Course Overview

Location

The Maine Master Naturalist course moves to a new location each year with the long term goal of making the training accessible throughout Maine. Courses have been offered in Augusta, Belfast, Blue Hill, Bridgton, Falmouth, Holden, Lewiston, MDI, South Paris, and Wiscasset.

The 2018-19 course is now underway in Falmouth. In 2019-20 we will begin a course in Ellsworth. In 2020 we will hold a course in Waterville.

Applications are open until January 2 for the Ellsworth class that starts in March. Before applying, please read through this Course Overview, the FAQ page, and this list of class dates.  Many more people apply than we can accept, and we read each application carefully. We will inform applicants of admissions decisions by February 1. Click here  for an application. 

Time Frame

The course runs for approximately one year, with classes occurring twice a month: one three-hour Wednesday evening from 6-9pm plus one daylong Saturday class or field trip from 9am-3pm. Because class time is only the introduction, and the real learning happens through practice, students are expected to commit to about four hours of additional work on their own every week. It is important that students attend every class because we cover new topics at every session. Students are also required to shadow three public nature walks, with increasing levels of responsibility for leadership. In the year following graduation from the course, graduates are required to do 40 hours of volunteer work by teaching workshops, leading walks, or actively sharing their knowledge with the public. After that, Maine Master Naturalists commit to 20 hours of volunteering per year.

Planning, Instruction, and Support

  • MMNP Board: The Maine Master Naturalist Program is not affiliated with any institution. An all-volunteer board governs the program. Board members coordinate each course, plan the curriculum, organize supplies and collections, support the course coordinators, and manage all of the behind-the-scenes operations that keep our courses running smoothly.
  • Course Coordinators: The volunteer course coordinators plan each course, liaise between the course location and MMNP, schedule instructors, support mentors, instructors, and students, and manage any problems that arise.
  • Instructors: All instructors are volunteers. Many are experts in their field, and all give their time generously to teach our students and to support the mission of the organization.
  • Mentors: Each student is assigned a mentor, who supports a group of several students throughout the course. Mentors are volunteers, and almost all are Maine Master Naturalists.

Topics

The MMNP core curriculum covers the following topics, with an emphasis on Maine species and habitats. In every area we go beyond species identification to study the biology and ecology of the subject.

  • mammals — tracking, and skull and scat ID
  • birds — physiology, evolution, behaviour, species ID
  • amphibians and reptiles — taxonomy, ecology, habitat, ID
  • insects — taxonomy, observation, collections
  • forbs, wildflowers, and shrubs — families, fruiting structures, winter plants, ID
  • trees –ID, leaves, twigs, and bark, collections
  • Ferns — life cycle, ID, collections
  • natural communities — landscape-level patterns and relationships among species
  • lichens, mosses, bryophytes — overview, structure, lifecycle
  • fungi — overview, structure, lifecycle, ID
  • vernal pools — ecological function, indicator species, regulations
  • geology– basic principles, geologic history of Maine, site study
  • nature journaling– sketching and recording observations and reflections
  • phenology — keeping track of seasonal changes during the course
  • systems thinking– recognizing the interconnectedness of natural elements
  • citizen science — introduction, tools, opportunities
  • pedagogy — teaching others

Fee

The fee for the Ellsworth class is $500.

Time Commitment

Students generally spend a minimum of 200 hours outside of class completing homework assignments and a capstone project.

Course Materials

Students receive naturalist equipment such as hand lens and dissecting kit as well as field guides to cover the range of subjects covered. The program uses Google Drive and email to provide almost all other information to students throughout the course. Students print materials for their reference.

Course Requirements

Homework: Students submit homework related to the various areas of study. Assignments include collecting specimens, practicing with identification keys, drawing, and responding to readings. (Note: sketching is assigned solely to develop skills in observation, with artistic merit as an occasional fortunate byproduct!)

Nature Journal: Students keep a nature journal, which mentors review monthly. The journal includes the following:

  • phenology observations: Students record seasonal natural phenomena, especially animal and plant life and climate.
  • delimited site observations: Students select a “delimited site,” a specific spot to visit at least once a week throughout the course to witness changes in nature.

Quizzes: Students take a short quiz at the beginning of each class. Quiz questions flow directly from a study guide provided for each topic.

Public walks: To help students gain experience as teaching naturalists, they will be asked to serve as assistant leaders in three public nature walks outside the course.

Capstone

Students are required to study a particular aspect of natural history in Maine and to spend a minimum of 20 hours developing an educational program, field experience, trail guide, or similar product that others can use. Mentors can help in guiding the choice of the project. Students present their Capstones to the class at the end of the course. Click here for capstone guidelines and samples of past capstones.

Attendance and Make-Up

Because the topics change with every class, students must arrange their schedules to attend every session for the duration of the course. MMNP policy is that a student may miss only one class in the year. The student has the responsibility to make arrangements to learn the missed material and to do the fieldwork, with the mentor’s help.  Before applying, applicants should check the schedule carefully to make sure that they do not have conflicts. 

Volunteer Teaching Requirement to Fulfill MMNP’s Vision

In order to achieve our vision to create a network of Master Naturalist volunteers who inspire the public to cherish Maine’s natural resources, our mission is to train Master Naturalists as citizen-naturalist volunteers who have the skills and confidence to help people enjoy and learn about the natural world.

In the year following graduation, Master Naturalists are required to volunteer 40 hours leading and teaching others, and to report their time back to the organization. After that, Master Naturalists must volunteer 20 hours per year. The credential of “Master Naturalist” opens the door for our graduates to share their knowledge with a wide variety of people in a many settings.

Students will have many chances throughout the course to engage in experiential learning and practice teaching so that they have confidence and readiness to engage with others following graduation.