Photo of student wearing waders in river and holding large fishing net.

Session Descriptions

Sessions are organized into seven curricular areas:

Our classes are aligned with the NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS.  See how they are aligned here: NGSS.

All sessions are designed to last two hours, unless otherwise specified. However, session length can generally be adjusted down to 1 1/2 hours.

Optimal group size is 10 students, unless otherwise noted.

The Environmental Sciences

Beaver Ecology
This field study investigates the natural history of the beaver in North America. Discussions focus on adaptations for survival and reproduction as well as ecological relationships with other wildlife species. The session includes a hike to a beaver community to get a first-hand look at dams, lodges and other evidence of the beaver’s influence on the natural landscape.
Black Bear Ecology
This session on the black bear (Ursus Americanus) concentrates on adaptations, ecological relationships, conservation and management, and the general life history traits of this species. Participants will have the opportunity to examine a black bear pelt and skull, to discuss the natural history of the black bear in New Jersey, to learn about the research techniques that have been employed to study these large omnivores, and to look for bear signs while hiking around the forested SOC campus. In the field, students will observe evidence of bear activity, examine a live-trap used for capturing black bear, and investigate several den sites. The session will conclude with an examination of the issues surrounding the interface of black bears and humans.
Entomology is the study of insects. This field activity focuses on the fascinating, yet often overlooked, world of insects. Students will capture insects from a variety of different habitats using nets, traps, and lures. Students will learn the anatomical characteristics of insects, their life cycles, their value to the wildlife community, and the tremendous impacts they have on our lives.
Fish Ecology
This hands-on field-oriented class introduces students to the field of ichthyology, a branch of zoology that concentrates on the study of fish. Students will learn to appreciate the scientific, historical, aesthetic, and recreational values associated with fish. All participants will actively engage in the capture, identification, weighing, measuring and release of the fish in Lake Wapalanne. The ecological importance of fish, threats to their populations, and conservation measures will be summarized.
Forest Ecology – Discovery Hike
This session introduces the students to the forest community and its importance as a multiple-value resource. The relationship of forests to watersheds, water quality, air quality, soil development, products and recreation are stressed. Typical session activities include trail observation of forest trees and ecosystems, a forest-values survey, and a hike to one of the local forest management demonstration areas. Tree volume measurements are typically made to compare product vs. non-product values of forest trees and woodland areas.
Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. This session is a practical field and classroom approach to understanding reptiles and amphibians, particularly frogs and salamanders. Session activities include a brief discussion of the similarities and differences between reptiles and amphibians and their value to the wildlife community. Students will have the opportunity to look for and collect live specimens of the different species of frogs and salamanders on SOC grounds. Field guides and taxonomic keys will be used to identify the various species that are collected. The session will end with a discussion of the importance of herptiles in natural communities, the threats they face, and what each of us can do to minimize those threats.
Interpretive Hike
This free-form session takes advantage of whatever is of interest during a hike through Stokes State Forest. Anything and everything is addressed on these student-lead hikes. Topics of discussion inevitably include plant-animal interactions, nutrient recycling, soil building, wildlife micro-habitats, evolution and coevolution, natural selection, forest regeneration, invasive species and much more.
Natural Areas Inventory: Tillman Ravine Hike
This session deals with the recognition and assessment of important features in a natural area for the purpose of justifying continued protection of that area and areas like it. Students are bussed to a unique natural area within Stokes Forest called Tillman Ravine. By means of a trail hike through the ravine, students are encouraged to perceive numerous “unique” natural features in the area. At the conclusion of the trail hike, students are asked to highlight those natural features that were perceived to be most unique. Through this exercise, students learn a valuable technique for assessing the importance of natural features in any area. Tillman Ravine is off campus and requires transportation. Please call our Program Coordinator (Lisa Mills) for transportation information. Recommended time: minimum of two hours (2 1/2 is better), to allow for round-trip travel to and from the ravine. This session can be combined with a trip to Sunrise Mountain.
An introduction to field ornithology. Bird identification, behavior and habitats are stressed, as well as the interrelationships between birds, humans and the environment. Typical session activities include a discussion of bird adaptation in relation to habitat and niche; identifying and observing birds at one of the New Jersey School of Conservation feeding stations; and a field discovery hike along a trail that uses simulated wooden birds designed to give students practice in locating and identifying common species of birds. The twelve stations along this trail highlight a variety of birds and habitats. The trail is teacher friendly in that the accompanying teacher’s manual provides photographs and information about each bird along the trail. The students also discuss the role birds play in the environment and the importance of birds from a human perspective. Additional information for this session: Bird Facts and Natural History of Common NJ Birds
Plant Life
In this class students will explore the SOC campus looking for various plants and flowers. Students will learn to identify some of these plants and will gain some knowledge about cultural, historical and medicinal uses of the plants. In addition, they will learn the difference between a native, non-native and invasive species. The class will conclude with a review of the plant species observed and why plants are an essential part of our culture and ecosystem. Before ending the class students will have an opportunity to create their own laminated bookmarks to take home using pressed plants and flowers found at the NJ School of Conservation.
This course will tap into the students’ sense of adventure as they embark on a quest that takes them to various places on the campus and in the forest. Clues and riddles will lead the students on a hike where they will learn about local geology, biology, and ecology.

