Tag Archives: teaching

NPS Junior Ranger – Authentic Learning inside and outside the classroom

National Parks as a classroom

downloadMore often, in my role as a consultant I hear teachers talking about context and I could not agree more.  Recently I was working with a teacher who was using 4 Square writing strategy to help her students write an informational piece of the recent wildfires in Tennessee. She was passionate about the topic but was concerned that her students would not be able to grasp the content because of a lack of context.  I offered to support in the classroom as I have traveled to the area.  It got me thinking about the ways in which we as educators can build a bridge between the classroom and the real world. One such way is our National Parks system (NPS).

The US national park system is extensive, expanding (Stonewall Inn in NYC was just designated part of the NPS) and  can feel very overwhelming.  I myself still struggle sometimes in trying to figure out what is protected under the NPS. I believe that all too often when you hear NPS you think of places like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, and rightfully so.  The reality is The National Park System touches every state in the US and many territories. Some with vast national parks and others with National monuments, historic sites, preserves, lakeshores, seashores, rivers, trails, wilderness, parkways, and memorials.  The list is as diverse as it is long, each place providing a unique opportunity to learn and absorb something amazing at the United States.


And while simply just finding yourself at an NPS site will open anyone up to a world of learning.  But as a lifelong learner when I find myself in a park, I immediately think how can I make this work for kids.  Fortunately, the NPS has already thought of that with their Junior Ranger Program.

What is Junior Ranger

Image result for junior ranger

At many of the places run by NPS is a program called Junior Ranger. While some may see as kitschy at first (even I was skeptical) a world of learning awaits. As an educator, what better way to tackle a learning opportunity than with a guide book that is interactive, engaging, and fun. Better still, for children who meet the requirements for their age, a badge is presented to them as a token to commemorate the learning experience and visit.
Each junior ranger book is unique to its park or park system. Often times parks along the east coast are historical in nature and the authentic learning experiences engage children in a myriad of activities. For example,

  • At Thomas Edison National Historic Park, students are provided the opportunity to talk with rangers inside Edison’s lab and ask questions.  They are able to see first hand the exact place that Edison invented the battery with the actual equipment he used. hqdefault
  • At Hopewell Furnace, students are encouraged to participate in a scavenger hunt (of sorts) that takes them all through the preserved community.  The exploration affords them the opportunity to gain deep insight into life at that time and what it meant working on an “iron plantation.”
  • At African Burial Grounds students will hear stories about the grounds, as well as complete activities that teach them the importance of symbols and artifacts and how they were used with language.

While parks in the western park of the US tend to be more geographical with the vast amount of land protected.  At these parks, the learning is often more focused on  the history of the Native People, animals, and  geography.  For example,

  • In Death Valley, students are encouraged to learn about animals that are native to the desert and how are engaged in activities on their survival in the vast geographical differences of the landscape.
  • At the Grand Canyon,  junior ranger exploration has more focus on how the canyon was formed.  Learning about the history of the canyon, animals that navigate the steep embankments, and the reasons behind the colors is also embedded in the guide books.download-1
  • At Bryce Canyon exploration is on science, nature, and geography. Students are lead through a myriad of activities on how and why the Hoodoo’s are they way they are. Then they are given a great insight into one of the canyon’s residents – Prairie Dogs!

When a park is not an option

WWhile I believe every teacher wants to get their students out of the classroom to learn, sometimes that is not always an option.  Often times, we as educators, spend hours looking for ways to engage our students but again NPS has found ways to bring the parks to the classrooms through Junior Ranger programs that can be done remotely.  Topics for these programs include;

  • The Underground Railroad – a guidebook has been designed to help students understand the history and significance of the both those who were seeking freedom from slavery and those who were helping “passengers” on their journey to freedom.
  • Archaeology –  with two different books that focus on the science of archaeology and what it has taught us about the past.
  • Paleontology – a fossil lovers dream, this book touches on everything from the smallest to the largest fossils and the science around finding and preserving them.
  • Astronomy – a guidebook which has a myriad of activities around the stars, sky and the dark sky, movement.  The guidebook helps students understand light pollution and the importance of using light responsibly.
  • Speleology (cave exploration) – a detailed dive (no pun intended!) into caves and their importance of protecting them.  The learning activities provide real insight into the what lies inside the darkness and why they are so important to ecosystems.
  • Wilderness exploration – a great way for students with no context of the wilderness to gain some.  With so many kids in cities being able to learn about the wilderness
  • Oceanography – a closer look at the oceans, the ecosystems and why they are so important to protect.
  • Traveling Clara Barton – this opportunity is great for a class to learn about the Civil War, Clara Barton, letter writing and the US postal system with just a few stamps and patience!

Junior Ranger Resources

There are a number of websites that chronicle their experiences with Junior Ranger. Below are a few that I have visited to learn about their junior ranger experiences.

Additionally, many National Parks have their programs online so you can front load before going to a site.

Web Rangers

If all that is still not enough learning to be done, the NPS has gone one step further creating WEB RANGERS!

