Yesterday, Tuesday, August 15, 2017, The North Carolina Arboretum’s youth education program welcomed approximately 45 teachers for its first-ever Project OWL workshop. Project OWL (Outdoor Wonders and Learning) is a new schoolyard initiative developed by the Arboretum that provides professional development opportunities for K-5 teachers to encourage the use of outdoor education within schoolyards. While Project OWL focuses on science education, the curriculum also addresses math, social studies and English language arts using the N.C. Standard Course of Study. Utilizing their existing outdoor areas, each participating school will receive resources for an outdoor study site, featuring pollinator plants, bird feeders and a weather station, that will help implement the activities in the Project OWL guide.

Tuesday’s workshop included K-5 teachers, media specialists and curriculum coordinators from five Western North Carolina counties, including Buncombe, Henderson, McDowell, Yancey and Haywood. Attendees were given a broad introduction to environmental education, its interdisciplinary nature and how to incorporate this teaching method into their lesson plans across multiple subject areas. As part of the workshop, participants worked together in small groups within their grade level of expertise and learned various methods of how to adjust their teaching styles to an outdoor location.

A follow-up meeting/workshop will occur at each participating teacher’s school where they will be introduced to their outdoor study area and learn how to use it with their Project OWL curriculum. The goal for the curriculum is not only to encourage teachers to use their outdoor space for teaching – especially if this is a new practice for them – but for the whole grade level to share an activity, as well as the whole school to take part in utilizing the guide throughout the year.

Project OWL is made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. The Duke Energy Foundation supports education, the environment and community impact initiatives. At the conclusion of Tuesday’s Project OWL workshop, Jason Walls, Duke Energy’s local government & community relations manager – Asheville Area, presented The North Carolina Arboretum Society with their grant award.

For more information on Project OWL and to become a Project OWL participant, please contact Michelle Pearce at