Wildlife Tracking with Radio-telemetry

In this class, participants will have an opportunity to learn how and why researchers use radio telemetry equipment to monitor wildlife. After a brief instruction on how to use transmitters and receivers, participants will track down various animal species that are currently being researched throughout NJ. They will also learn about the animal and how researchers document the information they find during their research.
Stream Geo-Ecology
A session dealing with rivers and streams, how they cross and alter the landscape, and how they influence the life forms inhabiting that landscape. The concepts of watershed and floodplain are stressed, why knowledge of them is important in a state like New Jersey, and what citizens can do to adapt their activities to protect watersheds and floodplains. Most activities occur during a hike along the Big Flatbrook and typically include a valley-profile exercise, a watershed simulation using a special rope, a pollution stimulation exercise, a close look at stream-valley plants and animals, and human management practices. This session cannot be easily carried out during snow and ice conditions, from December through February.
Water Ecology
This is one of our most popular sessions. This session is a quality approach to water as a key human resource. Session activities include a brief description of water on the planet and how it relates to all life and a survey of stream water quality using water test kits and aquatic organism sampling. The majority of the class is conducted on the Big Flatbrook during spring and fall.
Water Ecology: Winter Edition
This session is similar to our regular Water Ecology session, but focuses on the unique properties of water that help to define life on earth: universal solvency, capillary action, surface tension, changing density at low temperatures. Activities include a demonstration of each of these unique properties. Participants will have the opportunity to drill a hole through the ice on Lake Wapalanne and sample the water temperature at various depths to illustrate the temperature/density properties of water. If time permits, students will sample various aquatic organisms from the outflow of the lake to document water quality. The current status of water in New Jersey and what citizens can do to use it more wisely and less wastefully will be discussed.
White Tailed Deer Ecology
This session concentrates on the white tailed deer population in New Jersey, focusing mainly on adaptations, ecological relationships, population dynamics, history and management. Participants will have the opportunity to observe evidence of white tailed deer activity while learning about their natural history and ecology. The students will understand predator-prey relationships and how human interference has altered the life cycle of deer. Students will discuss the effects of the growing deer populations on forest regeneration, farm crops and automotive damage, and will propose management strategies for the ever abundant population of white tailed deer.
Wildlife Ecology
This session concentrates on the inherent values of wildlife in our current culture and the critical interface that exists between wildlife and human populations. The importance of wildlife species to the survival of human populations in both the past and present is stressed. Important ecological processes carried out by wildlife species are covered as well as an examination of specific human/wildlife interactions. Activities in this session include: an exploration hike to observe native wildlife in their natural habitats, a food pyramid and web simulation, and a habitat search for wildlife signs.
Wildlife Skull Stories
Although skulls are common to all vertebrates, they vary from species to species, and even among individuals of the same taxonomic group. Knowing what to look for—both the similarities and the differences—can provide a fascinating perspective on how animals are related, what they eat, how they avoid being eaten, how they’re responding to ecological change, and where our own species fits into the evolutionary picture.
Web of Life
An exciting game of predator and prey. Students simulate how the food pyramid operates in nature. As herbivores, omnivores and carnivores, they scavenge the NJSOC campus in search of their basic needs while avoiding predators, humans, pesticides, etc. In addition to learning about the structure of survival and bioaccumulation, students learn that everything is connected, everything goes somewhere, nature knows best, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. These make up what Barry Commoner called, “The Four Laws of Ecology.” Group size: 30+ needed Maximum time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Winter Ecology
This class includes a field hike and activities stressing the ecological conditions of winter and how plants, animals and humans are influenced by, and react to, such conditions. Students will be reminded about why the seasons occur on our planet, followed by how plants and animals adapt to the seasons. Field observations and activities include a micro-climate/habitat investigation, a shelter/temperature activity, and a scavenger hunt for overwintering animals and plants.  The session will conclude with a discussion of the energy demands that winter imposes on all life and environmental implications of dealing with the winter to humans. Obviously, this session is most appropriate from December through February.

