5 Reasons to Take PLT’s New Online Professional Development Course

Project Learning Tree’s Explore Your Environment: K–8 Activity Guide is our newest flagship curriculum. Now, we’ve launched an enhancement to the guide: online professional development! As with all PLT online professional development, it follows best practices for adult learning while providing the flexibility of a self-paced online course.

Here are five reasons to take PLT’s Explore Your Environment Online Professional Development Course.


1. Be confident that you’re getting the most out of your guide

gif sharing screens of the k-8 professional development

The Explore Your Environment Online Professional Development Course takes you through an interactive journey that explores key features of the guide. From using the guide’s icons and indexes to find an activity that’s right for you, to using activities to meet national academic standards, by the end of the course you will be confident that you’re making the most of all PLT’s Explore Your Environment Guide has to offer.

Through the course’s guidance, activity simulations, video demonstrations, reflection questions, and action planning, you will be able to–

  • Lead activities outdoors and meet your teaching objectives by using the guide’s activities and recommended strategies.
  • Modify and scaffold PLT activities as needed to honor youths’ contexts, backgrounds, and strengths and shape activities based on their culture, race, and ethnicity.
  • Build units of instruction using PLT activities to support the achievement of instructional goals (e.g., academic standards, teaching outdoors, STEM).
  • Use curated resources to support and supplement instruction. 


2. Create your learning path

The course consists of seven self-paced online modules that you can access anytime, anywhere. It offers differentiated pathways, so you can focus your learning on the elements and activities that are most important to you and your students. Choose your path based on the grade band of your students (K-2; 3-5; 6-8) or the setting in which you work with youth (formal education; non-formal education; standalone events or programs).

You also have the option to select specific modules to review at a time or complete the entire course to receive a certificate of completion and be eligible for Continuing Education Units (CEU)* or Continuing Forestry Education (CFE) credits**.

We invite you to preview the Course Welcome for a glimpse of PLT’s newest on-demand Online Professional Development Course and its modules.

“I liked the flow of the content and the way the course was set up. It was easy to read through the information and move onto the next part.”
– Jessica Alba, Watershed Forest Stewardship Educator, Watershed Agricultural Council


3. Learn strategies for teaching outdoors

k-8 professional development course guide

More than ever, people are turning to the natural world to relax, recreate, and learn. When youth learn about the world around them, it creates a vital connection with the natural world. And yet, teaching outdoors can be an intimidating idea. Maybe you are used to teaching in the classroom, or you work outdoors but don’t have experience leading activities with youth? PLT’s professional development builds your skills and confidence to teach outdoors!

To complement the Explore Your Environment guide’s activities and empower you to take students outdoors, our online course provides firsthand tips about teaching outdoors from seasoned educators. The course explores questions such as:

  • What should I consider when deciding to teach outdoors?
  • How do I manage student behavior outdoors?
  • How do I ensure they are comfortable outside?
  • What are key things to keep in mind if I’m working with elementary or middle school learners?
  • And many more!

Want to continue to build your skills and confidence for teaching outdoors through hands-on experience? Find a PLT in-person or blended professional development workshop offered in your state! Whether you’ve been teaching formally or informally, for two months or 20 years, there is always more to learn about being an effective educator.


4. Get practical tips from seasoned educators

In addition to strategies for teaching outdoors, the Explore Your Environment Online Professional Development Course incorporates lots of tips on how best to lead activities from seasoned facilitators and educators who have used the activities with their own students. From adapting activities for students with limited mobilities to overcoming possible logistical challenges, their tips will help you modify activities to meet your students’ needs and successfully lead PLT activities, indoors or outdoors, in urban or rural settings.

“[The course is] a great way to learn how to engage with students in different ways, both via in-person activities and virtual ones revolving around nature.”
– Jocelyn Perez-Blanco, Educator and Founder of Herban Garden


5. Create an action plan

The course takes you step-by-step through one or more selected activities. It prompts you to reflect and modify the activity to honor your students’ prior knowledge and lived experiences and their cultures, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities.

