is one cool function.
  • Some species of bats are considered a pollinator!!!
Dive into these awesome sites to find your favorite bat fact! Will it change your creepy creature list to remove bats?
Bat Conservation International – Kidz Cave
Fun, quick facts, videos, coloring sheets and crafts!
The Nature Conservancy (some cools pics!)
10 Quick Facts about Bats –
Always good info paired with beautiful pictures.
National Geographic
Bats have an Appreciation Day to celebrate them – April 17. These pictures reflect their beauty.
Live Science
Live Science has accurate information to build further inquiry on many scientific disciplines.
Texas Parks & Wildlife
Learn more about the most popular bat in Texas – the Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
(this site also shows the anatomy of the bat AND bat viewing etiquette – super important as a conservationist and wildlife viewer)
National Geographic KiDS
Bat Myths Busted!
CNN Travel
When they say everything is bigger in Texas, they mean it! Check out the largest bat colony in the world, Bracken Cave…
National Park Service
Bats, bats, bats – everything the NPS has on bats, right here. PLUS, a great way to think about the national parks you would like to visit in order to have your first bat viewing experience!
American Library Association
Batty About Bats – Book List
I challenge you to find these, in your school library or in your local library!
National Wildlife Federation
Build a Bat House!
Great family project to that you can show your parents all your mad math, science, reading, drawing and building skills all in one!

How did reading, viewing images or the video change your perceptions of bats? Leave a comment below to let me know more about your perceptions.

Bats are another creature we need to support a healthy, balanced ecosystem. If we eliminated bats(like loss of their habitat), how would that effect the communities surrounding their caves? Sure we think they are creepy by looks and habits, but after reading about them, I hope you have an understanding of why we still need them in our world – and not just as a Halloween decoration, costume or story. Maybe your interest is peaked and you can plan a family trip in the spring and summer to experience your first bat viewing. Or share a cool fact whenever you see a bat decoration. :)

Feed your curiosity with more than just candy this month. Take a chance one late evening, with your family, to sit outside and listen/look for bats eating bugs - maybe even read one of those bat books you find in the library. If you do not notice them, why might that be? You might be surprised what you find! 

Get outside!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Second Reflection: AFE 576