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The Social Sciences

Early American Woodworking
    Conducted in one end of the 150 year old Carriage House at the New Jersey School of Conservation, the overall purpose of this session is to give students a feeling for early American use of wood and forest resources, as well as an understanding of the implications of this use in influencing our contemporary attitudes toward forest resources. Typical activities include:

  • a discussion of wood crafts which may at one time have been important to the participants’ home community
  • a display of various objects relating to these crafts
  • a brief survey of five to six trees significant to early American woodworkers
  • a demonstration of several primitive woodworking tools
  • an opportunity for participants to use these tools to fashion their own wood artifact
Native American Life
This session considers the original inhabitants of North America. Students will examine the daily lifestyle of different Native American tribes, especially the Lenape who inhabited New Jersey. Customs, mores, legends, anthropological investigations, and dealings with the European settlers will be discussed. Special consideration is given to the Native American interactions with their natural environment. Lenape and other Native American Indian artifacts are available for examination and interpretation, via a hands-on problem-solving activity. Several Eastern Woodland games are available and students will have the opportunity to play at least one.
Maple Sugaring
This session involves students in the process of maple sugaring from identifying a sugar maple tree to boiling down sap, and also includes a lesson on tree physiology. Students will examine Native American, Colonial and modern sugaring technology and the use of local versus global resources. Students will perform inquiry-based experiments to discover why maple sap runs, make tap holes using an auger and taste maple sap and syrup. This session is offered through our Pioneer Life session as a seasonal activity – between mid-February through mid-March only.
The folklore behind early American metalsmithing and the ecological dilemma of today are combined to provide a unique look at the problems that have faced our nation for nearly two centuries. Students will experience the joy of bending and hammering red-hot metal in blacksmithing and fashioning tin in whitesmithing as they produce an artifact of colonial America. Consideration will be given to consumptive uses of non-renewable, yet recyclable, resources and some of the environmental impacts of mining. Please wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
Pioneer Life
Situated in a 19th-century hand-hewn log cabin, this session focuses on daily living skills and history of pre-industrial America. Discussion centers on providing living necessities, particularly food and shelter (housing and clothing). Activities such as cornbread preparation and an exterior and interior cabin analysis illustrate how necessities were provided for in pre-industrial times. Comparisons are drawn between the environmental impacts of the pre-industrial lifestyle and our present lifestyle, with special emphasis put on different sources of energy, and renewable and nonrenewable resources use. Seasonal activities include maple sugaring (see description above) and gardening.

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The Humanities

Conservation Photography
Capturing images of the natural world is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding ways students can express their feelings about the environment artistically. For many students who struggle with drawing, painting and other methods for creating art, photography provides a workable medium that allows them to be creative and expressive. The advent of digital photography has opened a new door into visual creativity, providing tools for self-expression that were formerly unavailable to all but the most accomplished artisan. This session introduces the students to the artistic power and potential of photography to change the way we interact with the natural environment, through the creation of inspirational images of the natural world.
Rock Art
The landscape of the Northern Highlands region of New Jersey is littered with rocks. These rocks were deposited on the landscape during the last retreat of the last ice sheet that covered this region 10,000 years ago.  For thousands of years, humans have expressed themselves using rocks in many forms of artwork.  Rock art is as old as the cultures that first populated this area, depicting aspects of culture as well as illustrating the aesthetic pleasures of these people. Today’s artists use rocks to create pictures or structures in a way that minimizes the impact on the land. This lesson will take the students on a journey of self-expression as they learn about the properties of different rocks and the geology of New Jersey.

