Experiencing Place-based Learning Outdoors in Rivers and Ecosystems of North Carolina

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A Free Teacher Professional Development Program for 4th and 5th grade Teachers


Open to 4th and 5th grade public, charter or private school teachers in North Carolina. Selection priority given to teachers currently teaching at schools in the Tar-Pamlico River Basin and other areas of the Albemarle-Pamlico region. Teams of 4th and 5th grade teachers from a school are encouraged to apply together.

IMG_3994Program Information

The ExPLORE NC Teacher Professional Development Program is a year-long professional development program designed to engage 4th and 5th grade teachers in hands-on, inquiry-based activities integrated across content areas that will prepare them to incorporate current, place-based content into their classrooms, sparking their students’ interest in conservation and environmental stewardship.

Teachers will interact with scientists, historians and non-formal environmental educators as they study impacts on eastern NC river basins, including the Tar-Pamlico River and Pamlico sound ecosystems. Through direct experience with unique plant and animal populations in the river and sound ecosystems, teachers will examine how geography and availability of natural resources in the region affect human settlement and movement.

tree observationsExPLORE NC is designed to boost teacher confidence in using the outdoors and local natural resources to teach required curriculum objectives, including by creating and using outdoor classrooms on school grounds. Outdoor activities that enable teachers to experience the natural systems of the area first-hand, such as hiking, kayaking, and geocaching, will be emphasized.

All content and activities are aligned with the NC Essential Standards for 4th and 5th grade Science and Social Studies as well as grade-level standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics.

Each ExPLORE NC teacher will be expected to participate in the following activities that will take place during this year-long, professional development program:

IMG_3915Summer Institute | July 17-20, 2017 | Trinity Center, Salter Path, NC
Food and shared lodging provided onsite at Trinity Center.

Weekend Retreats | Exact dates TBD with input from ExPLORE NC teachers
Participants are required to attend at least one weekend science immersion experience. Meals and shared lodging provided; tent camping may also be an option for those interested.

  • Fall ExPLORE NC Weekend | Tar River Headwaters, Medoc Mountain State Park
  • Spring ExPLORE NC Weekend | Goose Creek State Park, Washington, NC region

Online Professional Learning Community
Teachers will be expected to actively participate in an online professional learning community with up to 4 virtual meetings per year to share resources and offer peer support in incorporating outdoor experiences into instruction.

ExPLORE NC teachers will receive:

  • Exposure to current watershed science and local environmental issues through interaction with scientists, historians and nonformal environmental educators.
  • Authentic experiential learning opportunities designed to enhance knowledge of eastern NC river basins and sound ecosystems and build skills in using the outdoors for instruction.
  • A wealth of new ideas and instructional resources including tailored curriculum materials.
  • $100 award to purchase materials to effectively use school grounds as outdoor learning environments and/or offset the cost of missed work days incurred as a result of program participation.
  • Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits, as well as Criteria II and III credit in the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program through the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs.

Additional program resources


Sarah Yelton, ExPLORE NC Program Manager
sarah.yelton@unc.edu | 919-966-0895

Megan Rodgers, ExPLORE NC Program Assistant
merodgers@unc.edu | 919-966-7238

This program is offered by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment with funding provided by the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Family Foundation and the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership.