2020 will bring a lot of big and much anticipated changes to the OWL program for North Carolina Educators. Coming in the new year you can expect to see new changes to the curriculum guide, a new website, and our first OWL facilitator training. These changes have been made possible with the state-wide expansion of the three initiatives of The North Carolina Arboretum: OWL, Project EXPLORE, and ecoEXPLORE, all funded by a grant from the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.

For starters, after a year of updates and redesign, a new version of the OWL guide is available right now! The updates are only Phase One of a three part process to make this guide as comprehensive and usable as possible. Phase One has focused on making sure all of the activities are written using the 5E Instructional Model and showing how each activity can be used as its own learning state of a larger 5E lesson. Look for the bright yellow labels under the OWL logo of each activity to know how to use it in your programs and lessons. The next two phases of curriculum updates will involve adding new activities as suggested by our 2019 Teacher Advisory Committee, and finally, finding new an exciting ways to provide Environmental Education activities that focus on the Physical Science standards for K-5 in North Carolina. We hope to have this new activities added throughout the coming year and anticipate these edits being much easier with our new website.

Speaking of which, OWL will be getting a brand new website this year! We’re excited to work with a local WNC business – Integritive, and while the new site is being constructed this current site will remain active, as well access to the guide in its current form. Once the new site launches (we’re hoping for early Spring), you’ll see features like search filters for the guide, a calendar showing dates and times of upcoming workshops, and a feedback section for the activities so you can share your edits and variations directly with other educators. This is a feature we’re particularly excited about because it will continue our goal of creating a learning community of educators who are sharing their knowledge.

And finally, 2020 will bring the biggest change of all – OWL will be training the first round of workshop facilitators! The workshop will be at the end of August (after summer camps and before school starts) at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. This will likely be a 10 hour training, but it is still in the development stages. We’ll be looking for six to eight educators from all around the state, who are familiar with the OWL curriculum, and willing and able to lead at least one workshop in their area each year. More information about registering for this training will be announced in Spring of 2020.

As we use 2020 to look back at how much OWL has grown and changed, we are also looking ahead to increased opportunities for Outdoor Wonders and Learning!

Last month brought some great news for the NC Project OWL team. Our presentation was selected as one of the sessions at the annual conference for the Environmental Educators of North Carolina. This year’s conference will be in Gastonia, NC at The Shiele Museum, September 19-21, 2019.

EENC 2019 Conference


The Project OWL session will be one of the many amazing learning opportunities at this conference. We plan to share a little bit about the history of the program and the adjustments that have been made through its growth. A large focus of the session will be sharing the revised mission and goals of the program, as well as how educators across the state can learn more about becoming Project OWL facilitators. During the summer of 2020 we will be providing a 2-day facilitator training, with an aim to have at least one representative from each of the eight DPI regions in our state. If you any questions about the program and how you can learn more, please email Michelle Pearce at mpearce@ncarboretum.org.




“I got some good ideas I can incorporate into current programs and a source for new programs.”
– Workshop Participant

This past weekend, Project OWL made it’s debut in eastern North Carolina. Michelle and Rich facilitated back to back workshops; one in Grifton, NC with the fabulous folks at A Time for Science and one in Fayetteville, where we spent a beautiful day at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden.

Each workshop was a great mix of formal and non-formal educators. Thanks to the great spring weather we were outside as much as we could be to investigate shorelines of lakes, stir up leaf litter on forest floors, and identify as many seasonal wildflowers as possible!




In this new generation of Project OWL, the objectives are two fold – 1) Project OWL wants to empower formal and pre-service K-5 educators to feel comfortable using the outdoors as a learning space and more confident addressing science standards for their grade level in an interdisciplinary method. 2) Project OWL also intends to empower non-formal educators with the resources, terminology, and methods used in schools in order to best reach their student and teacher audiences.

The Project OWL team has already gotten some great feedback on the scope of the workshop and we’re always looking for more. Let us know how we can help you better engage in Outdoor Wonders and Learning!




Participants play a round of “Ready, Set, GROW!” from the Project OWL curriculum.






In October of last year, Project OWL was added to the list of approved workshops for Criteria 1 credit in the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program! This means that we are able to serve classroom teachers AND non-formal educators by providing professional development opportunities that are aligned with NC Essential Standards for Elementary Education.

Project OWL has also been continuing to seek college students in Elementary Education programs withing the UNC System. To date we have worked with students at Western Carolina University, Appalachian State University, and have Spring 2019 workshops planned for UNC-Asheville students and East Carolina University students. These workshops are also open to non-formal educators in these regions and will take place at The NC Arboretum, Cape Fear Botanical Gardens in Fayetteville, and A Time For Science in Greenville, NC.

Science Methods students at WCU preparing to play Park Ranger.
Photo courtesy of Rich Preyer, TNCA

And to celebrate one more great accomplishment, Project OWL was able to co-present at the NSTA Regional Conference in Charlotte, NC in November alongside Project EXPLORE, another NC Arboretum initiative. It was a great experience to be on the national level and to meet teachers from around the country who are looking for more ways to incorporate their natural world into their classroom world.

This spring Project OWL is looking forward to working with a committee of teachers from around Western North Carolina to edit the activities and to write new ones. We plan to feature activities that incorporate physical sciences and EE, as well as improve the cross-curricular activities to better align with the NC Pacing Guides. Stay tuned for updates as we add new opportunities for Outdoor Wonders and Learning!


After a successful pilot year, with many learning opportunities, the Project OWL team decided to re-calibrate the program based on participant feedback. While the curriculum is still a living document, and the suggestions and adaptations made by the 2017-18 teacher cohort have been added to this year’s version, the access to the workshop training has changed greatly – and we are very excited!

This year, Project OWL is going to pre-service Elementary Education teachers in the UNC System. There are two workshops scheduled so far this fall, one with Western Carolina University students, and one with Appalachian State University students. There is a second workshop scheduled for ASU’s Recreation Management students to help give them a background in providing Environmental Education programs for North Carolina teachers.

Introducing Project OWL to MECME classroom teachers.
Photo courtesy of Sean Russell, MECME

On August 17 Project OWL also had the pleasure of working with the classroom teachers of Millbrook Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary (MECME) in Raleigh, NC. The school’s 25 classroom teachers participated in the curriculum workshop, experiencing the activities, learning about the schoolyard, and using their own lesson plans to practice using an inquiry-based format and inserting a Project OWL activity that best fits the unit.

Teachers learning about the impact of squirrels in their schoolyard.
Photo courtesy of Sean Russell, MECME


“This workshop was very engaging, authentic and informative. I was really excited to learn all the ways I can incorporate the 5E’s in my lessons and just an overall understanding that I can get my students excited about the environment.”
— Kishma Harriott, MECME teacher


MECME teachers engage in the “What Am I?” classification activity.
Photo courtesy of Sean Russell, MECME

This fresh start and new approach to Project OWL has been well received and we are excited to offer workshops to both formal and non-formal educators this year. Stay tuned for more updates!


The NC Arboretum wrote up a great blog post about our Project OWL kick off workshop in August. Click the link to read more! http://www.ncarboretum.org/2017/08/16/teaching-teachers-wonders-outdoor-learning-education/

Attention Project OWL Teachers!

I recently learned about these training modules provided by the American Museum of Natural History. They help incorporate literacy strategies into science instruction in order to better assess student comprehension.


We are excited to kick off Project OWL with seven schools in western North Carolina!

Champion Teachers, please fill out the Pre Survey at this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NK9LG2P