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The Outdoor Pursuits

Adventure / Challenge Activities

Classes in this area are intended to help students build confidence individually and in groups. Teamwork, critical and creative thinking, and increased social skills are the primary objectives of these sessions.

Action Socialization Experience
An ASE is a problem-solving situation that stimulates immediate participation in the activity. These experiences encourage small groups of students to cooperatively decide on a solution to a carefully designed problem and then carry out their plan of action as quickly and efficiently as possible. Students have approximately 15 minutes at each station. As a result, the students realize that through communication and cooperation they are able to solve numerous challenges. Visiting teachers/adults are the facilitators for the actual activities. Prior to the ASE class time, an ASE Meeting is mandatory for all those adults who are managing a station. During this ASE meeting, SOC staff will review the safety procedures and objectives of ASE. If facilitators are not present for the entire ASE meeting, that session will not be available to the students. Typical apparatus used in the ASE session include trolleys, spider web, volcano, etc.
Time: 1½-2½ hours
Maximum number of students: 10-130 in a maximum of 8-10 field groups
Field groups should be between 10-13 students per group
Group Initiatives
Similar to ASEs in that the students must work cooperatively to solve challenging problems, however, without the time constraints of the ASEs, the SOC trained facilitator can determine not only which activities are appropriate, but also how much time to allow for completion. Some of the activities in this session may include beam, cargo net, toxic waste, traffic jam, etc. Before any visiting teachers can lead this session they must successfully complete an on-site training seminar prior to their school’s visit.
Climbing Wall
The climbing wall is a 20-foot high wooden structure with blocks for hand and footholds. A belay rope is attached to the student and is taken in by the belay system as the climber ascends so that there is little risk to the climber. Success on the wall is measured by the climber’s motivation to do his or her best, not in terms of the height the climber achieves. Note: ten students require approximately two hours to climb the wall. An SOC instructor must be at the wall at all times during this session. Since both Climbing Wall and Confidence Course are intended to increase self-confidence and are therefore similar, no single group should expect to participate in both of these sessions. Before any visiting teachers can lead this session they must successfully complete an on-site training seminar prior to their school’s visit
Confidence Course
This session takes students through sequential activities that require both trust in the group members and confidence in oneself. As the group demonstrates its ability to compassionately care for the individual members, the SOC trained facilitators lead the group through increasingly challenging activities. Confidence Course, Wild Woosey, Wind in the Willows, Cargo Net and Beam may be some of the activities in this session. Since both Climbing Wall and Confidence Course are intended to increase self-confidence and are therefore similar, no single group should expect to participate in both of these sessions. Before any visiting teachers can lead this session they must successfully complete an on-site training seminar prior to their school’s visit

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Wilderness Education Activities

The main objective of these lessons is to develop outdoor skills. These are skills that will allow students to enjoy our natural resources with minimum impact.

Introduction to and practical application of map and compass skills. Following a lesson on how to use a compass, participants will put their new skill to use on one of our orienteering courses. Please download the Intermediate Orienteering information sheet to access the bearing for our woodland course.
Time: 1½-3 hours
Eco Discovery
An excellent introductory orienteering activity. By interpreting symbols from the campus map, students become acquainted with the SOC facility. Research suggests that students who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with an area may have difficulty focusing on the content of a class until they have achieved a minimum level of comfort with their new setting. Eco Discovery may best provide students with the opportunity to reach their comfort level.
Time: 30-60 minutes
View the Eco Discovery Answers
Staying alive in the woods requires one to remain calm and make the best possible use of what is available in the area to obtain the basic necessities of life. Although the emphasis is on basic survival concepts, shelter building, starting a fire, finding drinking water, and foraging for food are among some of the subjects that may be covered.
Time: 1½-2½ hours
Survival with Orienteering
The NJ School of Conservation is surrounded by over 15,000 acres of forest land (for perspective, the fenced off corral area on the Sequoya side of campus is about 1 acre). In order to effectively adhere to our mission of instilling an environmental responsibility to those that wander through, we must first provide a safe way for students to navigate through the forest. In this class, students will have an opportunity to navigate throughout Stokes State Forest with the use of compasses and trail markers. Additionally, they will learn methods on how to handle moments of confusion that they might encounter when exposed to what can be an overwhelming amount of land. At SOC we also believe confidence leads to an increased comfort level while in natural areas. If students are more comfortable in natural areas, then they are more likely to visit them, and while there, they will more thoroughly enjoy these places. Increasing anyone’s
enjoyment and interaction with the natural world should in turn foster an improved environmental ethic.
No matter what the season, there are many things to be seen while walking the trails of Stokes State Forest. A New Jersey School of Conservation staff member will help you plan a hike based on the needs and abilities of your group. An all-day hike can be arranged to meet your needs in any one of the four teaching areas or a combination of: the Sciences, Humanities, Social Studies, or Outdoor Pursuits. An all-day hike emphasizing Outdoor Pursuits may include trail techniques, emergency preparedness, as well as some natural history interpretation. Have students bring their own day-packs and water bottles on hikes when lunches are carried.
Time: 1 hour to all day
Group size: 10-25

