Photos Courtesy of Texas Wildlife Association
This article is featured in the Spring 2021 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.
During Spring Break 2020, all hell broke loose for educators, including the Texas Wildlife Association’s Conservation Legacy staff.
“COVID-19 threw us all a curveball,” TWA’s Director of Youth Education Kassi Scheffer-Geeslin said. “In my opinion, we’ve always been flexible, adaptable and resilient, but 2020 has stretched us beyond the ordinary.”
In mid-March, students and teachers left their classrooms for a seven-day break. None expected it would be almost seven months before schools could reconvene.
“Because of the pandemic, the Conservation Legacy staff, more than ever before, embraced the Marine Corps’ mission: improvise, adapt and overcome,” Scheffer-Geeslin said. “We identified problems, worked to find solutions—and along the way found all of these crazy silver linings.”
While many organizations scrambled to create an online presence, the Conservation Legacy team drew from its extensive experience of delivering digital education. TWA has been using the Internet and videoconferencing to reach students across Texas since 2007.
By the first week of April, the Virtual Wildlife by Design program began to offer teachers a way to continue to receive a personalized presentation through virtual learning. In just three weeks, classroom presenters pivoted and transformed five in-class presentation modules into virtual learning experiences.
“No complaining, just problem solving and forward motion,” Scheffer-Geeslin said.
An unforeseen benefit of teaching students at their homes is that the youths, now in their “home” environments, with perhaps more outdoor time, are able to relate these wildlife lessons to those animals they see on a daily basis. Pets and stuffed animals have made appearances on the Zoom meetings to provide helpful discussion on the adaptations of different animals.
In the fall semester, the Wildlife by Design Across Texas program was launched, reaching classrooms across Texas that do not have a regional Texas Wildlife Association educator.
“The Conservation Legacy team has found an opportunity for growth and learning even under uncertain circumstances,” Scheffer-Geeslin said.
Next, the staffers turned their attention to Critter Connections. The youth magazine, released in February, April, September and November and targeted to students 13 and younger, has long been available in print and digitally. To increase its reach, staff members created a read-along opportunity.
While teachers can download the magazine for their students, it’s not necessary. The words appear on the screen as a Conservation Legacy educator reads the content. Staffers videotaped past issues and have scheduled live opportunities.
Last but not least, the team focused on its popular teacher workshops. Normally, the workshops are held during the summer at outdoor locations around the state.
“Knowing that teachers might want a bit of a reprieve from weeks of remote teaching, we decided against hosting a full six-hour live online workshop,” Scheffer-Geeslin said. “Instead, we created a hybrid that featured a three-hour guided session and three hours of on-demand content that teachers could access at their convenience.”
Unit 1, the guided session, introduced teachers to a variety of lessons from Wildlife by Design, the Discovery Trunks and Stewarding Texas-A Scientific Exploration. In Unit 2, teachers explored ways to use different conservation and land stewardship concepts in their curriculum. They were encouraged to experience the lessons from Stewarding Texas-A Scientific Exploration, Discovery Trunks, and On-Demand Webinars as their students would and to evaluate the materials.
“Even though we offered fewer workshops, the virtual platform reached more participants than the in-person workshops held in 2019,” Scheffer-Geeslin said.
In 2019, 34 workshops were hosted in-person across the state and 754 participants attended. In 2020, 28 virtual workshops were hosted with 926 total participants. Workshops are always open to any formal or informal educator from across the state, but the time and expense of travel is a barrier for some teachers. Because no travel was involved, teachers from more than 50 counties joined a workshop in 2020.
“We really had to re-think how we delivered information to students and teachers, so we came up with new systems, strategies and methods that are applicable long past COVID,” Scheffer-Geeslin said. “Although we were reacting to an ever-changing, unprecedented situation, all of the ideas and solutions we came up with had real value that will move the program successfully into the future.
A Myriad of Opportunities
Under the umbrella of Conservation Legacy, the Texas Wildlife Association delivers a myriad of education programs for young people and adults. These science-based programs are designed to empower and educate Texans with knowledge of fundamental ecological principles, foster a connection to the land and facilitate natural resource literacy by creating tangible relationships with the outdoors.
Conservation Legacy programs are funded by generous grants and donations to the Texas Wildlife Association Foundation. As a result, the school programs, offered as part of TWA’s youth initiative, and their attendant resources are available to Texas educators free. All programming delivered to and through schools is Science TEKS-aligned to meet the requirements of the Texas Education Association.
