Professional Development

Sierra Nevada Journeys Hosts Fourth Annual NGSS Bootcamp for Educators


RENO, Nev. – May 16, 2018 — Sierra Nevada Journeys hosted more than 100 teachers from northern Nevada and northeastern California for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) training. The three-day program held at our Grizzly Creek Ranch Campus in Portola, California, shared how to incorporate NGSS standards into their classrooms through outdoor-based education.

Sierra Nevada Journeys Education Director, Sean Hill, said, “It has been our best year ever with 110 attendees including teachers, specialists, administrators and pre-service teachers that represented 11 districts across two states.”

NGSS has three distinct dimensions to learning science — crosscutting concepts, science and engineering practices and disciplinary core ideas. “Many science educators are familiar with this framework but what is not commonly known are the shifts in teaching philosophy, instruction and assessment that teachers need to know in order to effectively teach students using the current research,” said Hill.

NGSS Bootcamp brings industry thought leaders together to share ideas and best practices for STEM-based programming that focuses on the outdoors. This year’s program wouldn’t be possible without supporters such as Project Learning Tree which presented all teachers with several free lessons through PLT’s new online curriculum, or “e-units”. Additional partners included: Catamount Fund, Ltd., Intel’s Folsom campus, Nevada Division of Forestry, Nevada’s Northwestern Professional Development Program for Education, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Washoe County School District, North American Association for Environmental Education EE360 program and Desert Research Institute’s Science Alive program. Collaborations between private, public and nonprofit companies like these fuel Sierra Nevada Journeys’ mission to deliver innovative outdoor, science-based education for youth as well as educators through continuing education.

For additional information on how to support Sierra Nevada Journeys, visit


About Sierra Nevada Journeys

Sierra Nevada Journeys is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that delivers innovative outdoor, science-based education programs for youth to develop critical thinking skills and to inspire natural resource stewardship. Through multiple points of contact, our classroom-based programs, overnight science camps, professional development for teachers, and parent engagement opportunities surround students with resources they need to succeed. All programs are designed to foster higher cognition and build long-term student achievement.

31st Annual Project Learning Tree International Coordinators Conference

Sean Hill, our director of education, attended the 31st annual Project Learning Tree International Coordinators Conference April 24-27. He had a great time networking with State PLT Coordinators and learned about new online professional development opportunities for Nevada teachers!

He journaled his week for us below:

Greetings from Bourbon Country!

I’m here at the 31st annual Project Learning Tree (PLT) International Coordinators Conference. The conference provides an amazing opportunity to network with other State PLT Coordinators, outstanding educators, various program sponsors and partners and other education professionals from around the country and the world. It’ll be action-packed this week as I’ll be networking, attending workshops and brainstorming sessions as I collect great resources and best practices to bring back to Sierra Nevada Journeys and ultimately, Nevada teachers and students (stay tuned for upcoming announcements for new online Professional Development options for teachers as well as for information about exciting new classroom curriculum, the new PLT e-units).

Project Learning Tree is keeping our schedules busy with excellent speakers, including a great session on Tuesday by Judy Braus, Executive Director for the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Don’t worry – we also have time built in for exploring Louisville, Kentucky, including a trip to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory and a local arboretum.

I’m stoked to be here representing Nevada!

Sierra Nevada Journeys Inspires Student to Pursue Outdoor Education as a Career

Melissa Mazzuca, a 3-year employee at Sierra Nevada Journeys, was the 2016 Senior Scholar recipient for the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources at the University of Nevada, Reno. This is one the most prestigious awards at the University. It is given to students from each school or college who meet exceptional program standards. During the reception, Melissa spoke about how Sierra Nevada Journeys inspired her to pursue outdoor education

We were able to connect with her during finals (of all time) to talk about her Sierra Nevada Journeys experience.

You just received your BS in Environmental Science. What's next?
I am excited to take a much needed breather for a few months this winter and spend some quality time with my family at home. I am also taking a trip to the east coast to visit friends and explore! In April, I am extremely excited to be moving to Oregon to continue my work in environmental education at Camp Tamarack Outdoor School.

How were you introduced to Sierra Nevada Journeys?
One of my freshman professors required our class to attend a natural resources career fair. It was there that I met Sean Hill, the Education Director for Sierra Nevada Journeys. I immediately applied to work as a counselor at Grizzly Creek Ranch.

