Thursday, June 16, 2011

Trash, junk…or is it???

What we may typically toss into the garbage could possibly have another life in store! As part of our recycling lifestyle (which many of us environmentalists have adopted in an effort to keep stuff OUT of the landfill!) we may start thinking twice about what we are throwing away…both into the trash and even into our recycling bins!

trash   n.
a. Worthless or discarded material or objects; refuse or rubbish.
b. Something broken off or removed to be discarded, especially plant trimmings.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” ~American Proverb

Everyday, as humans, we are presented with opportunities to make conscious choices about what we use and consume. At times, the sustainable choice is not the attractive, shiny, new item that we are conditioned to want to buy…because the reality is, we live in a world with limited resources. The more we can practice the R’s: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reinvent, Restore… we can work with nature and what we already have, free of additional expenditure, and re-use it. By reusing what is already in existence, as artists, we not only foster sustainability for the planet, but our creativity and artistic expression can have a rippling effect on our surrounding communities. By creating beautiful art pieces, or transforming trash into new usable objects, we create harmony and balance in our finite world while changing the way we look at things, and perhaps even what we value.

School teachers were perhaps the first avid Recycled Art initiators. Driven by limited funds, teachers throughout time have often requested for students to bring in everyday items: toilet paper rolls, magazines, newspapers, empty egg cartons, shoe boxes, and any other items that may typically end up in a “junk drawer” or the trash or recycling bin. Paper Mache’, collages, dioramas…all start with: RECYCLING & creative imagining!

In Region 10, our annual Environmental Art Contest and Exhibition inspires some outstanding student work! One of our Art Categories is Recycled Art. Each year, students come up with brilliant ways to recycle stuff into extraordinary art pieces. This year, 2011, we had a tie for the winner of best group collaboration category, and both these submissions also happened to be Recycled Art. The Mario Brothers (Mario and Luigi) were created by a group of students in the ASES program at Westside School in Thermal. What a great, creative way to keep plastic bottle caps out of the landfill! The I LOVE EARTH TOWER, is a mixed media recycled sculpture by Skyla McKinney and Marshall Sharp from Raymond Cree Middle School in Palm Springs. These projects are excellent examples of teamwork!!! A couple other submissions that did not win prizes, but still touched our hearts, were inspired by plant-based waste including tree bark, leaves and flower petals, and orange peels: Nature’s Gift by Martha Nunez & Slice of Life by Catherine Ferraro.


Assemblage is an interesting artistic style created by putting found objects together into a three-dimensional artistic composition. Quite a few local desert artists walk out in the open desert, enjoying nature, AND scavenging for art supplies. These artists find interesting objects that have been abandoned, sometimes long ago. Many of these found objects have changed from their original form by the weathering and aging process of being exposed to the elements. Sometimes just seeing an abandoned object is enough to spark creative artistry, and voila! An unlikely masterpiece has started being formed in the field, even before getting it home, or to the art studio! 

Marie Long is an artist and desert naturalist who currently resides in Tucson, Arizona. The objects she works with are organic and recycled materials discarded in the desert. Marie is deeply connected to the desert landscape and has been influenced by her world travels. Often her work resembles ancient images from past cultures. Marie shared that "there is an aspect about collecting and arranging materials that is like meditation and the process of gathering material, creating sheets of paper and the design process are just as important to me as the completed piece.  I weave together a combination of natural elements and man-made materials into an assemblage.” Creating assemblage is an expression of self and emotion. The role of color, texture and layers are an important component and she hopes viewers are drawn into her work and will identify with the materials, colors and textures of each piece. To learn more about Marie and view her portfolio, go to:

[“Rodeo” 36” X 36” (Glass, Rope & Found Objects)]

Michelle O. Hedgecock is a Coachella Valley recycled artist inspired by junking in the desert, nature, people, oddities, and perhaps some other, questionable things. She uses humor and whimsy in her work to creatively express her love of the natural world, our environment, and people and culture—transforming pieces of scrap metal and junked materials into unique assemblage and sculpture.  She loves leaving her art (anonymously) in public places and on trails for others to find as a participant in artist Rosa Murillo’s Found Art Tuesday project. 

