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Project Bluestem Curriculum

Students in the oak savanna “It is not half so important to know as to feel…It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate.” –Rachel Carson, former USFWS biologist

The Project Bluestem Curriculum at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge uses the restored and reconstructed tallgrass prairie ecosystem as an integrating and motivating context to engage school children at all grade levels in real world, field-based learning experiences. Project Bluestem, the primary curriculum used at Neal Smith NWR, has been updated and adapted to reflect the most current philosophies and methodologies of environmental education.  Currently covering grades K-5, staff are working to add secondary grade levels to the curriculum.  Contact the refuge at 515-994-3400 or by email to inquire about draft lesson plans for these grades.

Revised Project Bluestem

The goals of the revised lessons are studying and becoming a naturalist; using nature journals; tracking phenology; learning from model naturalists; and searching for wonder. In the revised lessons, the interest and questions of learners ultimately drive lesson objectives. Students are put in charge of constructing their own learning and field leaders serve as facilitators (not lecturers) in helping learners make independent, personal, and consequently meaningful discoveries about the environment.

Here is the curriculum summary by grade for the revised Project Bluestem.  For full lesson plans, please contact the refuge at 515-994-3400 or by email.

Original Project Bluestem Curriculum

Written in 1995, the Project Bluestem Curriculum is Neal Smith NWR’s founding environmental education curriculum. Project Bluestem has a wide variety of topics for nearly every grade level and helps students become intimately acquainted with tallgrass prairies, oak savannas and Neal Smith NWR. The pertinence of Project Bluestem persists today and it can still be used as a valuable environmental education resource. Yet, in the written introduction of Project Bluestem, curriculum developers declared that Project Bluestem was an unfinished and dynamic document that should be “constantly changing, improving and growing”. Neal Smith NWR recognizes the importance of these commands and has worked to uphold them by reviewing and revising the curriculum, currently reflected in the lessons above.


“Imagine that you and your students are Sherlock Homes, sleuthing out things to draw- varied leaf shapes, animal evidence, shadows, cloud patterns, a bird flitting by.” – Clare Walker Leslie, on teaching nature journaling
Last Updated: Jan 07, 2015
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