By. Lesley Taylor, California Department of Education

Disneyland doesn’t have a monopoly on happiness. In fact, Anaheim will get a boost next month when more than 3,100 educators and supporters of STEM learning from across the state and country converge on the city’s Convention Center for two days packed with powerful professional development.

The 4th annual STEM Symposium is designed to impress. Ever seen a TED Talk from Sir Ken Robinson? Catch the live show and share some live tweets at #CASTEM16! Get inspired by Girls Who Code founder and CEO, Reshma Saujani. Explore a 2,500 square foot Makerspace sponsored by the California State University. Discover new tools for your classroom in the Exhibitor Marketplace and learn about STEM programs from the teachers who implement them in the Share Fair. But take a moment, too, and think about the power of 3,100 educators simultaneously inspired to do anything and everything they can to give our children the best science, technology, engineering, and math education we can imagine.

It wouldn’t be a STEM conference without robotics, coding, and a dash of art, but this year’s Symposium offers something truly exciting to green schools everywhere—a strand called “Making Standards Come Alive Through STEM” that calls out California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts. We’ll see sessions on Citizen Science, biomimicry, climate change, schoolyard habitats, pollinators, clean water, and a slew of other environmental topics. We’ll dive into California’s Blueprint for Environmental Literacy and help educators think about improving school grounds or better utilizing existing school grounds to engage students in learning.

Environmental educators will share this message with thousands of their peers:

The environment—and sustainability—is an ideal context for interdisciplinary learning.

While this conference focuses on STEM knowledge and skills, green schools everywhere have demonstrated this fact across subject areas. When students are given meaningful hands-on learning opportunities within their school buildings and on their school grounds, they can be transformed into lifelong stewards of our planet. Look at the SWPPP Interns in the Encinitas Union School District, or the Project Green students in the Sacramento City Unified School District. These students are engaged in standards-based learning and engaged in life! (If you’ve never heard a second grader explain how a Solatube works, I highly recommend it.)

These sessions are a testament to the national dialogue that environmental education is curricular, not an add-on. Not only is it a critical strategy for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, but environmental education helps students access academic standards in a way that builds their capacity for place-making, civic skills, and cultural competence. While site-based lessons have the potential to reach all students where they are, our vast cultural and natural resources open their eyes to college and career options, to their own potential, and to the collective potential of humanity.

The California STEM Symposium is a joint effort of the California Department of Education, the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation, and the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. The 4th annual event will be held October 9-11, 2016 in Anaheim, California. Visit the Symposium Web page for registration and more information.

Lesley Taylor is a consultant at the California Department of Education and the administrator of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in her state. You can catch her at #CASTEM16 presenting sessions on environmental literacy and linked learning. Also, you may have noticed she’s a fan of Twitter.