 [ “Cricket” 4” long (faucet handle, scrap metal ring, wire, glass beads, metal beads)

“Tortoise Medicine” 12” diameter (found bike wheel, tortoises made of found auto parts & baked clay, found toaster oven knob, scrap wire, can lids, stone beads, quartz crystal)]

As an artist, Michelle often pulls from her experiences in her natural science career, including her education background in anthropology and botany. Currently she is a full time artist who loves to help fellow creatives in their personal journey toward expanding all boundaries of their creativity through her guidance as a creativity coach.  You can find Michelle exploring out in the desert or online at where you can see some of her work; or why not participate in her nature inspired creativity group, Let Nature Be Your Muse, at  

( [“Kachina” 7’ X 15” (Hub cap, saw blade, metal & glass beads, scrap wire, metal trivets, 2 five-loaf baking pans from junk store, found metal) ]  
And fun, creative, large-scale recycled art projects…teaching sustainability?  
LA-based eco-activists Christine Spehar and Robin Banks work together as pioneers in their own local, artist community in which they live and work, and also across the nation. As part of the modern day recycling movement, and aligned with the principles of Permaculture, Christine and Robin are making huge strides in community education. Through Ruckus Roots, originally founded by Christine, and its program TRASHformation, this innovative duo provides the inspiration, tools, and materials to successfully teach students how to turn waste into art and other useful items. “TRASHformation aims to raise awareness about excessive resource use, consumption, and waste production.” Using e-waste and other items found in abundance, much of the form of the junk’s “newly given life” is inspired by what waste they find in abundance in a chosen community. Often, waste from a particular industry will literally provide up to a ton of material to be recycled. With keen vision, and intuitive earth wisdom, these modern day inventor artisans are creating useful and beautiful pieces. This team also leads bicycle workshops, educating students how to fix old bikes, and create cycle-powered cell phone chargers, amongst other creations. Talk about empowering our youth to take charge and become self-sufficient! Super inspiring work!  


“RuckusRoots is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that unites art and activism to form ARTivism, giving young adults a creative voice in the eco-activism community through interactive art and music installations. 

TRASHformation is an interactive, improvisational art experience that turns campus-generated waste, recycling and/or surplus items into a sustainably built, aesthetically stunning and functional sculpture, soon to be implemented at college and University campuses nationwide.” Check out their website! and contact Robin directly at
So, if you ever find yourself wondering what you or your kids can do to unleash the creative artist inside, before you go to the art supply store and spend money on new items, look around your house, your yard, or even the junk yard, or any other open space in nature that other folks may have dumped their junk… and see if you can turn some otherwise trash into a newly created treasure!
Happy Scavenging! You just may find, and create, some priceless surprises…
Submitted by Jen Futterman
Coachella Valley/Morongo Basin Coordinator
CREEC Region 10 RIMS

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

EEI Curriculum Modules Take on Local Meaning in Sierra Foothills

Imagine students from five Sierra Foothill counties teaming with experts in the field to learn about natural resources within their local watersheds: snowshoeing into Bear Valley to measure Sierra snowpack with PG&E personnel; surveying invasive weeds in lower elevations with the American River Conservancy; comparing water quality upstream and downstream from a Slab Creek reservoir alongside a SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) representative. The Bridging Schools and Communities watershed grant projects supported such experiences to make learning relevant – combining the new Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) curriculum units with meaningful field studies.

The “Bridge” Projects began as a collaboration between regional school districts, CREEC Region 3 coordinators, state and local water and resource agencies, and non-governmental organizations seeking to create learning opportunities for 5th- 12th grade students in the region. Grants offered by the California Department of Water Resources provided funding for teacher training, community meeting time, field trips, and field study equipment. The projects greatly benefitted from the timely release of draft and final versions of EEI curriculum units as classroom teachers were able to use the lessons to introduce concepts about California’s water resources and supply and management challenges related to population. Reading about the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and using the activities demonstrating stream sedimentation in The Dynamic Nature of Rivers, a 6th Grade module, students gained an appreciation for the scale and importance of the Delta.  First-hand experiences in local watersheds connected back to the classroom curriculum, which further enhanced student learning as they began to understand how all Foothill river systems enter and influence the Delta. The 5th grade Earth’s Water module introduced students to the connection between the Delta and Southern California water needs and how supply issues influence people living here in northern California.

