Project Learning Tree | South Dakota Department of Agriculture

Project Learning Tree

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is an award-winning environmental education program designed primarily for teachers and other educators working with students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. Special modules, or teaching units, are available for high school level teachers.

For further information, to set up a PLT workshop in a certain area of the state and/or to be placed on the Taproot newsletter mailing list, contact:

Tracy Sigdestad
South Dakota Project Learning Tree
Leave No Trace State Advocate
Certified Interpretive Guide
Wilderness First Responder
Phi Kappa Phi
904 Washington St.
Lead, SD 57754


  1. To use the forest as a "window on the world."
  2. To increase students' understanding of our complex environment.
  3. To stimulate critical and creative thinking.
  4. To develop the ability to make informed decisions on environmental issues.
  5. To instill the confidence and commitment to take responsible action on behalf of the environment.


Today's children face tougher choices than any generation before them. Environment and health concerns are at the top of the list. There is a wealth of available information designed to influence children and/or assist them in making decisions. Unfortunately, many of the issues are complex and not all of the available information is accurate. In order for students and adults to make sound decisions about environmental issues and natural resources, they need a basic understanding about how the environment works as well as skills to critically evaluate information. That is what programs like Project Learning Tree strive to provide.

Project Learning Tree ( PLT) is an award-winning environmental education program designed primarily for teachers and other educators working with students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. Special modules, or teaching units, are available for high school level teachers. PLT uses the forest as a "window" into the natural world, helping young people gain an awareness and knowledge of the world around them, as well as their place within it. While the focus is on forests and trees, the real target is teaching the children to learn how to think - rather than what to think - about our complex environment with respect to the natural resource and environmental issues facing us today.

From the beginning, PLT materials have been produced by teachers, scientists, resource managers, and industry professionals working together and striving for factual accuracy and non-bias. A major goal was helping students learn about local and global environmental issues. PLT is not apocalyptic; it is not pro- or anti-business and industry. Simply put, it is pro-learning.


Since its introduction in the early 1970s, Project Learning Tree has been recognized as one of the premier environmental education programs in the world.

Through hands-on, interdisciplinary activities, PLT provides students with opportunities to investigate environmental issues and encourage them to make informed, responsible decisions.

It is a volunteer program that works in conjunction with local schools and a network of trained facilitators across the state to bring teachers the materials they need to incorporate quality environmental education into their current teaching curriculum.


The program was developed through a joint effort of the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and the Western Regional Environmental Education Council (WREEC). WREEC also developed Project WILD, a similar environmental education program which emphasized wildlife rather than trees and forests.

  • In South Dakota, PLT is a 501 C Non-profit directed by a Board of Directors who represent financial and program support. SD PLT is sponsored through grants from South Dakota Resource Conservation, National PLT and Bureau of Land Management.
  •  Pledge sponsorships are also received from Black Hills Forest Resources Association, Black Hills Power and Light Company, SD Lumberman's Association, Tri-State Association of Building Materials Suppliers, Neiman's Timber Products and Baker Timber Products.
  • In addition, Dakota Society of American Foresters and the South Dakota Tree Farm Committee are very supportive partners in our program.

PLT Training

  • PLT is now implemented in all 50 states, U.S. Territories, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Finland and Brazil. Each year in the United States alone, nearly 60,000 educators attend PLT workshops to learn how to use the program with young people.
  • Since the program was introduced to South Dakota in 1985, approximately 1500 educators have received training in PLT.
  • There are currently 40 facilitators listed as active. That is, they have been retrained in the most recent PLT materials and have participated in workshops in the past two years.
  • There are currently 20 facilitators listed as inactive who have either not been trained in new materials, or who have not participated in workshops in the past two years.
  • The traditional PLT workshop is six hours in length. However, in response to the changing needs of educators, 15-hour renewal and graduate credit workshops are offered.
  • The South Dakota universities which presently offer PLT graduate credits are Northern State in Aberdeen, USD in Vermillion, Black Hills State in Spearfish and Capital University Center in Pierre. (CUC offers courses from several prominent universities such as USD, SDSU and DSU).

