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Learning About Forests Pathway

LEAF iconForests are fascinating and complex ecosystems. Beside a dense growth of trees, forest systems include soil, water, plants, and animals. A forest’s survival depends upon the health and balance of its interdependent relationships with living and nonliving things.

Forests produce a great deal of oxygen and absorb and store carbon. They also serve to reduce water runoff, conserving soil and protecting water quality.

Students planting trees

Most private, state, and national forests are sustainably managed and provide economic, recreational, and environmental benefits. This includes jobs with the National Forest Service or state-based wildlife services; bird watching, camping, and hiking; habitat for wildlife; and a reduction in the urban heat island effect found in many large cities.

While there are many benefits trees provide, climate change is causing problems for forest systems. Trees are growing more quickly, which may sound like a good thing given their numerous benefits--but the wood has become lighter and less dense, impacting the amount of carbon trees are able to sequester.

By learning about forests, students discover ways to make environmentally sustainable decisions, support community health and beautification, advocate for climate-smart policies, support wildlife, and connect with nature. An international program of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), Learning About Forests aims to increase knowledge about the key role forests play in sustaining life on our planet. Learning About Forests is intended to reassert the idea that our forests are a natural asset to be treasured and kept safe for future generations, an idea that has for decades been neglected as our trees fueled economic expansion and lifestyle improvements.

Fast Facts

Following the Framework

Utilize the Seven Step Framework to complete your pathway.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

K-2 Conducting a LEAF Audit | K-2 Baseline Audit | K-2 Post-Action Audit

3-5 Conducting a LEAF Audit | 3-5 Baseline Audit | 3-5 Post-Action Audit

6-8 Conducting a LEAF Audit | 6-8 Baseline Audit | 6-8 Post-Action Audit

9-12 Conducting a LEAF Audit | 9-12 Baseline Audit | 9-12 Post-Action Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Learning About Forests pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

K-2 Conducting a LEAF Audit | K-2 Baseline Audit | K-2 Post-Action Audit

3-5 Conducting a LEAF Audit | 3-5 Baseline Audit | 3-5 Post-Action Audit

6-8 Conducting a LEAF Audit | 6-8 Baseline Audit | 6-8 Post-Action Audit

9-12 Conducting a LEAF Audit | 9-12 Baseline Audit | 9-12 Post-Action Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Learning About Forests pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Sustainable Development Goals

goal 4 - quality education
Goal 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
goal 12 - responsible consumption and production
goal 13 - climate action
goal 15 - life on land
goal 17 - partnerships for the goals

Top 10 Tips for Learning about Forests

  • Contact your community or state forester to conduct a site walk to explore your school grounds or community forest.
  • Research and investigate a local forest ecosystem. What types of plants and animals are found on your school grounds or in a community forest?
  • Identify trees using the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Identification Field Guide.
  • Look for animal signs such as tracks, scat and animal rubbings on trees to help identify what animals are using the forested ecosystem.
  • Collect data on plant species in forests (i.e., trees, shrubs, grasses, ferns) over the school year to help students assess change over time and explore interdependent relationships.
  • Use GLOBE soil protocols to conduct soil studies to determine types of soil, moisture, micro-organisms.

  • Identify what plants and animals are using these micro-habitats.
  • Determine how these micro-habitats contribute to the health of the larger system.
  • Assess the biodiversity of the micro-habitats to determine their overall health and productivity.

  • Design experiments to test plant growth.
  • Investigate why leaves change color in the fall.
  • Determine ways to assess plant growth through the seasons. Do trees still grow in the winter without their leaves? What about evergreen trees? Do they grow keep growing in the winter?

  • Contact your local native plant society or state department of forestry to find out which plants are invasive in your area.
  • Learn the appropriate way to remove invasive plants you are targeting, then plan school or community events to remove invasive plants.
  • Replace invasive and non-native plants with native trees and shrubs.

  • Connect with your local county or urban forester to learn about forest products and where they come from.
  • With your local forester, visit a managed forested site.
  • Explore how foresters determine tree height, diameter and mark trees to be harvested. Explore what sustainable forestry practices and certification means with groups like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

  • Check out SciStarter for a variety of tree based citizen science projects.
  • Check out the Cornell Lab’s Citizen Science program that offers several projects to engage students in recording bird observations on your school grounds or in forests to help document environmental change.
  • Observe how plants change through the seasons using Project Budburst and help scientists figure out how plant species are responding to climate change in your region.
  • Use GLOBE to track phenological changes, take biometric measurements, as well as soil and water quality tests for trees surrounding the school.

  • Find out about your local watershed.
  • Ask a member of your local watershed organization to come and speak to students about forests and water quality.
  • Create a “watershed model” and investigate the cause-and-effect relationships with different land cover and impacts on water quality.
  • Participate in a tree planting to reduce runoff in your community.

  • Ask someone from a local organization (such as an urban forester or state department of forestry to give a presentation about forests for students.
  • Put up signs highlighting the different types of trees and animals that call your school grounds home.
  • Discuss with students how the forest and trees where they live differ from other forests and trees around the world and what plants and animals make it unique.
  • Create your own forest ecosystem in your school and have a forest celebration with school families.

  • Work with your local forester or garden center to determine which native trees are best for your site.
  • Apply for free trees to plant on your school grounds or in your community through the National Wildlife Federation’s Trees for Wildlife program.
  • Apply for a Project Learning Tree GreenWorks grant to raise funds for tree planting and other forestry related work.
  • Explore tree planting in other countries by watching videos on the Foundation for Environmental Education’s Learning About Forests website.
  • Participate in the Global Forest Fund to help offset carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and planting of trees around the world.

Visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Habitat program to learn more.