Outdoor Learning – Where to Start

I strongly encourage every teacher to take his or her class outside at least every once in a while. My curriculum includes multiple opportunities to take students, in my case 8th graders, outside. Sometimes we simply go to the parking lot or the grass patch behind my classroom. These are often short experiences and do not require much preparation. However, my favorite outside learning experience is much more and I will guide you through it over the next several posts.

I’m going to start at the end so you have a sense of where we are going. The culminating event for our outdoor learning is a presentation to a panel of adults in front of an audience. In this presentation, students communicate their experiences and then answer questions from the adult panel members. The entire experience works students through developing NGSS scientific practices, with the culminating event providing evidence of each of these practices.

Each group decides on a topic to research and design an experiment for in our Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE). The groups then setup their experiments and collect data once a week for 16-20 weeks. Because the topics differ from group to group, the NGSS performance expectations (PE) vary among groups. What is consistent, though, is the inclusion of Scientific Practices.

Now we know the end goal, where do we begin? First, it is critical to discuss and define behavior expectations for outside learning. I have found that students “forget” they are still in school when we walk outside and their behaviors reflect that. I love having kids let down their classroom persona, to some extent, but it is important to make sure they understand there are still expectations, such as appropriate language and physical contact. By establishing these protocols ahead of time, the need for disciplinary action is greatly reduced.

Once we have established our behavior expectations, we walk to the OLE to see what sparks their thinking. More on this in the next post 🙂 .

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