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Expedition –-– ––-––-–-– TOOLKIT

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you will find suggestions and requirements for planning and completing a successful learning expedition. As an ambassador you will lead this effort, but like any good leader you will need the help of others. Suggested roles for others participating in the expedition include an assistant, a scribe, a navigator, a logistician, a communications person, activity leaders and adult chaperones. While one person can perform several of these roles, recruiting helpers and delegating tasks to them is an important leadership skill. PHOTOS IN THIS TOOLKIT APPEAR COURTESY OF: Nickelodeon, NEEF, National Park Service, Audubon, and ACORN Partners in Education

Selecting an issue or topic to explore

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There are many topics and issues to choose from. If plants or wildlife interest you, choosing one specie to investigate might be the way to

get started. A favorite park or other public land or waterway might be a good place to conduct an investigation. If you enjoy outdoor recreation, using that activity to explore the impact it has on flora and fauna or the environment in general could be the basis for a learning expedition. Here are some broad topics to research and consider if you are having trouble getting started: local conservation efforts, endangered species recovery, habitat restoration, invasive species eradication, pollution mitigation, natural resource management issues or citizen science projects.

Featured Resource: SciStarter is the place to find, join, and contribute to science through more than 1600 formal and informal research projects, events and tools indexed in a database of citizen science projects.

Working with a partner organization

–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Keep in mind that you will need to have a sponsor to partner with. Your sponsor will work with you to plan and conduct your learning expedition. Scheduling group transportation, securing access or permits, purchasing needed supplies, equipment or gear, and providing adult supervision are some of the things your sponsor will help with. A teacher from school, a scout leader, a park manager or other adult will be your counterpart throughout much of the process, so be sure to interview them before making a decision. You will want to know that they are just as interested and committed to your idea as you are.

Featured Resource: Hands on the Land is a national network of field classrooms. Site staff collaborate with educators to provide hands-on, place-based learning experiences. Click here for a map of HOL sites.

Developing a specific learning expedition goal(s)

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–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Learning how to set specific goals will help you conduct a successful learning

expedition—it is also an important life skill that can help you become an achiever of great things. Goal setting will help you to think through the different elements of your project. It will assist you in understanding your motivations leading to greater self-awareness. To get started, a goal is a desired outcome, something that will make a difference if it is achieved. If your goal is too ambitious it may not be possible to accomplish it. If your goal is too simple it won’t be challenging enough for you to feel you achieved something important. If your goal is not realistic you will set yourself up for failure. So, how do you know when a goal is just right? Here’s how. It will have the following attributes:

S = Specific – You will be clear about what you want to achieve M = Measurable – You will be able to track your progress A =  Attainable – You will be realistic about what you can accomplish R

with your skills and the resources available to you


Rewarding – You will care enough that your hard work will be worth the payoff



Timely – You will be able to meet a deadline for completion

To set a specific goal answer these questions. What do I want to accomplish? Why do I want to do this? Where will the activities take place? How long will it take? When will I have enough time to do this? Which skills and tools will be needed? Who will be involved? The answers will provide a vision of how you will achieve your goal. For a goal to be measurable answer these questions. How many? How much? How long? How will I know if I am making progress? What milestones will I need to establish? The answers define the metrics or criteria for measuring progress towards accomplishing your goal.

To know if your goal is attainable answer these questions. Do I have the necessary skills or does someone else I can partner with? Do I have the necessary tools and resources or can they be

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obtained? Do I have enough time to do everything? The answers



identify areas where you will need assistance or need to make adjustments. For a goal to be rewarding answer these questions. Will I work hard, even when I don’t feel like it? Will I stick with it, even if some things don’t go as planned? Will I be proud of my work? The answers demonstrate your level of commitment and motivation to see things through to completion. To show you are serious about reaching your goal it should be timely. When will I start? When do I expect to finish? When do I anticipate reaching each milestone? How often will I assess my progress? Will I use a calendar or some other method to track my progress? The answers will ground your goal within a set time frame and temper your expectations. It will also provide a sense of progress as milestones are achieved thus keeping you motivated. Click here for a worksheet to document and communicate your SMART goal(s) to others on your team.

Choosing a location

–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Are you considering more than one location for your learning expedition? If so, which is the best place? Here are some things to consider. At most state and national parks, preserves, refuges and forests there are staff and volunteer groups that may be available to assist you with your project. Some sites have ongoing projects that you could participate in. Or you might want to propose a new project. Speaking with a representative will help you understand what options are available. Additional things to consider include if permits are required and if equipment rental or loaner programs are available at the site. If you must visit a site more than once, then proximity to your home or school is probably important. The award your sponsor will receive can be used to cover transportation costs. The national average cost for chartering a school bus is $65$125/hour or $610/day. When you develop a budget for your expedition you will need to include transportation, permit fees (if a fee waiver isn’t offered) and any needed equipment rentals or purchases.

Featured Resource: Clicking on an image will take you to that agency’s website.

