Venus — What does a virtual reality field trip to the arctic, a hands-on lesson in stone tool making, and a lecture on Florida’s Lionfish problem have in common?

All were activities that participants could choose from during the League of Environmental Educators in Florida’s (LEEF) Spring 2019 Mini-Conference. On March 16th, over 75 educators from across the state met in Ocala at the Silver River Museum and Environmental Ed-ucation Center for the event, hoping to learn new activities and skills to bring back to their students. The event featured twenty different lectures, discussions, field trips, and workshops organized under the theme of “Looking to the Future.”

Archbold Biological Station’s Director of Education and LEEF Past President, Dustin Angell, organized this conference, and another last October, with the help of a planning team. Angell says the goal was to serve educators from a wide range of backgrounds, explaining, “We had many nature center educators attend, but we also had school teachers, professors, college students, and people from county, state, and national parks. Anyone who was incorporating nature or environmental issues into their lessons was welcome.”

This event was the 38th year educators have been meeting for LEEF conferences. The group they formed in 1981 soon became a non-profit and is now a member-based professional group for educators with an all-volunteer board. Organizing LEEF’s last two mini-conferences was a way for Archbold to give back to the group, which has been integral as a resource for Archbold’s own education programs that serve Highlands County students.

What distinguished this year’s LEEF event was its partnership with the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation through faculty member Dr. Martha Monroe. She moderated the conference’s keynote activity, a panel discussion with five of her PhD candidates. The candidates shared their research on diverse topics, such as how differing student views on morality affect how they relate to environmental issues or how lessons that build empathy are being used in Africa to reduce human-animal conflicts with elephants. Her students also gave other presentations throughout the day. For example, Natalie Cooper and Gabby Salavar (former National Geographic Young Explorer) presented together on photography and education, say-ing, “Today, almost everyone has a camera in their pocket. How can we harness this technology to engage au-diences in environmental learning?”

The location of the LEEF event pointed to the importance of partnerships between school districts and natural areas. Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is located within the Silver Springs State Park, but is run by Marion County Public Schools. This was particularly relevant Angell, who felt it reaffirmed Arch-bold’s relationship with the Highlands County School District, saying, “Our elementary school students benefit from a district-wide relationship with Archbold Biological Station, which supplies free field trips to all the schools as well as a pre-visit curriculum.”

Reflecting on the conference and its theme, Angell says, “The beautiful thing about environmental education is that it is grounded, literally grounded, in the Earth and its ecosystems. At Archbold, as elsewhere, we will con-tinue to explore the use of new technologies and ideas, but we will always be rooted in nature and our cultur-al heritage. It is the best of both worlds. We can teach our students how to appreciate the woods in their backyard, while also connecting them to worldwide issues through technology.”

Archbold Biological Station’s mission is “to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters of the heart of Florida.” It is located 8 miles south of Lake Placid at 123 Main Drive, Venus, FL 33960. The entrance is 1.8 miles south of SR 70 on Old SR 8 (CR17).

For more information call 863-465-2571 during business hours or visit us at www.archbold-station.org.

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