Bridging Schools and Communities demonstrated a few of the many possibilities for pairing EEI curriculum units used in the classroom with local resource providers and field activities to make the standards come alive and engage students in their local environment. The connections made during the project between resource managers, educators and students led to great understanding for all involved. The potential for this dynamic collaboration can be realized throughout the state as resource providers and educators become familiar with the new EEI curriculum as a valuable tool to engage students in their learning and their environment. The Region 3 CREEC Network will soon add a new page to the regional website, highlighting examples of educators linking EEI curriculum units and outdoor learning experiences, such as the “Bridge” projects. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CREEC and Santa Cruz County Office of Education Showcase the Region's Resources

The room is packed with displays of petrified wood, watershed maps, garden seeds, gorgeous books—even a live bat! Welcome to the Environmental Education Resource Fair, hosted by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and organized by the CREEC Network. By bringing together the region’s environmental education organizations, the Resource Fair enables teachers to gather information from multiple agencies, all in the space of an afternoon. Representatives of thirty different organizations were there, eager to talk with each teacher in order to better understand what we can do to help teachers include environmental education in every student’s school day.

Where does Environmental Education fit into a packed school schedule? The answer should be—everywhere. Environmental education is simply using the environment as a context for teaching any subject. “Teachers have so much to teach in a year,” says high school teacher Monica Ward “The great thing is that it (environmental education) is not teaching additional information, it is teaching the same material through a new perspective, an environmental lens.”

This is the concept at the heart of the programs represented at the Resource Fair. For example, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was spreading the word about its Voices of the Bay Program, in which teachers learn about an interdisciplinary and standards-based curriculum that teaches students about the dynamics of sustaining and managing natural resources, the socio-economic considerations and commerce of seafood, and the skills required to interview local members of the fishing community to capture their unique stories and knowledge.

Connecting education with the environment is not just more interesting and relevant for students, it is vital for all citizens. Increasing the environmental literacy of students will ensure that they are informed decision makers for the future. California is at the forefront of this effort with its Environment and Education Initiative (EEI). The State Board of Education has approved the EEI Curriculum—85 units for grades K-12 which teach existing History-Social Science and Science standards to mastery. As one sixth grade teacher described it, “I’m excited about this curriculum and method of instruction as I see it leading students toward being better informed decision makers in the future, with the skills necessary to look at the ‘big picture’ and see long-term related consequences of short-term decisions.”

The environmental education programs at the Resource Fair certainly displayed the ‘big picture,’ representing the diversity of the field and the amazing array of resources in the region—including garden-based programs, animal conservation groups, outdoor science schools, natural resource management programs, children’s book publishers, and natural history museums. CREEC maintains its online searchable database of these and other resources to help teachers easily tie social studies, language arts, math, and other subjects to a context that is exciting and relevant to students’ daily lives.

The Fair was also an important opportunity to acknowledge the dedication of teachers. While the teachers were busy gathering new curriculum and field trip ideas, high school students from the County’s Regional Occupational Program were hard at work as well—treating the teachers to mini cream puffs, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, a sumptuous cheese platter, and other creative hors d’oeuvres they had prepared as part of a class providing training in event catering. Teachers were surprised and delighted not only by the delicious food but also by the generous raffle prizes donated by the community.

As the staff at Well Within Spa handed over a generous gift certificate for the raffle, they explained, “We all have teachers in our families. We love teachers! We know how important they are.” How true. And we all know how important the environment is. The dedication and the resources are there—we just need to find more ways to bring them together. Together we can build environmental literacy for every child.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

STEM Education and the Environment

"STEM" seems to be the education buzzword of choice these days. STEM--Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics--is an approach to education that encourages a curriculum driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and requiring students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution[1]. When most people think of STEM education and STEM careers the focus is on biotechnology, high tech, and engineering. I think it is imperative to show how environmental education can be a perfect fit in a STEM education program.