This interactive site breaks down activities by level and interest. Web rangers is an extension of the Junior RangerImage result for web rangers program, allowing students to reach learning experiences that may not otherwise be accessible for them. Broken down into categories, web rangers is highly interactive and packed with learning.   It does require the students to have a username and password so it can remember their progress towards earning rewards but it is worth the setup.

Essentially, as educators, an entire learning experience is already created for us at a location which exists, in part to educate.

All we have to do is find our park!

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Restless Leg Syndrome – Why teachers should know the signs…


Why ADD and ADHD are not always the answer…

As a schleg-pain-symptomsool year begins in the US, teachers meet their new students and settle into their routines as they bravely tackle a year’s worth of curriculum.  Inevitably, it doesn’t take very long for many teachers to start to look at some of their students more closely and wonder if there is something they are missing.  Often times, we as educators turn to the “go-to” answers.  Do they have ADD? ADHD? Learning Disability? Counseling?  Speech?  Separation Anxiety?  We try to make the symptoms fit.  But sometimes the go-to  list does not have the right answer.

While some studies show that a child with ADHD may have RLS and a child with RLS may have ADHD, medical professionals are still not sure if they are linked.  That said, RLS and ADHD can look very similar in a child in a classroom.  Ever have a student who just gets up and walks around or is constantly fidgeting in their seats or can occasionally have random outbursts or may appear to be tired or seems too distracted?  Or ever have a child that is all of those things?  It is very easy as educators to think, “I wonder if he/she has been tested for ADHD?…”

As a parent of an 8 year old with Restless Leg Syndrome, when I encounter a child with those symptoms I also think, “I wonder if he/she has RLS…?”  But I consider myself fortunate.  When my daughter starts a new school year I do not give my daughter’s teachers a chance to ask those questions.  I am fortunate to have the answer for them, but it is easy to see why, after explaining her symptoms her teachers inevitably ask, “are you sure she does not have ADHD?”  And it is even easier to find yourself dealing with a parent who looks exhausted, feels helpless and is turning to their child’s teacher for help.  I personally know how desperate someone can feel when their 8 year old is going on her 6th night strait of four broken hours of sleep!

What is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes classifies Restless
Leg Syndrome as a neurological disorder characterized by throbbing, pulling, creeping, or other unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable, and sometimes overwhelming, urge to move them. Symptoms occur primarily at night when a person is relaxing or at rest and can increase in severity during the night. Moving the legs relieves the discomfort. Often called paresthesias (abnormal sensations) or dysesthesias (unpleasant abnormal sensations), the sensations range in severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful.   NINDS goes on to say that, Childhood RLS is estimated to affect almost 1 million school-age children, with one-third having moderate to severe symptoms.

In other words, there is a chance that at some point you will probably work with a student that has Restless Leg Syndrome (whether or not they have been diagnosed or not).  While there is growing evidence that children with ADHD have RLS and vice versa, it is important to note that not all children with RLS have ADHD and not all children with ADHD have RLS.  Recent research by sleep specialists indicates that at least 25% of the children who have a diagnosis of ADHD may truly have Restless Legs Syndrome or Periodic Limb Movements or a combination of the two. That said, all children with RLS have an overwhelming desire to move in an effort to reduce the symptoms.

It is also important to know that children with RLS often have broken sleep and can often be tired and cranky during the day.  This can be very frustrating for everyone involved in that child’s life.  Living this first hand, I can attest to how difficult it can be for an 8 year old to function on four broken hours of sleep a night.  So much so that after many years of varying treatment plans, I vividly remember calling my daughter’s second grade teacher and asking her to tell me what my she was like in school as we were finally getting to meet her for the first time as she was starting to sleep for more than 4 hours a night consistently (and so were we!).  For more specifics on RLS symptoms  and sleep check out Cleveland Children’s Clinic.



RLS in Kid Speak

For many children with RLS, explaining what is happening to them can be difficult.  Often times, they will try to hide it (like my daughter) or be so uncomfortable that they have to move and will use different words (that may seem crazy).  Those words include;

  • WigglesRLS-Facts
  • Squiggles
  • Spiders
  • Creepy-Crawlies
  • Pins and Needles
  • Ouchies
  • Hurtizes
  • Itchy,
  • Pulling
  • Crawling
  • Cramping
  • Tugging
  • Tingling
  • Burning (nothing worse then a child telling you they feel like their legs are on FIRE!)
  • Gnawing
  • Coca Cola in the viens

They may also describe the feeling as numb, hot, or cold.  Sometimes they cannot even explain it other than having an overwhelming desire to move.  In my experience RLS can make a child hot one minute and cold the next.  My daughter often wears layers as she is freezing in the morning, hot in the afternoon and cold again at night.

