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Study Local Environments/ Erosion — Women In STEM

4th Grade: Main Idea and Details

Synchronous Learning: Lesson #1

Engage: Ask students to think about an experience they have had outdoors. Sketch the experience and then describe it in two to three sentences.

  • Allow students to share their sketch and description.

Ask: During your experience outdoors you saw, heard, and touched a lot of things. How did you determine what to share about your experience?

  • Authors keep this in mind when they are writing fiction and non-fiction text too. They think about how to leave the readers with what they want them to know or learn the most.

Students will read the passage on erosion at the bottom of this page.

Asynchronous Learning

While exploring outdoors, students will look for signs of erosion that they learned from the text. Students will draw/take pictures and label what they noticed in their journal.

Guiding Questions:

  • What is erosion?
  • How did the text say you could spot erosion?
  • Do you notice erosion in your outdoor space?

Synchronous Learning: Lesson #2

Explain: Students will share the different signs of erosion that they noticed.

Ask students what in the text helped them complete their exploration:

  • The definition of erosion
  • Examples of erosion

Use the information to complete a graphic organizer that highlights the important details. Students should underline important details in the passage.

Students will come up with a main idea for the article about Erosion.

Elaborate: Students will complete a similar graphic organizer about their independent reading book.

Ask students to come up with ways that erosion problems around their outdoor space could be solved, record solutions in their notebook.

Evaluate: Students will read “Habitat at My School” and identify three main details and the main idea.

————  Passage on Erosion ————-

Many of the land features on Earth have been created by erosion, including rivers, canyons, and valleys. Erosion is a process that happens when wind or water wash away soil over time. This process can cause problems for plants that need the soil to survive. Erosion can wash away the
ground causing damage to human made structures like roads and buildings. It can also wash pollutants into rivers, lakes or the ocean which can hurt fish, marine wildlife, and contaminate drinking water.

Signs of erosion can include exposed plant roots as well as sinking or cracking cement and asphalt. You may also notice an area of ground that has been stripped of grass or other plant cover or landscape materials moved where they don’t belong such as mulch that has washed over the sidewalk.

You are more likely to see erosion in areas that are sloped downhill, but erosion can also happen in flat areas too. You will likely see more damage from erosion in places where there is nothing in the way to slow water down when it rains. Surfaces like roads and sidewalks can increase the
threat of erosion while planting trees can reduce the destructive forces that erosion can bring.

Study Animal Habitats — Women In STEM

2nd Grade- Animal Habitats

Synchronous Learning: Lesson #1

Engage: Show students three different habitats.

Ask: What animals may make this area their habitat? Explain your thinking.

Ask: What things would the animals have here that they need to survive?

Ask: What animals would not make this area their home? Explain your thinking.

Ask: Why did the animal choose that location?

Ask: What natural resources does that animal use (rocks, soil, water, sticks, etc.)?

Ask: Where does the animal get its food?

Ask: What physical characteristics of that animal help it survive and adapt in that location?

Asynchronous Learning

Explore: Students will explore their outdoor area to determine if their area could provide a habitat for bears.

Can a bear survive in your environment? Explore outdoors to support your claim with three reasons.

Synchronous Learning: Lesson #2

Explain: Students will share their claims with evidence they found through their outdoor exploration.

Ask: What does a bear need to survive?

Ask: Do bears rely on other animals to survive?

Ask: Do bears rely on plants?

Ask: What non-living things to bears rely on for survival?

Elaborate: Show students a news story about bear sightings near where they live.

Ask: Why do you think bears are often found in campgrounds or neighborhoods?

Ask: What can we do to help support bears that wander into neighborhoods or camp areas?

Ask: What impact do bears have on our environment and ecosystem? Are they positive or negative for the environment?

Science Workshops with Dr. Katrina Macht

Science Workshops with Dr. Katrina Macht

One of our Wall of Fame Teachers we’re profiling for Women In STEM month is Dr. Katrina Macht.  You can read more about her here.   And you can check out the “Adopt a Spot” activity she shared with us here.

