I am excited to speak a little bit about what is happening in Clayton County, Georgia. One thing I do want to highlight is probably thinking well why the outdoors why science, why do those two work so well together. I will say is at the foundational core of what science is authentically about it’s about using the natural environment, to understand the whys and the hows in a way to make improvements to society right, so we want to give students these authentic experiences that allows them to create a passion around science, because we recognize that STEM jobs is where we are headed and we want to make sure as early as kindergarten that we’re exposing students to these skills in these practices in a very authentic way.
So that science and math and technology and engineering doesn’t have anxiety or a nervous feel as they are being exposed to these experiences so outdoor experiential learning provides that gateway. It’s something that students are comfortable with they’re knowledgeable about they have experienced the outdoor is something that they do on a daily basis, so why not as educators leverage that experience. And leverage it in a way that not only provide students with access to opportunities to learn the content, but really creates an equity.
Because we talked about so much about background knowledge and the importance of that background knowledge, providing students, the knowledge that’s needed to access the content, and the outdoor experience kind of creates that level experience for everyone.
What I love about outdoor learning is that there are no silos and what I mean by that, I think I heard Katie and several others mentioned that integration is so important, and when we’re thinking about how we’re teaching and how we’re learning we oftentimes separate things. And we recognize, though in the real world that’s not really how it really happens, and so the outdoor environment allows students to see that blended experience. When you think about math and ELA, I always tell teachers, because I recognize that science may not get as much time at certain grade levels as well as social studies and we have to think about when we’re using sciences social studies as a gateway for students to actually apply the math and ELA. I always say that math is the language that science and social studies uses to communicate their ideas, the understandings and really to solve problems so it’s really allowing students to see the value in everything they’re learning, but in a more integrated way.
When you think about the various opportunities that you provide students in your district I don’t want you to think that you have to immediately go build a garden or that you immediately have to find a large funding source to support this idea, because from the district level I’m telling you there’s multiple different ways and multiple different opportunities that you can provide students so on the screen right now, what you are seeing is some very simple ways that didn’t really cost much financial support at all that provides students with opportunities to explore using the outdoor learning environment to access content I’ll speak specifically about the picture in the middle.
At the beginning of the year, we wanted to give our kindergarten students, a great exposure to a science experiment that also lends itself to ELA and so we gave students seeds and we’ve told them hey just toss them out into your community and to your school yard onto the sidewalk and observe what happens.
And just through that experience students have the opportunity to access content knowledge, because now they’re starting to learn immediately, what does it take for living things to survive, what do living things need in order to live. So, no cost really associated to it just really being open to the idea of providing students with the opportunity to get outside to observe to use measurements to look for patterns. All that could happen just do that one simple task and that’s the power of the outdoors because it doesn’t require much, but it does require the students to become the leaders in that experience.
Also, I wanted to make sure I highlighted one of our biggest programs that you’re doing currently because right now I’m sure you’re thinking in your mind that sounds great, but I have tests that I have to prepare for state assessment pacing is so important, I got to make sure I get all these standards and once again that’s the wonderful thing, and the powerful thing about outdoor experiential learning because one we know students perform better when they have an experience to attach to some knowledge. So, when you’re thinking about creating these opportunities and experiential learning for students outdoors, I wanted to highlight our test prep program that we have pushed out called test prep with a green thumb.
Because we also want students to go back to what is proper test prep drill a skill memorization, but we know science, research, so we know that educational research says that that doesn’t necessarily always yield right outcomes so let’s really think about maybe pairing and experience.
To the review process so that students have something they could draw upon when they actually read the questions, so I test prep with a green thumb initiative we actually started it during the pandemic because, once again, we were at home students were at home didn’t have much access to the traditional test prep opportunities, and so we wanted students to see an integrated way to address any gaps that may have existed, but using the outdoor experience to really start reviewing for those fundamental concepts, and finding a way to do the integration saves times saves financial resources and really allows students to start connecting the ideas, because when they are able to connect the math to ELA to the science to the social studies.
Because yes outdoor environmental exposure experiential learning does include the social studies, it allows the students to really have a deeper understanding of the content and so test prep with a green thumb moves students in a way that it becomes a tangible hands on experience and more likely to lead to better outcomes for students, so I will wrap everything up I just really saying, think about really, what can you do start small. Reach out to your science coordinator, because there is professional development available out teach does a wonderful job with it, but there’s also a lot of other different resources that you can utilize to help guide you in this process.
Do not let it intimidate you because I promised you the outdoor experiential learning process is probably the least intimidating environment for both the teacher and for the students. Because it’s something that they are knowledgeable about is something they’ve been exposed to and it’s something that they encounter on a day to day basis so they’re more likely to be reflective of that particular knowledge that they could bring to the table to give them access to the content and I keep stressing that access to the content right because we want students to feel comfortable with every new content that they’re learning, but be able to drawn upon draw upon experience that they had to make those connections to those ideas so that they are actually a lasting thought, an idea and understand.
And so that all that is all I have to share and just know that it is doable and just keep it small and grow it, step by step, but at the end of the day, you have the outdoors and that’s all you need to really create memorable lifelong learning for your students.