A Word to the Wise

Greetings OWL enthusiasts!

We wanted to share that there are some newly updated Teacher Resources available. Based on feedback from a collection of workshop participants, the OWL Facilitator Team is working on some updates to the materials and curriculum. The first thing we were able to do was create some additional Common Backyard Animal cards to specifically feature your favorite invertebrates. On these new cards you’ll find earthworms, snails, millipedes, and even a cockroach! The team wanted the resources you’re using to support the well known statistic that about 97% of the animal kingdom is made of invertebrates!

Also new in the Teacher Resources section, you’ll find that the Habitat Images have been updated to include locations a bit more reminiscent of North Carolina. We’ve replaced the mountain image, added a new lake/Carolina bay image, and replaced the river image with one that looks much more like something you’d see in one of our state’s 17 river basins.

Finally, OWL is creating a newsletter that will be available to all workshop participants. It will likely only be out every two months, and it will feature program news, upcoming workshops, any new curriculum, and a the feature story will be about how YOU are using OWL! Check your inboxes this month for the first edition.

During 2021, the Outdoor Wonders and Learning program has continued to grow in incredible ways. Not only is there a NEW activity in the guide (see Web Designers) in the Animals and Adaptations unit, but there are also five new facilitators in the state of North Carolina, and a fully online version of the workshop!

Toward the end of 2020 OWL provided its first completely online workshop over a period of three weeks. The workshop is hosted on the Schoology Learning Management System, as well as through Zoom. Participants complete some self guided work through watching videos and reflecting on how they would use the activities, and meet three times via Zoom to share ideas, go over content about the guide and the program with a facilitator, and to ask questions about their asynchronous work.  This online version of the workshop is worth 10 hours of Criteria 1 credit through the NC EE Certification Program.

In Spring of 2021, OWL also provided hybrid versions of the workshop. In these instances, participants complete some of the work online, like background reading and reflection, then met in person to do activities from the curriculum guide. Due to travel and Covid restrictions this format was not as successful, though workshop evaluation feedback did supply some amazing ideas for making the online work more accessible and “digestible” for participants. This led to a change in the format of the overall workshop (those provided in person and online).

In Fall of 2021, the first OWL Facilitator Training was held at Agape Camp and Conference Center. Five new facilitators  from both formal and non-formal education backgrounds, where trained on the history and intention of the OWL program, how to host a workshop, and opened the door to collaboration on a state-wide level. This new Advisory Team for the OWL program meets regularly to discuss curriculum updates, how to use activities with participants of all ages, and how the program can best interact with and reach more educators across the state.

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

“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!


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