If you want more hands-on Science teaching tips to show everyone (girls included) that they can be scientists, throughout February, Dr. Macht, is leading Science workshops through Montclair State University to help teachers spark their students’ love of Science.dr-mackle

All workshops focus on teaching in a remote environment.  All workshop times are EST.

The meeting link and reminder will be sent the day before the session.
Certificates for PD hours will be awarded.

Fee $30 each Register hereemail PRISM with questions

Tues. February 2, 4:00 – 5:15pm
Adopt-a-Spot: Outdoor Learning in the Winter Months Grades K-12
Whether they’re at home or in school, don’t let the colder months stop you from getting your students outside for science learning through journals. Adopt-a-Spot is the perfect vehicle to spark curiously and encourage students to explore their own surroundings through investigations that focus on natural phenomena.

Wed. February 3, 4:00 – 5:15pm
Argument Writing in Science using the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning Model Grades 2-8
Explanation and Argument are essential practices of not only science learning, but of all the academic disciplines. In this minds-on workshop we will explore the phenomenon of deer overpopulation to implement the CER model as scientists, readers, writers, and thinkers.

Wed. February 10, 4:00 – 5:15pm
More At-Home Simple Hands-On Investigations in Physical Science Grades 3-8
In this workshop we will focus on how to foster engaging, hands-on experiences for your students by converting simple classroom investigations into at-home investigations, using everyday objects and resources.

Thurs. February 11, 4:00 – 5:15pm
Arguing About Climate Change Grades 3-8
Explanation and Argument are essential practices of not only science learning, but of all the academic disciplines. In this minds-on workshop we will explore climate change as the phenomenon to implement the CER model as scientists, readers, writers, and thinkers.

Wed. February 17, 4:00 – 5:15pm
Getting Students to Ask their own Questions Grades K-8
Questions and questioning is at the heart of scientific inquiry and the NGSS. When we teach students to ask questions, we build upon their own innate curiosity about the world in which we live. In this workshop we will dive deeply into the QFT (Question Formulation Technique) as a method for teaching students to ask better, more probing questions in the classroom.

Thurs. February 18, 4:00 – 5:15pm
Virtual Tools to Enhance Learning: Padlet, Edpuzzle, and Pear Deck Grades K-12
Enhance your teaching toolbox with Padlet, Edpuzzle and Pear Deck, whether you are using Google Meet, Zoom, or are teaching in person. Edpuzzle is an easy-to-use tool to create interactive videos that will make your students more accountable for their learning; Pear Deck can turn your Google Slide presentations into interactive activities for your students; and Padlet is a versatile app that allows users to post on a digital wall. These tech tools are free at the basic subscription level and offer many features with no additional costs.

Wednesday, February 24, 4:00 – 5:15pm
Make Cross-Cutting Concepts Accessible to Students:
Earth Systems & Climate Change
Grades 3-8
Are you looking for ways to make the Cross-Cutting Concepts more accessible to your students? In this workshop participants will focus on systems thinking to explore how climate change is impacting Earth’s systems. We will also look at patterns, cause & effect, and stability and change in order to construct explanations for the phenomenon.

Kelsey Ansbro — Women in STEM

Kelsey Ansbro — Women in STEM

As part of our series on Women In Science month, we’re turning the spotlight on women who’ve pursued STEM and STEAM careers, and asking them to reflect on what first sparked their love of Science, how they forged their career paths, and what advice they would give young women hoping to follow in their footsteps.


Kelsey Ansbro is a STEAM Teacher at KIPP Vision Primary School in Atlanta.

“When I was in school, anytime there was a hands-on activity I would instantly be engaged.  I’ve always loved the opportunity to be creative, tinker, and learn in an active way.

My fascination with science started with field trips to the science museum- they were always the BEST field trips and had so much to do.  That idea of being able to touch everything in the museum was mind-blowing, because when you think of museum I always think “look with your eyes, not your hands” but this museum was the opposite!