You will leave the course with an action plan customized to the needs of your learners and your specific setting. You will also receive an exclusive “Activity At-a-Glance” handout for quick reference, so you don’t need to take the entire guide with you when leading the activity.


purple button with text learn more

Ready to get started? 

  • Check out the Course Welcome preview for more information and a glimpse of the course.
  • Purchase PLT’s Explore Your Environment Online Professional Development Course from shop.plt.org.
  • Find an in-person or blended professional development workshop offered in your state.


* Continuing Education Units offered vary by state. Please contact your PLT State Coordinator to learn more about your eligibility for CEU credits.
** Pending approval by Society of American Foresters.

PLT Launches Green Jobs Online Course

Green jobs are an excellent opportunity to match youth with meaningful careers. Green jobs provide a sense of purpose while making a positive global impact. Not only that, green jobs represent one of the fastest growing and changing segments in the global economy today and into the future.


With PLT’s new Green Jobs unit, you can play a role in introducing your learners to this bright future. From forester to wildlife manager, technician to remote sensing specialist, green jobs offer opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds, skills, interests, and personal qualities. Green Jobs: Exploring Forest Careers offers four hands-on, NGSS-aligned, instructional activities that help youth explore forest-related careers and get excited about green jobs.

Now, we’ve launched an enhancement to the unit: online professional development so you can best use and adapt the activities, while also giving you the option to earn Continuing Education Units or Continuing Forestry Education credits (including 1.50 Cat 1 credits from the Society of American Foresters.)

This online course was created in collaboration with and thanks to support from the Society of American Foresters.

We invite you to preview the Course Welcome for a glimpse of PLT’s newest on-demand Online Professional Development Course.


Much More Than Curriculum

According to the professional learning association Learning Forward,

Research has found that high-quality curricula have a significant impact on student achievement (Steiner, 2017; Chingos & Whitehurst, 2012). But a curriculum is not effective on its own. It requires teachers who understand it and use it with intentionality and professional judgment.[1]

That’s where PLT comes in. Since its inception more than 40 years ago, PLT has offered in-person professional development to accompany its curriculum through its vast and diverse network. In 2015, we launched online offerings to provide flexibility to educators who could not attend training in person. And now, during COVID-19, most PLT state programs offer blended virtual professional development that combines safe, flexible online learning with PLT’s hallmark personal experience.


PLT’s Green Jobs Online Professional Development Course provides the support to best use and adapt the activities, to explore green careers in the forest and conservation sectors with your learners, anytime and anywhere.

You will be able to–

  • Lead Green Jobs Guide activities, whether indoors, outdoors, or remotely
  • Apply tested tips and tricks when leading the activities
  • Modify activities to align with your learners and setting
  • Identify high-quality resources to supplement instruction


What’s Inside PLT’s Green Jobs Online Course

PLT’s Green Jobs Online Professional Development Course consists of 10 self-paced online modules, each lasting 5 to 15 minutes.

Curated videos will expand and deepen your knowledge of forest and conservation jobs.

You’ll also receive step-by-step guidance for leading the activities, as well as planning worksheets to easily plan and modify PLT activities for your learners and setting.


The course also contains:

  • Adaptations for Remote Teaching
    • Lead selected activities in a virtual environment with our step-by-step guidance
  • Teaching Tips and Tricks
    • Hear from seasoned facilitators and educators about teaching outdoors and modifying the activities for different learners
  • Connections to Academic Standards
    • Learn how each activity supports three-dimensional science instruction, with a primary focus on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
  • Knowledge Checks
    • Check your understanding and receive feedback through multiple-choice quizzes
  • Activity-At-A-Glance
    • Print handouts for quick reference for leading the activities
  • Additional Resources
    • Supplement the activities with curated resources from trustworthy sources



Green Jobs Online Professional Development Course is the first of a new generation of PLT online professional development courses. As with all PLT professional development, it follows best practices of adult learning, while providing the additional flexibility of an online course.