For more information about the various programs, resources and opportunities available for your local school, see Texas-Wildlife.org (click on “Program Areas” and “Youth Education”) or contact Kassi Scheffer-Geeslin, Director of Youth Education at (210) 826-2904 or by email at KScheffer@texas-wildlife.org.
Education Opportunities For Youth
Wildlife by Design Classroom Presentations
The Wildlife by Design program brings wildlife and natural resources conservation presentations into the classroom. A TWA Educator will come to the classroom with interactive wildlife-based lessons, activities and demonstrations. Wildlife by Design is available for K–8 students in the DFW area, Greater Houston area, South Texas and West Texas.
Virtual Wildlife by Design Programming
There are presentation options for both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. All presentations will be interactive and provide opportunities for student action/participation. A list of suggested materials will be provided prior to programs.
Have your local teacher visit the website for more information: Texas-Wildlife.org/program-areas/wildlife-by-design.
Wildlife by Design Across Texas
Wildlife by Design Across Texas presentations, delivered by TWA educators, are available every Wednesday via Zoom to anyone across Texas. The customized, hands-on, TEKS-aligned unit specific educational presentations are appropriate for students (K–8) and can be completed within a 45-minute classroom period. Participation is limited to 100 connections per session.
Educators can choose from five topics, which are offered on a rotating basis:
Birds of a Feather: an overview of the adaptations, characteristics and basic needs of birds.
Investigating Life Cycles: an inquiry-based program that allows students to investigate and compare life cycle models and record their observations.
Skins & Skulls: a prepared discussion of the identification and specialized adaptations of native Texas wildlife with animal skins and skulls.
Stewarding Soil: a series of hands-on activities that will allow students to investigate how soil is formed; the characteristics of sand, silt and clay; how soil health affects living and non-living things; and what products come from soil.
Where Is Our Water? an interactive program that covers a variety of water-related topics ranging from the water cycle and water usage to pollution and infiltration into our aquifers.
Pre-registration is required and can be completed at: Texas-Wildlife.org/program-areas/wildlife-by-design-across-texas.
Critter Connections Read-along
Critter Connections, TWA’s educational, interactive youth magazine targeted for students ages 13 and younger, is now available in a read-along format. Recordings of past issues are available online, and live broadcasts accompany each new issue. Students don’t need copies of the magazines as the words will appear on the screen, but digital copies are available for download. Classroom subscriptions of the print copies are free.
Discovery Trunks, available year-round, statewide and at no cost, are full of Science TEKS-aligned, hands-on, curriculum-enhancing natural resource lessons designed for K–8. Teachers may choose from seven topics and reserve the trunks for up to two weeks. Reservations are handled online: Trunks.Texas-Wildlife.org.
Stewarding Texas: A Scientific Exploration
Stewarding Texas is a compilation of 40, K–12 Science TEKS-aligned lessons designed to help students and educators understand the importance of land stewardship actions. Stewarding Texas is available online (at no cost) and inside every TWA Discovery Trunk.
Youth On-demand Webinars
Fourteen different recorded interactive presentations about natural resources and wildlife conservation topics are available anytime on the TWA website.
On a regular schedule, TWA hosts real time, interactive videoconferences featuring experts and, in the case of the Animal Encounter series, live animals including bats, alligators, owls, skunks, reptiles and peregrine falcons. The videoconferences can be viewed live via videoconferencing equipment or online. Recordings are also available. Videoconferences are TEKS-aligned and geared for Grades 1–6.
TXLAND: What’s next for Conservation Legacy?
KSG: At the end of 2019, a donor challenged the staff to examine, evaluate and possibly expand the outreach and education programs through a project dubbed CL 2.0. For the first time in 20 years, we enlisted facilitators, along with our partners and stakeholders, to undertake a deep-diving self-examination.
We took a long, hard look at our strengths, weaknesses and the best ways to grow, develop new programs and enlist new technologies. When we started, we swore not to protect sacred cows or add things ‘just because.’
The results are in, and we’ve just proposed the CL 2.0 game plan to our leadership and donors. It’s too early to share details, but I can say this. . . .
Our standards have always been high, but as they move on to the next level, hold on tight. While we don’t know the end result, just get ready for Conservation Legacy to blow the top off.
For more information about TWA, its programs and its membership, go to Texas-Wildlife.org.