Scheduling your learning expedition

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After you have investigated sites and decided on the location

for your learning expedition you will need to set the dates and arrange transportation. You will need to coordinate the date(s) and time(s) with your sponsor, then reserve any needed transportation and acquire permits. A deposit may be required for chartering a bus and permit fees may need to be paid in advance. If renting equipment, you need to check availability, reserve the quantity of items needed and probably put down a deposit or even pay in full in advance. Your sponsor will be able to perform these financial transactions.

Planning activities –-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– As the learning expedition leader you will decide what activities your group

will perform—with some input and the approval of your sponsor. The group’s safety and performance while in the field are mostly your responsibility. You will need to consider how to prepare the group before the expedition goes into the field, manage the group’s activities during time in the field and coordinate postexpedition activities. The field activities you choose to include need to support your goal(s) for the learning expedition. What do you hope to learn? The answer to that question will guide you in selecting the best activities. You may need a presentation or briefing on your topic by an expert such as a park biologist or ranger to ensure the members of your group have enough understanding before engaging in data collection or a service project. Or you may need an expert volunteer to demonstrate how an activity is to be done, such as specimen collection or tree planting, to ensure quality field work. Including team building and other fun activities is also important for developing a team dynamic and keeping folks motivated. The following activities are examples of what to do with your group before departing, while traveling, during the site visit and upon returning from the expedition. After the field work comes the presentation and reporting activities that complete your ambassadorship. Those activities are covered in the last section of this toolkit.

Expedition Outfitting participants –-– ––-––-–-– TOOLKIT

–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Wearing the right clothing, bringing the right personal care items,



having the right tools and leaving unnecessary items at home are all part of outfitting your team members. Checking the weather forecast for the location of your learning expedition to know what temperature range and weather conditions to expect is the first step to developing a What To Bring checklist. Consulting with a staff person at the public lands site you will visit is a way to verify local conditions and current hazards. Creating a list of required and suggested items will help ensure your team is comfortable and safe. The list of required items should be things that cannot be done without and everybody owns (example: a jacket). If a required item is not something that commonly everyone owns, then you will need to find a way to provide it. Sponsorship funds can be used for outfitting expedition members with inexpensive non-consumable items (example: work gloves).


Sometimes it is important to include a list of things that are not allowed (example: open toe footwear).

Completing a map activity

–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– While some people are comfortable not knowing many details about a trip, others prefer having at least a general overview in order to feel at ease about going somewhere unfamiliar. This is often true for an expedition. Visiting a place for the first-time can be a little scary if it is far from home. To help your team feel prepared and safe it is best to conduct a map activity. In the age of digital maps and GPS it can be difficult to get a sense of where things are located. Or how far away someplace is from where you live. While using a map app to calculate driving time or to get detailed driving directions is convenient and helpful for planning purposes, it won’t help you or your team members develop a sense of the place you visit on your expedition. To develop a mental map is much easier when you consult an actual paper map and compare it to the real world.

Click here for a map activity designed to inform team members on where the expedition is located and how the group will get there.

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Once at your field site you may also need other maps to assist you.



If your expedition requires hiking, then a trail map will be needed so you don’t get lost. If your project involves visiting a specific spot within a public land, you may need a site map to find it or its coordinates and a GPS unit.

Featured Resource: How to use a GPS unit. A handheld GPS receiver is a valuable outdoor tool. It can give you vital information about where you are, where you’ve been and where you want to go.

Reviewing the itinerary and data collection protocols

–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– To ensure that your expedition goes smoothly, it is a best practice to review the

itinerary with the team. The review also serves as a chance for team members to ask questions—which may reveal details that have not been considered or can be improved. By engaging the team before the field activities start you are giving them a chance to take partial ownership of the expedition experience and become enthusiastic supporters of the expedition’s goals. To ensure quality data is collected, it is another best practice to review any data collection protocols before starting the data collection process. Again, this gives team members a chance to ask clarifying questions and feel confident that their work will be successful.

Engaging everyone in a variety of activities

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While the purpose of the expedition is to learn and collect data, it is also important that everyone have some fun. If your team already

knows one another, then hold off on a name game until others unknown to the team join you. Throughout the expedition be sure to take breaks to complete team building and fun group activities—it will make the experience even more memorable for everyone involved. –-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-–

 lways establish ground rules for an activity to help ensure A respectful and inclusive participation.

Leading an icebreaker, energizer or team building activity

–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Although you may already know the members of your expedition, the adults your group will interact with probably won’t. Using a name game is a great way to break the ice and help everyone learn each other’s names quickly. Click here for a few name game and icebreaker suggestions.


 he facilitator of an activity should practice leading it a couple of T times to ensure it goes smoothly.

There are several reasons for including a team building activity as part of your expedition itinerary. Team building exercises promote trust and cohesiveness within a group. They can also be used to fill short gaps in the schedule when they arise. Fun group games can also be used as an energizer to bring the group back together or to foster enthusiasm. You can delegate facilitation to a team member or lead the activity yourself. Click here for a few team building activities and fun group games.