I got a lot of encouragement to pursue Science when I was young, from making “potions” in the bath tub to my parents allowing me to take lead on any of my science projects. I was able to almost teach myself in a lot of ways- given complete autonomy over my early science education.  When I got to high school my science teachers were ALWAYS my favorite teachers.  They made an effort to always keep us in it.  My physics teacher regularly took us to the roof of our building to drop things from- because what better way to learn about gravity and acceleration than by dropping objects off a five-story building!

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I honestly never thought I’d end up being a science teacher. I started at KIPP as a Kindergarten teacher but when an opportunity to take over the STEAM position became available.  I now get to be the teacher to bring in a ton of fun materials and teach, what I think is, the best subject around, STEAM!

We certainly have our work cut out for us though.  Last year, I attended a STEAM conference and one of the speakers said that when children were asked to draw a scientist, it was typically a male, so every day I show up to teach and make sure every single scholar is represented.  I think that parents and teachers can make a point to incorporate women in STEAM fields on a daily basis.  It might require a little work for parents and teachers up front, but it is absolutely worth it for our young ladies to see themselves in STEAM positions and know that they are capable of doing anything they set their mind to.

I always want my scholars to follow their passion, but if their passion has something to do with STEAM, then I’m here to say Do it! Do it! Do it! I always teach at least 1-2 lessons on careers in STEAM to my scholars, especially my older classes.    Women bring a fresh perspective to traditionally male dominated fields.  But also, I want my ladies to know that STEAM covers such a wide range of careers!  I want them to see there are LOTS of careers that use STEAM skills.  You want to design clothes?  Install solar panels?  Color hair? You need STEAM!  Having women in STEAM fields fosters the talent that women have, provides representation for young minds and has opened endless opportunities for our young women today.  We stand on the shoulders of women in STEAM, and without them the world would truly be a different place.

During remote learning, it was hard to keep students engaged in hands-on Science, but KVP was able to host their first ever Virtual Science Fair! Scholars were challenged to ask a question, make a prediction, perform an experiment, develop a conclusion and then record a video of their presentation! It made my teacher heart SO happy to watch every single submission and see how committed and creative scholars and families were on their own time! The science projects truly became a whole household project, with siblings serving as lab assistants and parents recording, producing, and editing videos.  At the moment this is my biggest accomplishment, seeing my scholars dedicate themselves to science outside of our school building.”

Supporting Teachers Through COVID and Beyond

Instructional Coach Jarri Goodman shares what teachers have been experiencing during the pandemic, and how hands-on outdoor lessons can increase engagement and accelerate learning while keeping students and teachers safe.   You can also watch his video below.


Day after day this spring, call after call, Out Teach Instructional Coach Jarri Goodman heard firsthand what teachers and their students were going through.

“It was crushing. Teachers would just break down saying, ‘Everything I knew how to do was suddenly wrong,’ or ‘I was struggling so hard to help my kids, but I felt so lost,’ and ‘I can’t tell you how many times I cried.’”

“I joined them in the occasional cry at first. But then I reminded them, and myself, that We. Are. Teachers. We figure out how to do the practically impossible almost every day, so we can learn our way through this together.”

Together with our teachers and their students, Jarri and all the Instructional Coaches at Out Teach transitioned all of our services to a virtual setting, where one by one, we helped teachers reframe the situation, reconsider their priorities, and reimagine teaching. And one by one, overwhelmed teachers realized they could harness their expertise, their passion, and their power to blaze new paths to ensure their students kept learning.

“One teacher admitted ‘I am a control freak!’ but then she saw how allowing students to struggle a little with hands-on outdoor projects got them more engaged in this new virtual setting. That was an eye-opener for her.”

“Another teacher was so stressed his voice would shake. His lectures just wouldn’t work in a remote environment. Later, he explained how confident he felt after restructuring his lessons to be more student-focused and experiential. This is what I love to hear! These are the teachers who can help their students thrive.”

