AEOE Conference & Road Trip!

Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

A couple weekends ago, several staff members and I drove down to Sierra Outdoor School to attend the Fall Northern California AEOE Conference.  AEOE, or the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education, hosts conferences twice a year in California for environmental educators to get together and learn from each other. Quail, Madrone, Echo, Redwood, Midnight, Aurora, Raven and I all piled into two cars and road tripped south to Sonora.  When Quail wasn’t giving us great information and history about all the sites we passed along the way, we belted out Mackelmore and the Backstreet Boys as we drove and stopped in Angel’s Camp for some delicious burritos before arriving at the outdoor school after dark.  As soon as we arrived, we noticed several people gazing up at the night sky and spinning in circles before collapsing on the ground. Echo squealed and she and Aurora quickly ran off to play the popular stargazing game “Star Spinning” with them.  We immediately felt right at home!

We set up our tents and headed down to the bonfire to meet the other conference attendees.  Everyone was gathered around the fire, playing music, singing and chatting.  It was so fun to meet naturalists from other outdoor schools all over Northern California, all with similar goals and passions as us.  I was excited to meet a naturalist that had worked in the same entomology lab that I had worked in at UC Davis and another naturalist who had visited my home town of Tallahassee, Florida and frequented the same springs and beaches that I loved growing up.  We all had so much in common and it was great to talk about our respective schools and compare our programs.

The next morning, after a quick breakfast, we dove into our workshops.  The first workshop I attended was about insect diversity.  We covered the basics of insect evolution and classification and then when out to catch bugs.  I was paired with some naturalists from San Mateo Outdoor Education and enjoyed teaching them about insects as well as the natural history of many of the plants we found while exploring.  Last week I brought the information I learned back to Shady Creek and in-serviced our entire naturalist staff.  I hope we can incorporate what we learned about insects to some of our classes here at Shady Creek!

My next class covered community-building strategies. We played a variety of games aimed at building teamwork and community and went over strategies for getting kids to think about community and how it relates to their own lives.  We have already brought some of these strategies to our Discovery Hikes as well as our ropes course. My third workshop was an introduction to the use of poetry as a way of documenting and connecting with nature.  The course provided strategies for incorporating poetry writing into classes, but also brought in the idea of poetry as a tool for a naturalist on a day-to-day basis in observing and studying nature.  I had so much fun on this class and hope to start writing more poetry for myself, as well as using these exercises in classes like gorking and silent watch.

In the evening, there was a conference-wide talent show, with lots of skits and music.  Our whole staff sang the song “Predator Blues”, written by our former director Curious George, who now works at Walker Creek Ranch.  Some of the naturalists from Walker Creek Ranch attended the conference but had never heard the song.  They really enjoyed it, so we gave them a copy of the lyrics to take back with them and surprise Curious George!

For our final day of the conference, we each attended one more workshop.  I went to the workshop called “Why Birds are Fantastic” taught by an employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service.  We have a great birds class here at Shady Creek, but this workshop gave us some nice ideas for other topics we could cover when we talk about birds, such as migration, as well as the important ecological services that birds provide for humans, like pest and disease control, seed dispersal, pollination, cleanup, and ecotourism.

We were sad to leave the conference and all our new friends, but we missed our home at Shady Creek and were excited to make our way back. We took the scenic route, driving through the Sonora Pass.  We stopped at an overlook with an amazing view of the Donnell Reservoir on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. We then pulled over to scramble down to a stream and put our feet in the freezing water. We headed up to the Sonora Pass by Stanislaus National Forest and gazed out at all the mountains and valleys from over 9000 feet elevation! It was spectacular! We got into a bit of a snowball fight, as we were at high enough elevation for some snow to still be on the ground. I saved some of the snow in a cup in our car and pegged Raven at the gas station when we stopped close to Carson City.  On our last stretch we drove past the dreamy blue Lake Tahoe before finally making it home, exhausted and dirty but happy and so pumped to share what we had learned. I can’t wait for more learning and fun at the next AEOE conference in the Spring!

Honeybee's Mini Snowman

Honeybee’s Mini Snowman

The whole crew!

The whole crew!


Enjoying the view of the Donnell Reservoir on the Stanislaus River

Enjoying the view of the Donnell Reservoir on the Stanislaus River


On Top Of The Pass

Another view from Donnell Vista

Another view from Donnell Vista

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