How long have you been involved with Sierra Nevada Journeys and in what capacity?
I have spent an incredible three years with Sierra Nevada Journeys in numerous roles. I started up at campus as a cabin counselor for summer camp. I immediately knew that a few weeks of summer camp was not enough for me and reached out to Kristen Fenstermacher, the campus director at the time, and asked her how I could get more involved. She brought me on for the fall as a part-time instructor where I got to come to campus on the weekends and facilitate the challenge course with leadership programs. Still seeking more involvement with such an amazing organization, I applied for an internship in the Reno office for the following spring. For the next few years I worked with the Classrooms Unleashed program as a field instructor.

My second summer with Sierra Nevada Journeys I took on two new roles. First, I was able to move up to campus a month before summer programs began to finish out the outdoor school season as a Residential Outdoor Science Instructor. Then once summer began, I had the pleasure of being the Arts and Crafts Specialist for all summer programs. I had such an incredible second season with Sierra Nevada Journeys that I went ahead and continued my same roles for a third!  

What were some of your favorite moments with Sierra Nevada Journeys?
I absolutely loved being the Arts and Crafts Specialist over the summer. One of my favorite parts of the position was when the older girls would come and we would all craft together and sing Taylor Swift; it was beautiful. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know all the campers really well, not just one cabin.

I also really enjoyed working the registration table at check-in. I loved getting to experience camper’s very first impression of Sierra Nevada Journeys or seeing how excited the returners were to be back at camp.

A specific favorite memory was during a very stormy day of summer 2015. The campers probably spent more time inside than out due to the weather that week, but you'd never be able to tell based on their spirits. As a special rainy day activity, a few counselors planned a lip sync battle. No one anticipated how into it all the campers would get with elaborate dances and costumes. I even got to take on the role of Katniss Everdeen as a judge. Every camper and staff member had an incredible time despite the weather and it is one of my favorite summer camp memories to date.

How has Sierra Nevada Journeys helped you personally and professionally?
I have grown so much since I started with Sierra Nevada Journeys in 2013. I am more confident, social, and open to trying new things. Sierra Nevada Journeys is like a home to me and I feel like it’s where I really found myself. It’s also where I found what I like to call “my people.” From my incredible mentor Kristen, to my camp mom Debbie, to all my amazing friends, I have never felt a greater sense of belonging. I believe this sense of belonging is what really made me feel and act like my true self.

I have also gained a long list of professional skills to grow as an environmental educator. My growth is due largely to the amazing people that I have been surrounded by at Sierra Nevada Journeys. I have received an incredible amount of guidance and support for the last three years. I have had the pleasure of learning a ton about teaching, challenge course facilitation, and just working with children in general from observing and being in the company of my fellow instructors. I genuinely loved being the baby of the staff because I had the opportunity to learn so much from my peers.

If I haven't already communicated it, Sierra Nevada Journeys really has meant the world to me. I’m sad to be moving on, but I am incredibly thankful for the growth that I have experienced through Sierra Nevada Journeys and am eager to apply it to my next adventure.  

SNJ Educator Attends 2016 NSTA Conference

SNJ Experiential Educator Michael Casale attends NSTA Conference in Nashville, TN.

SNJ Experiential Educator Michael Casale attends NSTA Conference in Nashville, TN.

I look forward to attending future conferences at the national level and representing the mission of Sierra Nevada Journeys and its impact that we as an organization have in the community we live.

For the first time in my teaching career, I stepped away from my local network and went national. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the 2016 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference in Nashville, TN to meet with and learn from teachers around the country. Participation included numerous engaging and informative workshops presented by teachers with diverse backgrounds and levels of experience from a variety of education sectors. Within each workshop, teachers described the successes and challenges they have been facing in their classrooms and other educational settings. 

To my surprise, science teachers from all educational environments (e.g., informal to formal), grades (e.g., pre-K to High School AP) and experience (e.g., first year teachers to instructional coaches) posed a question on common ground: "How do we enhance science education for students from all backgrounds and learning styles, while designing and implementing Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) curriculum that is three dimensionally aligned?" The workshops I attended emphasized current research and teaching strategies centered on the application of the 3-Dimensional framework – the foundation of the NGSS. Others built on each other. For example, I participated in a series of workshops that focused on analyzing and improving existing science units. Working in small groups, the goal was to revise the units to make them more 3-Dimensionally aligned. Each session built on the previous and the same group of teachers worked together throughout the five workshops. This type of continuous learning was a highlight for me. 

My NSTA Conference experience was a rewarding professional and personal learning opportunity. NSTA 2016 enabled me to expand my professional network and afforded me the chance to see a part of the country that I have never traveled to before. Nashville is a unique city that proudly celebrates its deep roots in American music history and culture. I look forward to attending future conferences at the national level and representing the mission of Sierra Nevada Journeys and its impact that we as an organization have in the community we live.

- Michael Casale, SNJ Experiential Educator