Now, these teachers are equipped and prepared, ready to help their students learn and achieve wherever they may be. By incorporating the outdoors and shifting to student-driven learning, these teachers can navigate changes beyond their control, and embrace practices that support student success in any environment.

“I wouldn’t wish 2020 on anyone, but I am so proud of how far we’ve come together,” Jarri said.

From teachers and students, from Jarri, and from Out Teach— Thank you for your support.

Your commitment to Out Teach today ensures that we can continue to inspire and empower teachers and their students through hands-on outdoor learning no matter what school looks like this year and beyond.

Donate now.

Why Move Learning Outdoors?

Why Move Outdoors?
There is a call from the top-down, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and The American Academy of Pediatrics that schools should utilize the outdoors as much as possible when returning to in-person learning. Not only does outdoor learning improve safety for students, teachers, and school communities, but outdoor instruction is proven to help close the learning gaps that COVID has exacerbated.

Teaching Outdoors Improves Safety
Spending time outdoors is proven to drastically decrease the potential for transmission, but few schools have the resources or bandwidth to spend all day outdoors. Fortunately, getting students outside for even a portion of the day can help improve indoor conditions by allowing indoor air more time to ventilate, and giving particles time to settle on cleanable surfaces, reducing the overall indoor viral load.

Using the Outdoors to Teach Improves Learning
Experts estimate that students returning to school have lost 1/3 a year in reading and 1/2 in math and 80% of teachers say their students are learning less during remote instruction, making a return to in-person learning critically important for children, especially those in underserved communities. Not only can outdoor learning facilitate a return to in-person instruction, it supports hands-on experiential learning, and accelerates and deepens subject comprehension for all students. Outdoor learning experiences also improve STEM, SEL, and 21st Century skill development, making it an important resource schools can use to combat learning loss.

Getting Started Outdoors
Creating an outdoor learning program isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Across the country, many schools are working to implement a range of outdoor learning strategies to improve both the safety and effectiveness of their in-person instructional plans. But even though most schools have access to usable outdoor spaces, introducing an outdoor learning program can be daunting. Challenges and questions range the gamut, from scheduling and weather concerns to lesson planning and effective instructional techniques.
To help schools make in-person learning safer and more effective, Out Teach has created a series of tools any school can use to help navigate the physical and logistical barriers to moving more learning outdoors. We’ve also identified resources from other experts in the field to help make it as easy as possible to plan and execute an effective outdoor learning program that produces health and academic benefits through COVID and beyond.

Group Soup — A Grouping How-To for #EducationIsOpen

One of our amazing educators and the head of our program team, Scott Feille, took some time to share his best practices for grouping kids, even in a virtual environment.

Group Soup 

Teachers are always learning, and like all educators these days, I’ve been consuming enormous amounts of informational resources to help me understand how to effectively provide the best possible instruction remotely.  I’ve learned a lot over the summer. 

But in one recent webinar, they advised teachers to create virtual student break-out groups, then showed the teachers how different tech platforms allowed teachers to parse out students into individual chat rooms. And that was that. The webinar then skipped along to the next bite-sized “best practice.” 

What concerned me is that while necessary, this “which button do I push” aspect of how to create a break out group is only a small technical detail.   Imagine going to a cooking class and having them show you how to turn on the oven, and then send you on your way.  There is so much more that needs to be done to actually make this a “best practice.” 

When well-executed, student breakout groups can be incredibly powerful tools to boost SEL and 21st Century Skills, but just like with in-person instruction, without intentionality and planning, breakout groups can be useless, or worse, frustrating time-wasting exercises that disengage students from day one.    

I once had a student who’d been a part of a randomized threeday group project over the summer.  It was supposed to help students get to know a few classmates before school started.  But he said the only thing the groups learned was who drove who nuts so they could avoid one another the rest of the year Hardly what any teacher wants. 