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Outdoor Recreational Activities

The primary objective of these activities is fun! Visiting groups to our campus are typically in residence for three to five days. During this period students need time away from academics to release pent-up energy in a structured manner. The outdoor recreational activities fill this need. Because the emphasis is on fun, we must be aware of those times when the weather conditions are too severe for the students to have fun. Alternative plans for indoor activities are advised.

The major part of this session concentrates on teaching shooting skills. Safety is emphasized at all times during the course of the lesson. Archery is not available during the winter months.
Time: 1-1½ hours
Group size: 12
This field activity on Lake Wapalanne introduces students to the fundamental concepts of paddling a canoe. Students work in pairs and practice various strokes to move the canoe through a designated course on the lake, Students will learn about the parts of canoes and paddles, and will learn the different strokes needed to maneuver the canoe.
Time: 1½ to 2 hours
Group Size: Up to 14
Although the major emphasis of this session will be on canoeing, the proper use of rowboats will also be covered. In canoeing, a variety of skills can be taught, including proper techniques for loading and unloading from a dock, carrying, as well as various paddle strokes. This session is intended to give students an opportunity to experience canoeing or row boating in a recreational rather than an academic setting.
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Group size: Wapalanne Dock maximum – 52, Sequoya Dock maximum – 32.
New Games
“Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt” is the motto of New Games. These active outdoor games can be played by any number of people in any age group. This new approach to game playing is less competitive and features games that go from mildly active to highly active. The games are easy to teach and can be enjoyed by teachers as well as students.
Time: up to 1 hour
Group Size: 30 – 60.

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Winter Outdoor Recreation Activities

Curling is a Scottish ice sport that is somewhat like shuffleboard played on ice. The curler slides two or three stones (heavy wooden blocks) along the ice, trying to stop them in the center of a target 40 feet away.
Time: 1 hour
Group Size: 2 – 15
Ice Fishing
Participants receive a short introduction about fish and how they adapt to winter conditions. Participants are instructed how to fish, through holes drilled in the ice, with small jigging rods using live bait. All fish are returned to the lake following a short discussion about species and physiology. Participants are on the lake and mostly stationary for most of the session and need to dress appropriately.
Time 1½ – 2 hours
Ice Skating
As long as the ice on the lake is thick enough (more than four inches), students who bring their own skates may enjoy skating on the south end of the lake. A flag indicating the condition of the ice is displayed near the Wapalanne Dock – green indicates safe ice, whereas red indicates that the ice is not safe. Most of the time, our staff will clear snow from the lake. However, if for some reason this is not possible, snow shovels are available for clearing the ice off snow.
Cross Country Skiing
As soon as the snow reaches sufficient depth (~ six inches) we can ski at the NJSOC campus. Cross Country Skiing can be as exciting and certainly much less expensive than downhill skiing. We have several pairs of skis at the school in a variety of sizes.
Time: minimum of 2 hours
Group Size: 10 – 15
When the snow is more than eight inches deep, snowshoeing is feasible. Snowshoes are not as fast as skis, but they can take you to places you can’t access on skis. Due to the extremely rocky terrain we normally snowshoe on the frozen lake. After a very heavy snowfall will we snowshoe on the trails through the forest.
Time: 1½ – 3 hours
Group Size: 10 – 30

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