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Teaching to appreciate our environment

We who live in northern Minnesota take great pride in our greatest asset, an asset that forms the center of what we call a high quality of life issue. Whether it be the lakes, rivers or streams; the wetlands and bogs; the forests and trails; or simply the clean air, our natural resources lumped as the Great Outdoors is something we cherish and zealously protect.

We'd like to think that the appreciation of our Great Outdoors would come naturally, but sometimes we must be vigilant in getting future generations to understand just what it is we're passing onto them.

Begun in the 1970s, April 22 has been set aside annually as Earth Day, a day to hold events that highlight our fragile environment and the need to preserve and protect it. But recently, leading up to Earth Day, Environmental Education Week is held to bring awareness of the environment into the nation's classrooms, so a new generation can learn to appreciate our natural surroundings.

To that end, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proclaimed this week as Environmental Education Week in Minnesota, a state designation coinciding with the National Environmental Education Foundation's efforts to increase the educational impact of Earth Day with a full week of educational preparation, learning and activities in K-12 classrooms, nature centers, zoos, museums and aquariums.

"Collaborative efforts can increase the amount of environmental education taking place in America's classrooms and draw educators' attention to opportunities for students in the environmental field," Pawlenty says in his proclamation. "Environmental education can bolster core environmental literacy in our K-12 students by featuring grade-appropriate 'e-literacy' goals and content standards."

The theme of the 2009 National Environmental Education Week is "Be Water Wise," something we have an abundance of but which still needs a watchful eye to keep from contamination or over usage.

The week should include programs in the schools that build critical thinking and relationship skills. While there are many arguments over whether global warming is real or not. Environmental Education Week need not support or debunk global warming, but rather emphasize specific critical thinking skills central to "good science" - questioning, investigating, forming hypotheses, interpreting data, analyzing, developing conclusions and solving problems.

We teachers embrace this week as a good opportunity to teach those skills while at the same time fostering among our young an appreciation of the great surroundings that they live in and that we must actively work to preserve it for the generations to follow.