Forgive the cooking analogy, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen than usual these past few months, but what we want from groups is soup.  A combination of different skills and personalities that, when combined in the right amounts and in the right conditions, brings out something great from each ingredient and creates something wonderful. 

If our goal is to foster peer-to-peer connections and promote collaboration while students are working remotely, we have to be more intentional than ever in our groupings.  We can’t just hit the buttons and leave the rest up to chance.  We need to apply the same pedagogical recipes and skills from the physical classroom, and adapt them for this new digital environment. 

So, for you fellow teachers cooking at home, here’s my tried and true recipe.  Feel free to improvise and improve, all the great chefs do, but I know how stressed everyone is and I’ll do whatever I can to make more effective instruction easier for everyone. 


You wouldn’t toss random ingredients into a pot your first day in the kitchen.  So the first and most  important thing is to get to know your students so that breakout groups aren’t random.   

You can do this a number of different ways,  from a simple ice-breaker exercise to straightforward questions on how they like to receive information, or you can even have them do a pictorial representation of themselves or their learning styles.   I’ve even seen teachers do modified Myers-Briggs tests for their classes. 

Ask yourself explicitly — How should I group these students? 

It’s fine to start out simple and easy.  I find music can be a helpful grouping category early on.  Or grouping by other common interests, like sports or reading.  Videogames are overwhelming students’ interests these days, so I have to exclude them up front “If you couldn’t play videogames, what would you do with an hour of free time?”  Or you can incorporate them – “Animal Crossing or Overwatch?’ 

Stay away from any family-based groupings, you never know what a student’s home life is likeand watch out for questions that might tend to  align students by demographic.  You don’t want anything that divides by gender race, income, etc. 

A lot of teachers I know reflexively separate friends.  But especially in the beginning, I say go ahead and match kids for comfort.  We could all use a little more comfort these daysand at the beginning of the year, being in a group with other students with things in common decreases social pressure and allows students to learn your routines and grow accustomed to interacting.    

Step 2 —  LEAVE THEM BE 

Soup is always better the next day, and it takes a bit for any group to gel.  Especially when students are working remotely, leave them in their groups for a couple weeks so they gain enough experience with one another that they’re not just working off of a quick first impression for the rest of the year.  Build in enough time for them to get over a bump or two, and perhaps some intentional activities to help them socialize.  Once students learn the routines of your classroom and grow accustomed to regular group work, consider being ambitious and group students in ways that challenge and stretch their academic and socio-emotional skills.    

Step 3 –  SET GOALS

Social Emotional Learning is an important part of every child’s education.  It’s not a “nice to have.”  So give students concrete goals. If they know what to look for, they’ll be able to engage more and work harder towards your objectives.  Recipes have pictures for a reason.  You want to know what it’s supposed to look like in the end.    

Ask yourself explicitly — Why do you group? 

When I’m grouping students, I’m doing so with specific goals in mind, for the individuals and the group as a whole, and I let them know why. 

For the group as a whole build in mandatory, but ungraded group reflections and self-evaluations with 3 or 4 questions they have to answer unanimously as a group.  Giving students this rubric up front gives them the language and structures they need to look at their interactions from a more objective perspective.  I keep the questions simple: 

Rate your group interactions from 1-5 

  1. We always speak respectfully. 
  1. When we have disagreements, we can resolve them without support. 
  1. We ask for support when we need it.  

Forcing the final score to be unanimous really levels up the learning, turning groups into their own jurors.  They can agree on a number, or take the average of independent scores, but conversations around these rubrics always bring really interesting perspectives to light.  By making students share their perceptions and experiences out loud with their group, they get a heavy dose of looking at the world through someone else’s eyes. 


I’m a huge proponent on modeling my thought process.   

Whenever I group students, I explain to them why they’re in this particular grouping, what I hope they’ll get out of it, and where my uncertainties are.  I’ll even let them know where I can spot potential friction and challenges so it doesn’t take them by surprise. 

Pairing the kid that quickly plows through assignments with the perfectionist who agonizes over every detail, and telling them (tactfully) that they both have valuable skills to share with one another can produce long-lasting results.  But not if they can’t see it. 