You can select specific modules to review at a time, or complete the entire course to receive a certificate of completion and be eligible for Continuing Education Units (CEU)* or Continuing Forestry Education (CFE) credits.


Ready to Get Started? 


Learn More About PLT’s Green Jobs Resources

Don’t miss out on these resources that make it easy to expose young people to rewarding career paths that are in high demand!

  • Our Find Your Green Job online personality quiz is a great way to jump start a discussion with students
  • The Green Jobs: Exploring Forest Careers guide includes several activities to help them learn more about jobs in this sector
  • With our Green Jobs Online Professional Development course, you’ll learn how to modify the activities for different learners, get tips for adapting the activities for a virtual environment, earn Continuing Education Units or Continuing Forestry Education credits (including 1.50 Cat 1 credits from the Society of American Foresters), and more. 



[1] How Curriculum And Professional Learning Intersect. Learning Forward. February 2018

* Continuing Education Units offered varies by state. Please contact your PLT State Coordinator to learn more about your eligibility for CEU credits.

PLT Workshops During COVID-19: Benefits Now, Benefits for the Future

The start of the 2020-2021 school year is like no other. Educators, administrators, and parents are figuring out how to provide some combination of virtual and in-person learning experiences for students. To further complicate the plans, what happens this fall may change completely as the year progresses.

We at PLT, like all of you, had to pivot quickly to this new reality last March. Typically, approximately 15,000 educators attend 800 in-person PLT professional development events organized by PLT state programs around the country. Now most PLT state programs are offering professional development that combines safe, flexible online learning with the personal experience that has been the hallmark of PLT for decades.

If you have never taken a PLT workshop or haven’t attended one in a while, this might be a great time to dig in! You’ll experience PLT activities in the virtual environment that you can then adapt to your teaching for the coming year. You will find that PLT can be a great addition to a variety of subjects, and in a variety of settings!


PLT can help you make the most of many challenges arising from the global pandemic. For example:

  • The challenge: Students are each in their own home, rather than together in a classroom.
    The opportunity: PLT activities offers a way for students to make the most of their different spaces, through activities such as comparing and contrasting their different environments.


  • The challenge: Students are spending many hours in front of computers.
    The opportunity: PLT offers a way to incorporate outdoors experiences and to learn and practice 21st digital skills as part of STEM preparation, through such activities as analyzing and visualizing data.


  • The challenge: For schools holding in-person learning, CDC guidelines suggest using outdoor spaces as a way to facilitate social distancing.
    The opportunity: PLT offers a way to structure outdoor learning across the curriculum and make the schoolyard a classroom.


Leveraging the Virtual Environment

Over the past few years, PLT developed six online workshops for early childhood, elementary, and middle school educators. These self-guided online courses were originally designed as stand-alone professional development. They are asynchronous training, wherein participants go through the series of short segments that make up an online course on their own schedule and pace. For those unable to attend an in-person workshop, online PLT professional development has been a great option since we introduced it, after rigorous testing, in 2015. However, some participants miss out on some of the advantages of synchronous, in-person professional development: that is, the community-building and social learning that results from interacting in real-time with facilitators and fellow participants.

PLT state programs are now offering a new modality of remote professional development—customized professional development that is both synchronous and asynchronous—blending the social learning that happens in live events with the flexibility offered by self-guided online courses.


Together Apart

Is there a better way to learn how to teach remotely than to experience it for yourself? PLT now offers remote professional development to model new ways educators can work with students virtually, including adaptations to PLT activities.

As Laura Downey, the Kansas PLT coordinator who also has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, notes, “The initial intent in the spring was just to provide professional development in a way that was engaging and allowed for some interaction. We have been figuring out ways for people to feel they are part of a learning community, the hallmark and trademark of PLT. An added benefit is that our workshops can serve as a model to educators about how to teach high-quality environmental education to students virtually. PLT offers something so much more engaging for students than just watching something on a screen and then writing something down.”

