Mundane to Magical

Mundane to Magical: Whole Class at First Dam, Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Whole Class at First Dam
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Using Binoculars to Look for Ducks, Courtesy & Copyright  Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer Using Binoculars to Look for Ducks
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Spotting Scope with Image Transmitter, Courtesy & Copyright  Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer Spotting Scope with Image Transmitter
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

One aspect of experiential learning I love most is how it turns mundane encounters into magical experiences. How many times have your children walked by a pond full of ducks and geese without batting an eye, or shuffled their feet through fallen, Autumn leaves on their way to this or to that? I continue to be astonished by how much there is to appreciate and to learn from our surroundings, but we lend it a bit of our attention and wonder. It’s amazing to see how just a little preparatory investigation can turn fleeting everyday moments into lifelong learning memories.

My 2nd-grade class focuses on learning about birds. I don’t just mean we read a few books and discuss the basics of birds. I mean my students can replicate the sounds of at least 15 local birds, provide detailed descriptions of their body characteristics, and even provide information about their diet, habits, and behaviors. We’ve studied birds all year long, partnered with local bird organizations – Bridgerland Audubon Society, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge –, been on numerous birding outings, and let’s just say are ALL IN on birding.

With the recent weather systems and cold fronts in Northern Utah, we’ve seen waterfowl migrations come alive; a perfect time to study that classification of birds with my students! Little did I, or my students, realize there was so much to learn about common waterfowl! Did you know some waterfowl dive for food and others dabble? Did you know about preening to keep waterproof, or special down feathers to keep warm? How about your knowledge on a Redhead Duck’s nest parasitism techniques? Well, my students learned about these things, and many more over the span of a few weeks. As a culminating event, we planned a field experience to Logan’s 1st Dam, a local and vibrantly busy park, which surrounds a small reservoir, and is about a 45-minute walk from our school’s front door. Many of my students have been to this park numerous times throughout their lives with their families. Needless to say, there is nothing novel about this location.

Armed with binoculars leant by the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, and a spotting scope with an image transmitter granted us by Bridgerland Audubon Society, students began to observe, count, and be astonished by what they saw. It was as if the students had never seen a Canada Goose or Mallard duck in their lives. Their background knowledge on these birds brought to life the mundane place they were experiencing, as kids shouted “Look, it’s dabbling!” or “I saw 15 drakes and 19 hens, that’s 34 total!” or “I bet that Redhead is trying to find someone else’s nest to lay her eggs!” The point here is that, with proper prior investigation and attention to details of place, a mundane park can become a treasured location for observing, questioning, and astonishment. What are some mundane experiences around you that could become inspiring and magical learning opportunities?

This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am Wild about Outdoor Education in Utah!

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer, Used by Permission
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver,
Text:     Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski & Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah:

Rosenberg, Ken, Choosing a Spotting Scope, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2008,

How To Choose Binoculars: Our Testing Tips, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Updated December 4, 2022,

Free K-12 Lessons Open Doors for Kids to Explore Nature and Science, Cornell Lab Annual Report 2023, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Updated December 4, 2022,

Nature Centers

Nature Centers: Helping Hands, Courtesy Pixabay, Shameer PK, Contributor
Helping Hands
Courtesy Pixabay
Shameer PK, Contributor
With another Earth Day in the offing, my reflections travel to one of the Earthier parts of my long life, that of helping to launch several nature centers. I was first exposed to the nature center concept while residing in Michigan. My prior mindset was seeing nature through my gunsights and on the end of my fishing line. Awakening to the thoughts of nature having intrinsic value beyond sports and putting food on the table was a novelty.

A few years later, I moved to Utah with a new paradigm. Good fortune occurred when I was invited to attend a meeting to explore how a 136 acre parcel of former Defense Depot of Ogden land deeded to Ogden City might serve the greater Ogden community. I, along with other like-minded folks, posited the idea of a community nature center. Following four years of a dedicated, visionary, hard-working assemblage, we opened the gates to the Ogden Community Nature Center. two additional parcels of land have been added since then.

“Our mission is to unite people with nature and nurture appreciation and stewardship of the environment. Since it was founded in 1974 as Utah’s first nature center, the Ogden Nature Center has provided a place where people can go to enjoy and learn about the natural world.”

The 152-acre preserve is our foundation, but education is our focus. Each year the Ogden Nature Center brings more than 50,000 children, teachers, and adults together with nature through hands-on field classes.”

Many years later, I found myself in Cache Valley. Given my deep involvement with the Ogden Nature Center, I immediately began scanning the horizon for another nature center possibility. After a decade of fits and starts, a partnership was created, to resurrect an abandoned American Legion building in Logan Canyon on Forest Service land. The building was near collapsing from neglect. Used as a party place, the fireplace hearth was replaced with a lovely fire ring in the middle of the floor. The roof had been opened to the stars, which accommodated bonfire smoke.
This invited an extreme makeover. The Cache community came to the rescue with an incredible generosity of dollars, materials, and skilled labor to bring the languishing building back to life. This was followed by opening the doors in 1997 for public use and educational programs for the Cache Community. Since that time, many thousands of Cache citizens have benefited from its myriad programs and lovely setting. A satellite site is being developed in nearby Nibley.

“The Allen & Alice Stokes Nature Center is Cache Valley’s local nature center and outdoor exploration hub for people of all ages. Our mission is to provide nature education and promote outdoor exploration for the people of all ages. Our vision is for People of all ages to appreciate and become stewards of our natural world.” Get the latest nature center news at

Other nature centers are scattered around Utah, from the Tonaquint in St. George, to the newly emerging Tracy Aviary Jordan River Nature Center near Salt Lake City.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about Utah’s nature centers!

Ponderosa Pine Pictures: Courtesy Pixabay, Shameer PK, Contributor
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver,
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon,
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon,

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah,

Ogden Nature Center,
Ogden Nature Center Articles of Incorporation, May 19, 1975,

Stokes Nature Center,
Legacy Wall:

Tonaquint Nature Center,

Tracy Aviary Jordan River Nature Center,

Shughart, Hilary. Nov 7, 2022. 25th Anniversary Nutshell History of the Founding of the Stokes Nature Center, Wild About Utah,

Stokes Nature Center History, Bridgerland Audubon Society,

EPA History: Earth Day, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),

The History of Earth Day,,