Usually, I’ll take students aside either individually or in challenging pairs and tell them why I’m putting them in a particular group.  For individuals, I’ll remind them of the growth I’ve seen in previous exercises, and have them keep a look out for opportunities to build new skills.   

For challenging pairs, I’ll often take these “Odd Couples” aside together, so they both know what’s been said, and I’ll share with them what I want them to essentially teach each other.   

“Tamika, I really like the teamwork you demonstrated with your willingness to be the one who combined everyone’s ideas into the final presentation.  I know nobody wanted to do that.  For this project, I’m going to pair you with Javier.  In other projects, he’s been taking on decision-making responsibilities. I want you to look for opportunities to build leadership and delegation skills, and I want Javier to practice communicating feedback and input while maybe letting the group go in a different direction than he might have chosen, and build his tolerance and resilience to put in great work for someone else’s idea.   All of these skills are really important.”   

When students can see your logic, even if it’s not perfect, you’ll get more buy-in and more engagement.  Oftentimes, a couple months into the year, some of the more interpersonally enlightened students will even start making their own recommendations.  “I think it would help if (soinso) was with someone who...”   Sometimes I’ll take the recommendation and sometimes I won’t, but it’s almost always well-intended, and I always love that they’re looking at those different sorts of interactions with a growth mindset. 


Part of these intentional in groupings is to start out on the easiest skills and build up to the harder ones. 

Once students have achieved success with one grouping, level them up to anotherI think of it like resistance training.  You want just enough rigor to be challenging, but not so frustrating that they stop engaging with the exercise.  I don’t have a soup reference for this one, and won’t insult your intelligence by forcing one. 


This one goes well beyond group work, but it still applies.  And the food metaphors write themselves.  

Every teacher hears warnings about kids.  “Watch out for those distractable boys.” “Keep an eye on those gossipy girls.”    Even if those kids’ actions created those biases in the past, our entire job is to help children grow and change every single day.  And I’ve found it’s a lot easier for everyone if all students get to start with a clean slate.  It gives them solid ground on which to build skills.   

Oftentimes I’ve seen children channel all of that energy they used to spend on distractions and petty politics into new interests, projects, relationships, and skills.  

And it’s not just the “problemed” kids that benefit from this approach.  The kid who coasted the year before might suddenly struggle with a new challenge, or the kid with one strong skill might be using that to compensate for another area that needs growth. 

You giving them a clean slate helps them to escape the gravitational pull of old habits, and helps them move forward with you, toward a shared growth objective. 


That’s all I’ve got at the moment.

So good luck creating successful groups, and I’d love to hear more about your experiences doing group-work during remote learning.  This is new for everyone, and we’re all here to learn from one another.  What have you noticed?  What strategies are you finding valuable?  Let me know! 


Nature Learning Activities You Can Do Anywhere — #EducationIsOpen

Out Teach fan and supporter Jenna King shared these outdoor learning ideas with us so that parents everywhere can continue students’ learning and exploration from home.

Nature Learning Activities You Can Do Anywhere
By Jenna King

The education of American children faces an unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted learning as usual, keeping kids away from their familiar classroom routines. Online learning at home has served as a Band-Aid while school districts struggle with long-term solutions to a crisis whose end is not clearly in sight.

One solution is to connect children to nature. The safety of the Great Outdoors is a natural laboratory for learning and gets kids away from the confines of the house. You’ll need to take along a few things to ensure the fun gets a good dose of learning, such as paper, pencils, and markers for drawing and numbering. Smartphones or tablets are excellent for connecting with today’s tech-savvy youngsters. Resources are available to help teachers, parents and children transform observations into lessons.
Here are some ways to turn those outings educational experiences:

Nature By the Numbers
The outdoors offers unlimited possibilities for learning and practicing math skills. For small children, this can be as simple as counting – leaves on a stem, rocks in a pile, etc. By adding or removing, you can teach the basics of addition and subtraction. And nature offers an abundance of geometry lessons. Teach children to identify the symmetry in leaves, the concentric circles produced within tree trunks, or a rock thrown into a stream. Pinecones are a lesson in spirals and spiders spin webs that are radial masterpieces.

