Hot off the press—a report from the Teacher Ambassador Institute

By Ariel Whitson|July 15, 2015

We’ve just returned from the Teacher Ambassador Institute in Folsom, California, where despite the temperature peaking at 110 degrees, we were all able to keep our cool and enjoy a productive workshop.

Because the number of teachers interested in the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) Curriculum continues to skyrocket, we decided this year to expand our annual Teacher Ambassador (TA) training institute to accommodate the larger group of teachers and individuals advocating and leading trainings for EEI in their schools. Ten Strands hosted double the participants this year as compared to last year’s event, and included 45 people from four different cohorts: the Teacher Ambassador (TA) Program, the Office of Education and the Environment (OEE), the California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) and the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). Organized by OEE and our staff at Ten Strands, the institute featured deep dives into EEI and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), EEI and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and techniques for leading EEI workshops. Luckily we had an indoor conference room and fresh iced tea to go around!

We kicked off the three-day institute on June 29th with an inspiring performance by Rebecca Anderson and Zena Zendejas from ACE. They demonstrated to the group how ACE inspires high school students across the United States to take action on climate change. They have reached nearly 2 million students through their assemblies, with an impact of approximately 342,000 students taking action. Check out what they do here.


Rebecca Anderson teaches the group the science behind climate change, while engaging graphics are animated behind her on the screen.


The next day we had Chris Breazeale, Science Consultant from the California Department of Education (CDE), and Dr. Gerald Lieberman, lead consultant on the EEI, kick off the NGSS section of the institute. For more information about NGSS, how they relate to the EEI, and the work we are doing around it at Ten Strands, check out Jerry’s blog post here. The TAs were particularly happy with this session as many teachers have been wondering how to teach these new science standards in the classroom—some of them for the first time. TAs got a better understanding of how teachers should be connecting what they are teaching to NGSS and ways in which the EEI Curriculum is a transitional resource for teaching the new standards. A group exercise had the TAs take EEI Curriculum units, connect them to NGSS, and then share with the rest of the participants their results.


Dave Ficke (TA), Chris Liske (OEE) and Laura Honda (TA) work on correlating the NGSS to a third grade EEI unit.


After lunch, the TAs jumped into a lively session connecting EEI and CCSS with Bunnie Hale, a TA who has been leading trainings since the EEI Curriculum was first introduced. Bunnie brought student work and led the group in activities from the EEI Curriculum that correlate to CCSS. TAs were also asked to work in groups to connect a specific EEI Curriculum unit to CCSS. The day ended with a Q&A session on how to handle the most challenging aspects of EEI training workshops with four seasoned TAs.


Bunnie Hale leads the group through a fun activity where each person has a plate with a resource on it and have to move back and forth between each side depending on what kind of resource they have (eg. renewable vs. non-renewable).


After a long day inside, participants of the institute enjoyed kayaking and paddleboarding on Lake Natoma. There was nothing like jumping into the river in that 110-degree weather!


Some of the participants cooling off in the American River after a long day at the institute.


The last day of the retreat featured more training takeaways and a session from CREEC on the ways they are able to connect teachers to nonformal providers of environmental education. The institute closed with engaging approaches to training teachers on the EEI Curriculum from Kurt Holland, and a showcase on project-based learning presented by teacher Jim Bentley demonstrating how he uses the EEI curriculum with his 6th graders.


Kurt Holland demonstrating a get-to-know the group training activity.
Kurt Holland demonstrating a get-to-know the group training activity.


I was truly inspired by the participants who attended this year’s institute. So much hard work in the 2014-15 school year has been put into increasing the presence of environment-based education in California’s public schools, and it is paying off thanks to OEE, the TA program and CREEC. Collectively they have put on 53% more EEI trainings and trained 71% more teachers than last year. Now with new partners, such as ACE, I can’t wait to see where our numbers are this time next year!


Our TA panel answering questions from the audience on how to handle the challenges of leading EEI workshop trainings.
Our TA panel answering questions from the audience on how to handle the challenges of leading EEI workshop trainings.



Ariel Whitson
This article was written by Ariel Whitson

Ariel Whitson has a background in finance, administration and event planning. She has over five years of experience working with nonprofits. Ariel started her career at the United Nations Association San Diego and Free the Slaves. She later served as a project coordinator at University Research Co., LLC in Washington D.C., where she oversaw the finance and administration of a $65 million USAID tuberculosis project in South Africa. She is passionate about working with youth, and spent a few years working as a tutor and camp counselor.