Reflections on Building Supervised Agricultural Experiences

Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) is an opportunity for students to participate in learning outside of regular classroom hours, with a focus in one of the agricultural systems. This focus is more meaningful, and time well spent, if it is an interest area of the student. SAEs requires time, and possibly money, outside of the normal school day, along with regular journal entries to document the experience. The overall goal of any SAE is for students to gain real-world knowledge and skills to help them choose a career pathway for post-secondary success.
            Agriculture is a broad field that supports our world. Within public schools, we identify those in different systems. These systems are:  Agribusiness; Animal Sciences; Biotechnology; Leadership/Business; Environmental Services; Food Products and Processing; Natural Resources; Plants; and Power, Structural and Technical systems.
            Students interested in an Agribusiness focused SAEs have a wide range of opportunities. These opportunities can directly relate to businesses and industry within a school district, and crosses into all facets of agriculture. These SAEs focus on, “business principles, including management, marking and finance, and their application to enterprises.” An example SAE within agribusiness is agri-tourism. This SAE not only supports the agribusiness system, but also helps the student learn more about cultural, environmental, and economical aspects of the region. Here is a link to a lesson, from the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) online communities of practice, to further development an SAE in agri-tourism.
            Animal systems SAEs are probably the most practiced SAEs. The focus is on, “including life processes, health, nutrition, genetics, management and processing, through the study of small animals, aquaculture, livestock, dairy, horses and/or poultry.” These are also very reflective of the type of industry in the area and within the school district. Many rural schools may not support small animal projects, but within urban areas, these may be more practical due to space and city restrictions. An example of an SAE in animal systems is a guide-dog program, where students care for and train puppies to be guide-dogs. Just like many animal projects within an ag department, this would be a program the school district, campus and ag teacher would support and manage annually for the benefit of multiple student projects. For more information on a successful program, learn more from Byron Nelson High School:
            Biotechnology system SAEs focus on, “The study of data and techniques of applied science for the solution of problems concerning living organisms.” This type of SAE would be most beneficial to students within an area with a biotechnology industry, or a larger district that has this pathway. Students academically advanced in math and sciences would benefit from a research or placement SAE in this system. A unique opportunity would be with pharmaceuticals or genetically modified organisms in plant sciences or pest management. The US Food & Drug Administration offers a Veterinary Medicine Student Program for a variety of internships. For students interested in plant sciences, a coveted internship with the Noble Foundation would be a great placement and research SAE:
            An SAE in the Cluster/Leadership/Business skills system focuses on, “Leadership, personal growth and career success skills necessary for a chosen profession that may relate to several of the other areas of interest.” This type of SAE would benefit students who have completed a SAE and want to explore other options within that system. This would give students additional experiences to increase their knowledge, skills and attitudes of career choices within that system.  For example, business management of beef production to leading policy changes in cattle production or agricultural literacy to know where your food comes from.
Students interested in an Environmental Service system SAE focus on, “The study of systems, instruments and technology used in waste management and their influence on the environment.” This SAE could be done in conjunction of another student’s animal systems SAE and the waste involved with animal production. Another example could be a placement or research SAE with a dairy or poultry operation, or even a feedlot. Some responsibilities a student would grow from in a wastewater operator internship with a beef processing plant is:  lab testing for process control, biological nutrient removal studies, collect samples, work collaboratively and more.
A Food Products and Processing Systems SAE involves, “The study of product development, quality assurance, food safety, production, sales and service, regulation and compliance, and food service within the food science industry.” These SAEs provide students a look into processed meats and plants for consumption. This provides a whole other look at agriculture as it goes from farm to table. Opportunities for SAEs in this system could be dependent on the processing plants, grocers and other food services in the area. Even access to universities and their processing labs would be a great exploratory SAE. Texas Tech has research facilities in food microbiology, pathogen processing laboratory, and even a mobile laboratory.
An SAE in the Natural Resources Systems focuses on, “The study of the management of soil, water, wildlife, forests and air as natural resources.” There is a wide range of SAEs in this system. This SAE would be reflective of the resources and environment within the community and school district. A project that could be beneficial to the school, as well as the student leading the SAE, is a schoolyard habitat. This SAE would support the design, building and use of a garden, or wildlife habitat, at t school. This would be a long-term SAE, with a way to attract students for future ag enrollment and show diversity in agriculture. It would also could be a collaborative project with other systems to support many students in the chapter. To learn more:  
The Plant Systems SAE is, “The study of plant life cycles, classifications, functions, practices, through the study of crops, turf grass, trees and shrubs and/or ornamental plants.” This SAE also offers a variety of opportunities depending on the needs of the student. An example is working with the natural resources system student and their schoolyard habitat. The student could lead an exploratory SAE to identify plants, insects and wildlife for the school, or even research the impact the habitat has at school for biodiversity. Another SAE that could grow from the schoolyard habitat is a community interest in backyard habitats with native plants used in the schoolyard habitat. Therefore, a student could lead entrepreneurship SAE by growing and selling native plants.
The last type of SAE is within the Power, Structural and Technical Systems were students learn more about, “The study of agricultural equipment, power systems, alternative fuel sources and precision technology, as well as woodworking, metalworking, welding and project planning for agricultural structures.” This is probably the next most common SAE supporting many experiences within CDE, shows and leadership events. Students could build structures to support animal or plant production at home, or school. They could maintain machinery or repair it, as well as restore antique tractors. Any of these experiences could range from exploratory to research to entrepreneurship. An example for a tractor restoration contest, with a monetary prize of $10,000:

Overall, SAEs should focus on the interest, time commitment and budget of the student. To help students explore what type of SAE they should be involved with, a great first step is the SAE explorer:   