But articulating that can be a challenge and often takes some detective work on the part of the adults.  When my daughter was really young, she would cry and grab her legs.  As she learned to speak, we found it easier for her to point on a drawing or draw the feelings herself.  During her pre-school age, she would  often refer to her pain as spiders, creepy crawlies, or just cry in pain.  Now she is able to articulate a pain scale, specific feelings and the severity of them.  She is even learning ways to self control her symptoms and knows is getting better at communicating that with her teachers.

What tooctopus-licensed2 do for wiggles, squiggles, spiders, creepy-crawlies, pins, needles, heeby jeebies, and ouchies…

There is a lot you can do for a child with RLS (or one that has similar symptoms) without anyone in the class ever knowing.  This can include;

  • Let them be the messenger and run an errand
  • Having them walk to what they need supplies wise instead of bringing it to them
  • Let them be the teacher’s helper
  • Let them stand, or sit, or move to the carpet area depending on what they need
  • Additionally the following “tools” have a big impact without a lot of investment;
    • Balance balls are always a great way to let them move without being a distraction
    • Bouncy Bands  around the desk for them to put their feet in is also a great way to get they “worms” out
    • Free-choice seating is another way to create an inclusive classroom
      • A contract for students and parents for free choice seating can be found here
      • A video on seating choices can be found here
      • Pins on free-choice seating can be found here

RLS foundation

The Restless Leg Foundation has a tremendous amount of resources to help people gain a deeper unRLSHOMELOGOderstanding of what RLS is, why people get it, and how to live with it.  Their work towards awareness and advocacy is my inspiration for this post.  As educators I believe it is important to always be learning.  This site can provide you with far more resources as well as answer specific questions about RLS.

Other Helpful Sites

While RLS has a wealth of knowledge, there are some other sites that are useful in helping to gain a deeper understanding of RLS.  They include;

Often times the key is knowing the signs as to not make it worse for the child.  Telling a child to sit still may have long term negative effects.While some children may be very vocal about their symptoms, others, like my daughter, go out of their way to try to make sure no one knows that she needs to move.  Her only giveaway is her toes curling all day long in her shoes!  That said, regardless of what it is that a child may be dealing with I firmly believe that an inclusive classroom is critical to having a positive learning environment..

Disclosure – I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert on Restless Leg Syndrome.  That said, I am a mother of an 8 year old who was diagnosed with RLS and childhood insomnia at the age of 4.  There is no question that my daughter has been living with RLS since birth, it just took 4 years and a lot of doctors to get to that answer.

Monday’s Dilemma – Colin Kaepernick, The National Anthem and Freedom of Speech

The following is the first in a series of learning activities that bridge current events and the Common Core.  For more Monday’s Dilemma learning activities, click here

football-clip-art-RiGELRMiLSubject: ELA, English, Writing, Reading, Social Studies, Humanities

Common Core: Writing Standard 1

The Dilemma: On Thursday, August 26 during a preseason NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the decision not to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  His actions have caused a media frenzy with people taking sides – those who support Kapernick’s decision to as a testament of the Second Amendment to freedom of speech.  Others have called it a disgraceful and disrespectful to the very country and people who have fought to protect his rights that afford him the opportunity to get paid to play a game for a living.

Learning Activities:

  • Discuss what Freedom of Speech means (tie to the Constitution of The United States and the Second Amendment
  • Review/Introduce what the difference between fact and opinion is
  • Review/Introduce the skills and content needed to develop an argument (based on grade level – i.e Grade 7 needs to make a claim and acknowledge the counterclaim)
  •  After previewing the video comprehend what the two opposing views are on Colin Kaepernick’s actions
  • Pose the question – Do you agree with Colin Kaepernick not standing during the National Anthem?  
  • Students should be prompted to do one of the following;
    • Engage students in a discussion about the topic and encourage them to draw their own conclusions and include their reasons why (Lower Elementary/Upper Elementary)
    • Develop a short essay in which they argue for or against Colin Kaepernick’s decision (Upper Elementary/Middle Level)
    • Design notes to use in presenting a short speech that argues for or against Colin Kaepernick’s actions (Upper Elementary/Middle Level)
    • Working in teams present an opening argument for a legal case regarding the Second Amendment using Colin Kaepernick’s actions as a foundation for their position. (Secondary Level)
    • Create a letter to Colin Kaepernick supporting or disagreeing with his actions (Lower Elementary/Upper Elementary/Middle Level/Secondary Level)
  • Prompt students to remember to include the following;
    • Cite evidence from one of the news stories.
    • Include a clearly developed position for their argument
    • Include opposing viewpoints (Grade 7 and up)
    • Keep personal opinions to a minimum (they can be included in the conclusion or introduction of their work, but should not be the focus of their work)

Resources: Below are various news articles, videos, and opinion blogs about Colin Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem and should be used to help students develop their position on this topic.

Colin Kaepernick’s official statement regarding his decision not to stand during the National Anthem – “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

San Fransisco 49ers official statement regarding Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the National Anthem“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

General News Stories about Colin Kaepernick’s actions

News Articles Supporting Kaepernick’s actions

News Articles Disagreeing with Kaepernick’s actions