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Your child comes home from school with an assignment to write about an endangered Wisconsin plant or animal. Of course the paper is due tomorrow and it's getting later by the minute. Where can he or she go to find that information? Never fear, help is as near as your home or library computer.
Enter the World Wide Web and connect to EEK! – Environmental Education for Kids, DNR's electronic magazine for children in grades 4-8. EEK! provides information about Wisconsin's natural resources. It's also a place to learn more about careers with the Department of Natural Resources, make seasonal observations about nature, and share nature stories and artwork with other site visitors.
EEK! is more than a school resource for writing reports or working on projects. It's a starting point for kids who want to take part in outdoor activities or participate in real environmental monitoring projects. Once students are done surfing EEK!, we want them to go outside and enjoy exploring the great outdoors.
What awaits you when you enter the EEK! site? Five sections: Our Earth, Nature Notes, Get a Job, Cool Stuff, and The Riddler.
Our Earth features stories and activities about environmental issues. Here you'll explore topics such as global warming, Ozone Action Days, making treasures from trash, and the value of wetlands. A regular feature of this section is "Protecting the Wild Ones," a series of stories about endangered species in Wisconsin. Over the past year, this creature feature has highlighted timber wolf, peregrine falcon, barn owl, Karner blue butterfly, bald eagle and Blanding's turtle. As a new species is featured, the old story is archived on the site. Over time this will provide children with a library of information on Wisconsin's endangered resources.
Nature Notes helps children learn more about the world around them. We simplify the science of everyday occurrences to better explain why and how nature works. Here kids can learn why leaves change color in fall, how to feed birds in the winter, how to prepare for ice fishing, how to identify Wisconsin's frogs by their calls, and other natural history information. A regular feature, "Critter Corner," highlights wildlife in Wisconsin. White-tailed deer, river otter, lake sturgeon, badger, and snow fleas have been discussed during the last year. The phenology section, "Did You See That?" asks site visitors to e-mail EEK! when they notice seasonal changes – when the woolly bears are cruising the fields, when the leaves turn, when the first hard frost paints windowpanes or when the robins return in early spring. Students who logged on last winter took part in an online quiz to identify animal tracks. In the spring, they joined our outdoor scavenger hunt. Over the summer, EEK! readers shared their favorite campfire recipes.
Since DNR employees receive lots of requests from children for career information, we share the best answers with everyone on EEK!. The Get a Job section describes a day in the life of a warden. We explain what a park ranger does. We tell how long you have to crack the books to become a wildlife biologist. Think you have the answers? Visit EEK! and take the "biologist quizzler" to see if you know why wildlife biologists band birds, burn prairies, and age deer.
Cool Stuff is kids' stuff: artwork, stories and a calendar of outdoor events for children and their families. Here we feature the winners from the fourth grade writing contest and fifth grade poster contest to celebrate Arbor Day each April. If you've ever been known to spin a good fishing tale, you'll want to visit the Big Fish Stories, pull up an electronic chair and let your yarn unwind. Adults and children interested in learning an outdoor skill can find information about courses, day trips and other outdoor events offered statewide.
If your kids like riddles, they'll love The Riddler – one of EEK!'s most popular spots. Each month, we feature a new natural history question. The answer can be found somewhere in the EEK! site. The first three children who e-mail us with the correct answer win a prize. Most of our winners have been from Wisconsin, but imagine our surprise when a winner logged-in from Las Vegas!
EEK! helps kids' teachers too, whether the instruction comes from home or school. Each issue of EEK! has "Teacher Pages" suggesting classroom activities to complement current articles on the site. For example, when "Protecting the Wild Ones" featured timber wolves, the Teacher Pages had activities exploring the habitat wolves need. While kids were taking the animal tracking quiz, teachers learned how to prepare plaster animal track casts. During the December holiday season, teachers learned how to help students turn trash into treasures.
EEK! is a bit of an experiment for the staff at DNR. Two years ago we began talking about how we could provide children with up-to-date information in a fun, interactive way without some of the costs of a print publication. Many schools, libraries and homes now have access to the Web and an electronic magazine seemed to make sense. Though we've been online for less than a year, EEK! is already popular with teachers, students, and families.
What can you and your kids look forward to on EEK! in the upcoming year? A special Sesquicentennial edition will feature Wisconsin environmental heroes and heroines. We will also produce a clickable poster on forest wildlife and you'll learn about wild turkey calls. So, next time your children or students want to learn more about Wisconsin's natural resources, send them to EEK! and let them surf the outdoors, online. Oh yeah, big kids are invited too.
Carrie Morgan is an environmental educator based in Madison. Send Carrie questions or comments about EEK!