Elementary Program

The 96 action-oriented activities contained in the Environmental Education Pre K-8 Activity Guide were designed to provide students with the awareness, understanding and skills they need to become intelligent environmental decision makers.

They are intended to help students critically evaluate all the information that is available to them, and to guide them from awareness to conceptual understanding and responsible action.

The Activity Guide is arranged into five major themes:

  • Diversity - Found in habitats, organisms, societies, technologies and cultures. 
  • Interrelationships - Ecological, technological and socio-cultural systems are interactive and interdependent. 
  • Systems - Environmental, technological and social systems are interconnected and interacting. 
  • Structure and Scale - Technologies, societal institutions and components of natural and human-built environments vary in structure and scale. 
  • Patterns of Change - Structures and systems change over various periods of time.

High School Program

For the High School level, six different teaching modules are currently being developed.

  • Investigating Environmental Issues: Focus on Forests
    The goal of the Focus on Forests is to help students better understand the complexity of environmental issues, using forest related issues as examples, and to help them think about issues objectively by examining both sides.
  • Forest Ecology
    The goal of Forest Ecology is to increase student knowledge of ecosystems by introducing them to the concepts that characterize the lifestyles of world forests: diversity, interrelationships, systems, structure and scale and patterns of change. Students develop critical thinking skills and utilize scientific theory and techniques.
  • Solid Waste Management
    In this program students learn the benefits and liabilities of different options for managing our solid waste and the roles played by government, industry, local communities and individuals. Students also examine their own lifestyles and how their personal decisions and choices affect natural resources and pollution.
  • Air Quality
    This program is designed to increase student knowledge of the many causes of air pollution. Students discover solutions to the problems through technology and behavior modification.
  • Built Environment
    The school is used as a microcosm in this program. Students learn how the built environment is shaped based on human decisions and actions. They will use skills in map making, research, data gathering and analysis, and decision making.
  • Risk Assessment
    This program provides students with a framework through which they can apply the scientific process and higher order thinking skills to environmental issues. They will learn to identify risks and the costs and benefits associated with various environmental risks and issues.


  • Provide students with the awareness, appreciation, understanding, skills and commitment to address environmental issues.
  • Enable students to apply scientific processes and higher order thinking to skills to resolve environmental problems.
  • Help students acquire an appreciation and tolerance of diverse viewpoints on environmental issues, and develop attitudes and actions based on analysis and careful evaluation of the available information.
  • Encourage creativity, originality and flexibility to resolve environmental problems and issues.
  • Inspire and empower students to become responsible, productive and participatory members of society.

PLT focuses on developing critical thinking skills. It gives teachers the tools they need to help children learn how to think about the environment. PLT is not just about trees. It is about the total environment: land, air, water and wildlife.

It is local, national and global in scope. PLT can be applied in many different contexts. PLT can be used in formal education settings, with youth organizations or by parents with their children. It can be used in museums, nature centers and by scout troops. It appeals to the broadest range of young people -- children of all ages, learning styles, ethnic and racial backgrounds.

PLT Program Coordinator

The half-time position of PLT Program Coordinator is contracted, and remains under the direction of the State PLT Program Steering Committee with the Keep South Dakota Green Association as the state sponsor.

  • The present program coordinator is Tracy Sigdestad of Lead. Under the direction of the PLT Program Steering Committee, Tracy is responsible for coordinating and conducting workshops, and for promoting the program to the extent that is possible.
  • Over the last several years, an average of twelve to fifteen PLT workshops have been held in South Dakota, resulting in the training of 150-260 persons in the implementation of PLT activities per year. Speakers are provided for various educational conferences in the state such as that of the SD Education Association and the Joint Math and Science Conference.
  • Requests to provide classroom programs are frequently received. The Taproot newsletter, published twice a year, informs educators of upcoming events and training opportunities and provides activity suggestions and reviews of resources.  
  • The State Coordinator serves on the steering committees for the Natural Source, a reference for teachers coordinated by Northern State University, and the Environmental Education Tool Box pilot project, the board of Environmental Education Connections of South Dakota, the Spearfish Outdoor Learning Center board and two national PLT review committees. These involvements help to keep Project Learning Tree in the main stream of environmental education in our state and in contact with other national programs.