Giving a safety talk

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–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Some activities require the use of tools or equipment. Others take



place in locations where hazards exist. To keep the members of your team safe, they need to be informed and sometimes instructed on the proper way to do things. So, whether it is the bus driver, the park ranger or you, someone will likely be called upon to give a safety briefing during your expedition. Taking safety in the outdoors to the next level requires protecting the abiotic, biotic and cultural features of a field site. You can imagine what would happen if everyone treated wildlife, forests, parks, waterways and other public lands as private property with which they could do anything they pleased. In no time those resources would be damaged—perhaps ruined—for future visitors and the wildlife that make it their home. Collecting items as souvenirs is prohibited in many places in order to protect them.

Featured Resource: The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. The Center accomplishes this mission by delivering cutting-edge education and research to millions of people across the country every year. Click here to learn more about The Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

Conducting the field work –-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– If everyone has been briefed and all the needed gear and equipment is available and working properly, then completing tasks in the field should go well. If something isn’t working as planned, take a brief timeout and problem solve. Either as a group or with the help of someone with expertise figure out what can been done differently that will improve the situation. Then share the new plan or way of doing something with everyone. The time invested in resolving an issue will pay off in the long run.


It has been said that success is 80% preparation and 20% execution.

Collecting gear, equipment, data sheets and field notes

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–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Whether performed before leaving the field site or upon returning to the

departure site it is important to collect anything that was rented or loaned. Having a team roster and checking off each person as their items are collected will ensure no one is overlooked. Return of all rental items will avoid replacement charges and ensure a full security deposit refund to your sponsor. If you haven’t already done so, collect the team member’s data sheets and field notes to avoid having to track them down later. Again, using a roster as a checklist will ensure no one is missed.

Ending the expedition –-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Here are some suggested activities for soliciting feedback and sharing highlights: Closing Circle - Facilitating a closing circle is a great way to ceremoniously bring closure to the learning expedition and create a memorable experience. It also serves as an opportunity to solicit feedback. Communicating ground rules will establish expectations for a positive sharing of ideas and help avoid hurtful comments. (e.g. Rule #1 – No dissing another person. Rule #2 – Always follow rule #1.) A good feedback prompt would be to ask participants to share a favorite moment and a least favorite. 5,4,3,2,1 – As a journaling activity, write five things you learned on the expedition, four things you want to remember six months from now, three things you will teach someone else, two things you promise to do from now on, and one thing from the expedition you will never forget. After the field work has been completed comes the presentation and reporting activities that complete your duties as an ambassador.

Debriefing the expedition

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It is a good idea to identify what went well and what needed

improvement through a process called debriefing. You and your team, along with your sponsor/chaperone, should discuss each element of the expedition process in order to learn from what actually happened versus what everyone had planned. This conversation can benefit future outings by improving the planning process and keeping expectations realistic.

Analyzing the collected data –-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– Making sense of the data your team collected is an important task. The data you collected will be either quantitative or qualitative. Interviews and observations are forms of qualitative data, while experiments and surveys are quantitative. There are many types of data analysis. Data analysis is the process of systematically interpreting a data set in order to describe or illustrate, condense and summarize, and evaluate cause and effect. Some methods are more basic in nature, such as descriptive, exploratory, inferential, predictive, and causal; others more specific, such as qualitative analysis that looks for things like patterns and colors and quantitative analysis that focuses on numbers. If your project is part of a larger study, then you will need to submit your data so it can be added to the project’s database.

Featured Resource: The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program provides students and the public with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process, and contribute to our understanding of the environment. GLOBE provides grade level-appropriate, interdisciplinary activities and investigations about the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and soil/pedosphere, which have been developed by the scientific community and validated by teachers.

Developing a presentation

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After an expedition it is customary for the leader to make a public presentation to communicate any research findings and learning

that occurred. A great presentation is not difficult to put together if you think of it as storytelling. First, think about who or what are the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) in your story. Next, think about your audience and what you want to say to them. What will your listeners find interesting? What will you share with them (example: photos, a map, a chart or graph, etc.) to develop their understanding of your learning expedition? Lastly, how will you inspire them to take specific action(s) in response to what you have shared? Consider ways that you can make it easy for folks to complete an action before going home. Doing something immediately while interest is high will get better results than if folks wait to do something later.


Recognizing the contributions of individuals that helped make the expedition a success, fun and possible is a great way to say thank you.

Making your presentation to the community

–-–-–-––-–––-–-–-––-––-–-–-–-––-–-–-– This is a chance for you to practice public speaking and truly be an ambassador

in every sense of the word. If you have stage fright, practice several times in front of a small audience before the big event. Remember the expedition required a team, so the presentation should be a team effort too—don’t rely on just one or two people. Sometimes it is helpful to recreate the excitement the team felt in the field by teaching the audience one of the fun games or activities—especially if it relates to the topic/issue you explored.


Challenge your audience to stay informed with a specific call to action. One suggestion would be to sign-up for the NEEF weekly newsletter at

NEEF: Get Dirty Toolkit  

National Environmental Education Foundation expedition toolkit

NEEF: Get Dirty Toolkit  

National Environmental Education Foundation expedition toolkit