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NOTE: The birds & squirrel pictured at the top of this page and in the slideshow below are just a few that I have helped rehabilitate.
WARNING: Please do not touch a wild animal, especially the young ones. If you remove a baby from it's home, sometimes the mother is just off getting it's baby food and will be back.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Enjoy the Classroom Outdoors

As I sit here in a classroom, festering away in a concrete block encased sarcophagus, listening to a boring lecture, I long to be outdoors. That said, maybe this is an alternative learning style that many of our kids, students, peers (and ourselves!) might also enjoy for many reasons. Here's a few tips of how we can do this courtesy of Outdoor Biology Instructional Strategies (OBIS):

1. Establish ground rules and outdoor routines- Make sure to prep students days before to be dressed for staying outside. Have a routine for gathering equipment, line up, exit and return
Go out a different door than you use for recess. Establish outdoor boundaries, and remind students to stay in first circle. Circle up with class at beginning and end of time outside. Identify an outdoor gathering cue (whistle, countdown to circle up.) Save the time for a closing circle before heading back inside.

2. Plan a “sacrificial” lesson- Just like starting the school year indoors, spend the time to practicing how to work outdoors as a class. At first this can seem a bit out of control, but trust that they will become focused and productive with time. Be prepared to take the privilege of learning away from the class if they misbehave. (They won't next time.) For younger students, be prepared to sacrifice the first lesson and take the class back inside if you have behavior problems. For older students, plan an option (asst principal is best) so you can send poorly behaved students back inside or an alternative for them the next time you go outside. You will find that it takes very little example for even your most challenging students (indoors) to become angels outside.

3. Get to know your schoolyard- Take several sessions outside to explore your site before diving into an activity. Note: Mapping a Study Site is a great activity for middle school students, and needs scaffolding for younger children. Let younger students poke around, have unstructured exploration time, “play” with the outdoor materials before focused study.

4. Be clear about the purpose of going outside-Clear expectations and conveying your intent of the activity is powerful when teaching science anywhere. It is particularly important to determine which experiences enhance learning occurring in the classroom, stimulate a child’s personal connection to nature, and allow children to reflect and be inspired by their connection. Give students concrete tasks to help focus their observations and thinking. With older students you can allow these tasks to become more open and abstract over time.

5. Every student should have something to carry- A notebook or tool in-hand helps students remember why they’re outside. Clipboards, measuring instruments, journals can be crucial in keeping younger students on-task. Always bring extra pencils and writing materials. Even older students can be forgetful or careless (sometimes conveniently if they are less inclined to write!)

These were useful in many ways for classes at every eductional level (e.g. like the one that I guest lecture in (which is a public speaking class.)) I also found a great handout here that can be passed along to others with a few tips/strategies for taking any type/age level of students outdoors to experience a different type of learning environment.

So these are my thoughts. I'll leave you all with a little tidbit from a piece that I wrote concerning eco-literacy and nature writing that will hopefully resonate for everyone out there that might be also enduring the pain of sitting in a tiny little desk inside a dark classroom:

"There are many things to be learned when considering nature writing. We begin to look outside ourselves, focusing on more complex notions rather than money or our own success. And if we actually do the learning for ourselves, immersing our minds into ecocriticism and the contemplation of our surroundings, we won’t hinge our knowledge on what others tell us or what they’ve seen. Emerson wrote, 'Stay at home in your mind. Don’t recite other people’s opinions. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.' So by putting all of these authors’ citations aside, don’t we truly know what we know because of what we survey? I realize that I’m more knowledgeable when presented with information from the outside. Regardless of what was written decades ago about the environment by already mindful authors, what I know is that writing this essay would be more educational for me if I was outdoors observing the subject matter by which I am centering this argument. This is perfect evidence of how ecocriticism can influence one’s outlook on the world-- I long to be outside right now."

On a cheerful note I'd like to say: Happy Wednesday! - BA


Daisy said...

I teach down the hall from an environmental charter school. They spend a lot of time outdoors and in the field, so they teach and reteach procedures and expectations - just as you suggest. I love seeing their students dressed in outdoor gear, with their clipboards ready to go.