Friday, April 14, 2017

AGED 576 Post on Placement SAEs

A placement Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) is an opportunity for students to participate in a job-like situation. It requires time, and possibly money, outside of the normal school day, along with regular journal entries to document the experience. The overall goal of a placement SAE is for students to learn how to be a successful, productive and valuable employee.
            There are a wide range of placement SAEs within FFA, but also in other youth organizations like FCCLA, DECA or 4-H. They can also be school-related, work-based, and outdoor or adventure education, community service or study abroad.
            An example of a field-trip SAE is students representing their organization while being a teen-volunteer/chaperone. As a field-trip volunteer they would have to be involved in the planning process, know the safety and learning expectations and facilitate learning while on the trip. A great example is a professional development experience I recently participated in with STEM and beef production in California agriculture. If students had volunteered with this event, they could have provided resources and knowledge about the region, culture, economy and educational system. It could be a paid or non-paid experience. This would be a great opportunity for any FFA or 4-H member, or even a range of CTSOs in agricultural sciences and STEM.  
            Work-based learning SAEs should be directly related to that’s student career pathway. An example of a work-based learning SAE would be a student working with a county extension agent. Working with a county extension agent would reflect relevant and local issues in a range of agricultural, natural resources and plant sciences topics. It would also show the range of work needed in the many hours of planning, traveling and importance of documentation. If the student is interested in agricultural education or leadership, this would be a great organization to see the variety of producers/consumers Extension works with, as well as the different venues, demonstrations and workshops given to lead change. Another benefit is to see how the different pathways at the high school level, truly work together in the real world because each county normally has an agricultural rep, a family/consumer science agent and other agents depending on the county’s needs. This would be an unpaid SAE.
            Outdoor recreation is reflective of the area one lives in and therefore offer a variety of activities like fishing, hunting, camping or hiking.  An example of an outdoor recreation SAE is within the Student Internship Program with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  The internship is designed for students interested in the conservation-related field. It provides a realistic view of TWPD and the different divisions within it. Students would spend hours outdoors using field equipment, gaining knowledge and the importance of public safety/communication. They would also have a chance to work with a diverse group. This is for college students and can be paid or unpaid. The internship is competitive, so they also have volunteer opportunities or seasonal employment.
            Adventure education is different from outdoor recreation, although most experiences take place outside. Generic examples of adventure education would be ropes courses, rock climbing, and archery, orienteering and snow sports. The type of adventure ed available is directly related to weather conditions and environment. A student could be camp leader or docent, at a summer adventure camp, or even within Girls or Boy Scouts of America. Responsibilities of a camp leader would be modeling safety, demonstration of various equipment, leadership and team building and strong oral communication. This would be a non-paid SAE.
Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) chapters are active in community and service learning projects within many schools.  An example of a service learning and leadership development SAEs is participation in the “Lead2Feed” program to “nurture a new generation of leaders while working to end local and global hunger.” Students use project management, decision-making and teamwork to address a need within their community. It also is a grant opportunity for chapters to compete, for moneys to go to charity of choice, or for technology within their school. This community service project would require volunteer hours of planning, service and team building within the targeted need. Needs would be different depending on the community. Examples are can food drives, meal delivery, holiday meal delivery, community gardens or cleanup and more. For more about this program, visit:

Study abroad placement SAEs may be harder for students to obtain. A good example of one would be as a collegiate course. Many universities offer 10day to 3-week mini-courses abroad to learn more about cultural, economic and social aspects of that country. These courses encompass the service or community SAEs. A student would go abroad to work with local farmers to become more sustainable, while they learn about service, teamwork, budgeting and communication. This would be a non-paid SAE.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Long Time No See

Hello !

Been sooo  long and meaning to get back to my blog. Keep thinking about it, but get sidetracked.

Well, now I have a very good reason to get blogging again (and stay active this round). Working towards my Masters and a blog is required for this course! :)

So, here's to happy blogging!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015



This is new for me. I have never blogged, and haven't much journalled since I was in high school (and yes, that was more of an outlet for teenage angst). But I am in a new district, with a shift of educational expectations than in my previous district.

I learned in the past few weeks of many PLC sessions that writing should take place in every subject. I wholeheartedly agree with that. But way easier said than done! I taught STEM for the past six years (in my previous district) and encouraged my students to keep engineering notebooks. Some were amazing with it, keeping thoughts, drawings and ideas updated daily. But most hated it.

I never really thought much about it, other than they were lazy. But was that really the case?? So when I was listening to one of our Keynote speakers from the ENGAGE conference last week, it struck me what I was missing in my classroom:  encouragement. Encouragement with the guarantee that I would not judge on grammar, spelling or punctuation, or even content. Just the fact they were trying! Encourage. Then when that trust was there, that comfort, the student may be open to encouraging better spelling or grammar....

So I decided to give it a try myself. I already knew that I wanted to have my "field notes" of my daily walks of the OLC. Observing wildlife, insects, plants, the weather. You name it, I wanted to observe and document. I wasn't sure I wanted to have it "published" online for others, because honestly, I am not the best speller or ever really grammatically correct person, let alone educator, out there. I change tenses, use punctuation wrong and really, I definetly spell wrong. (Did you notice I misspelled definitely...and I didn't fix it.) I thought that no student, especially teacher, would take the time to listen to my thoughts if I was so horrible with the English language.

But then the ENGAGE conference was so inspiring, I decided to put those worries aside.

I came to the conclusion that it is way more important that I model writing, observation and communication, rather than fear.

So here we are. I have created this blog to document my journey as the Outdoor Learning Coordinator and the many, many adventures I hope to have with our NISD students, teachers and community. Daily? Maybe. Weekly? For sure. :)

And if my blog isn't enough OutdoorAmy for you, follow me on Twitter @OutdoorAmy and be sure to like the Outdoor Learning Center on Facebook (NISD OLC) and follow @NISDOLC

Enjoy the rain today! :)
Outdoor Amy