In addition to Laura, several other state PLT coordinators recently shared new ways they are supporting educators virtually. They have created variations of PLT professional development in which participants meet live as a cohort via Zoom or other video conferencing platform, complete the online course on their own within a few weeks, then reconnect. They have found that participants value both the chance to connect with others and the flexibility of being able to do much of the training on their own schedules and not having to travel to attend a workshop. As Laura reminded me, “Who doesn’t need flexibility these days?”


A few different flavors:

  • 3 live sessions + self-guided professional development + outdoor activities. Colorado PLT holds three 2-hour Zoom sessions, coordinator Danielle Ardrey explained, with the self-guided online professional development between the sessions. One advantage of these periodic contacts, she said, is that participants have the time to experience some PLT activities together during the Zoom sessions, using the chat and small group breakouts. On their own, they do several outside PLT nature activities and come together to discuss how they can use them with their students. The format has also allowed for the inclusion of guest speakers who recount how PLT has affected their own environmental career paths.


  • 1 live session + self-guided professional development + online resources. South Carolina PLT had six professional development events scheduled for pre-service teachers when things shut down in March. By May, after some experimentation, they developed a new virtual model that incorporated video conferencing. According to coordinator Matt Schnabel, participants receive an introductory email to cover the administrative and technical details, as well as a heads-up about an icebreaker that will be conducted during the live session. That live, synchronous session introduces participants to the PLT program, two activities, online resources, and gets everyone on the same page about how they may use PLT in their teaching, Matt said. Participants are then given access to the online course, with about two weeks to go through it. At the end, in addition to a certificate and continuing education credit, they receive a letter with instructions on how to access the PLT curriculum electronically, how to stay connected to their local PLT network, and suggestions for other EE resources and organizations in South Carolina.



  • 2 live sessions + self-guided professional development + lesson planning. In between Colorado’s three live sessions and South Carolina’s one, Virginia PLT has developed a model with two such sessions. Virginia PLT coordinator Page Hutchinson had also not done any virtual training beforehand, but quickly adapted. In addition to completing the online course, Page has participants find two or more additional activities that support their curriculum. Because Virginia has its own science standards, she has them complete Index 7, the Lesson Planning Worksheet found in PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide, making sure to correlate the activities to the Virginia Standards of Learning. Participants go into breakout groups by grade level to share and discuss the activities they’ve found, which Page said has proven very useful.


As a guiding principle for planning online teaching, Laura said, “When you use technology, it shouldn’t just be to replicate something that you can do face to face. It should take advantage of the technology and use the technology to enhance learning.” An example that she is incorporating into workshops in Kansas involves asking participants to download a magnifying microscope app on their phones. They go outdoors to study a piece of their own environment in a whole new way, take photographs, and reflect on what they have seen.


Looking Ahead

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it may be that we all have been pushed beyond our comfort zones and have learned new ways to do things, oftentimes with positive results.

Some state coordinators are planning to continue aspects of their pandemic-related changes even when in-person professional development events are safe again. Virtual training can help meet the needs of those who can’t attend in-person events—educators who live in more remote areas or whose schedules preclude attending evening or weekend workshops, for example. In addition, this remote professional development format can also support participants in developing a whole new set of skills, such as remote teaching. It also creates opportunities for more professional development, helping educators continually improve their teaching practices and consequentially, student achievement.

If you decide to participate in an upcoming blended professional development event that combines live sessions and self-guided courses, our Project Learning Tree coordinators offer these suggestions:

  1. Get the details out of the way first. If you are unfamiliar with the online platform (whether Zoom, WebEx, or others), ask for help beforehand so you are ready to roll. You can also take a quick look at the PLT website if you are unfamiliar with it to get an overview of its resources.
  2. Come with an open mind. PLT’s hands-on, participatory workshops are never typical professional development experiences, and these virtual sessions are not even typical for PLT. But given the completion rates and feedback to date, they are a great option.
  3. Evaluate the experience. This is a work in progress and your feedback about what worked and what didn’t will ensure a better PLT experience for all.


Find out what your state has planned, connect with your local coordinator for tips and upcoming opportunities, and best of luck as the school year begins!