STEM Education and the Environment: An example

In San Diego, the San Diego Science Alliance has helped to bring the SeaPerch Program to more than twenty (20) teachers in the 2010-2011 school year. SeaPerch is a project based program that has students build (including wiring and soldering) an underwater remotely operated vehicle (U-ROV) in tandem with a curriculum covering concepts including buoyancy, force and motion, electricity, and engineering concepts.

After building their U-ROV's the students can make design modifications to use them to explore the environment. Students can design containers to collect water or sediment samples from waterways that are potentially polluted and unsafe for students to enter, mount a camera to the U-ROV to look at macro-organisms, add various water quality sensors to collect real-time data for different depths and locations in a body of water. While students are using U-ROV's to gather information about water, they also have a chance to explore and understand the environment surrounding the water.

The first San Diego SeaPerch Invitational was held in April at Kimball Elementary School in National City, CA. This urban elementary school is situated along Paradise Creek, a tributary of San Diego Bay that suffers from many problems common to urban waterways--litter, pollution, and invasive species. SeaPerch teams explored the water at different locations using a camera. As the program develops, there will be more opportunity to explore local waterways, collect more environmental data, share data online, and hopefully adopt some action plans to make positive changes for the environment.


The environment offers myriad opportunities for integration into STEM education programs, and has the unique feature of being tangible and available to students to ground their understanding of STEM topics in their own local reality.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Earth Week (April 10 - 16) and Earth Day (April 22)

National EE Week 2011 theme: Ocean Connections – April 10-16, 2011

Join us April 10-16, 2011 to explore our vital connection to the ocean with teachers and students nationwide.

The ocean covers nearly three quarters of our planet's surface, provides 70 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere and houses about 20 percent of the known species on Earth. It regulates climate and weather and provides food and energy resources for humans worldwide. No matter how far from the coast, water in every stream or river eventually ends up in the ocean, and all life on Earth is dependent upon its health. More than half of all Americans live within 50 miles of the coast, but whether near or far our lives are inextricably linked to the ocean.

Recognizing the importance of protecting the health of our ocean and understanding our dependence upon it regardless of its proximity, EE Week's 2011 theme is Ocean Connections. Learn more at

Register today at to join thousands of educators and students across the country in exploring our vital connection to the ocean during National Environmental Education Week, April 10-16, 2011.

Daily Activity Planning Toolkit

Each year, EE Week provides hundreds of free resources and lesson plans on this website to help educators plan activities around an annual theme. But busy teachers don't always have the time to sift through all of these materials to identify the best activities for their classes. This year, together with our partners at the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE), EE Week brings you this planning toolkit with a suggested grade-appropriate activity on a daily sub-topic for each school day of EE Week. We are all connected to the oceans in many ways, whether we live near or far from it. These sub-topics were selected to help students better understand their many connections to the coast.

Earth Day is April 22 annually

Earth Day Network has chosen A Billion Acts of Green® as the theme for Earth Day 2011. A Billion Acts of Green®–the largest environmental service campaign in the world–inspires and rewards simple individual acts and larger organizational initiatives that further the goal of measurably reducing carbon emissions and supporting sustainability. The goal is to register one billion actions in advance of the global Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.

The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Growing out of the first Earth Day, Earth Day Network (EDN) works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. But Earth Day Network (EDN) does not stop there. 

All of EDN’s activities, whether greening schools or promoting green economic policies at home and abroad, inform and energize populations so they will act to secure a healthy future for themselves and their children. With its partner organizations, EDN provides civic engagement opportunities at the local, state, national and global levels. At every turn, EDN works to broaden the definition of "environment" to include all issues that affect our health, our communities and our environment, such as greening deteriorated schools, creating green jobs and investment, and promoting activism to stop air and water pollution.

Over the last 40 years, EDN has executed successful environmental campaigns on issues ranging climate change and drinking water to voter registration and saving the whale. EDN is a recognized leader in creating civically–oriented innovative programs with partners outside of the environmental movement to tackle new challenges

Check your regional CREEC Network newsletter to find Earth Day activities taking place in your area.

Monday, April 11, 2011

CREEC featured by Keen for Green

This past week, CREEC got together with Keen for Green, a community of green bloggers and activists. Check out the article on the Keen for Green blog!