Go on a Safari
You don’t have to go to Africa in search of lions or elephants. A park or backyard will do just as well to teach the basics of ecosystems. Explain how all forms of life are dependent on one another in the food chain. Show how bees pollinate and tell why that’s vital for the survival of plants. All living things require water and trees and shrubs provide shelter for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife. You don’t need a huge plot of land to start a garden. A small patio or balcony will give kids a great hands-on experience in the workings of nature.

From Whither Comes the Weather?
Most smartphones and devices come with weather apps. Allowing children to look at these apps while outdoors gives them a chance to relate maps and radar and satellite images to what they actually see in the sky. If a storm approaches, count the number of seconds between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder. Divide by five and you know how many miles away the storm is. That’s real distance learning!

Find your Way Forward
A compass is a simple and inexpensive tool to teach children science and navigation (and you can find free compass apps for most smart devices). Explain to them that because the North Pole is magnetic, a compass needle always points north. Then set off on a hike using the compass to chart direction. Tell them a compass enables today’s GPS apps to map locations.

Keep a Record
Encourage children to take pictures or videos and incorporate them into a journal of things they’ve learned from nature. This not only helps them retain what they’ve learned but keeps their writing skills honed. Encourage them to expand their knowledge by reading related articles and/or watching videos online.

In addition to learning, time outside keeps kids healthy. The National Wildlife Federation in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents to see that children spend an hour a day outdoors. Outdoor activities also promote exercise, which not only develops healthy bodies, but increases brain functioning, and bolsters mood.

With effort and ingenuity, you can help children get through trying times with activities that are educational, healthful, and productive.

This article was written by Jenna King, a fan of Out Teach and independent outdoor learning. Jenna is a writer, avid hiker, and survivalist. She spends most of her time backpacking and using organic elements within nature. This article is made possible by lawnstarter.com.

Summer School Story with Tori Delaney — #EducationIsOpen

Summer School Story with Tori Delaney — #EducationIsOpen

Tori Delaney manages the K-5 summer programs for DC Public Schools.

At the beginning of March, Tori had the 5-week program all prepped and ready to launch. Her teachers were trained. Her facilities were booked. Her students were registered.

“Everybody else looks forward to the summer so they can wind down and relax. I look forward to summer because that’s like ‘game day’ for us. We were excited and ready to knock these programs out of park this year.”

Then COVID struck, upending every single aspect of summer learning, and sending Tori back to the drawing board to re-invent her programs, not just in their delivery, but in their meaning and purpose.

“We have students who participate in our programs from all levels and backgrounds, whether it be for enrichment activities or to get a little help on areas they didn’t quite master during the school year,” Tori said. “Then COVID-19 created new groups of kids who could benefit from summer learning: kids who needed to counteract the learning loss that began when school doors closed in March, kids whose summer activity plans were suddenly cancelled, AND kids who might need more caring adults in their lives on a daily basis.”

Suddenly, in addition to training teachers, parents, and students how to effectively use distance education technologies, Tori had to re-imagine all her summer programs.

“In the spring, teachers really struggled to get students to log on, not just in terms of internet connectivity, but just interest in coming to class. Attendance was a real issue.”

So, in addition to looking for ways to compliment and supplement the curriculum, Tori prioritized student engagement.

“To get students excited about summer learning, I really wanted to make it more student-driven and more hands-on, with more active time away from screens. Sort of a happy place in-between the classroom and summer camp. Even after they log off, I wanted them to keep having fun and doing activities on their own or with their families. Summertime is an amazing opportunity to learn, and I want to be sure as many students as possible make the most of it. To get them excited to log on and enthusiastic to come back, we really focused on how to effectively deliver rigorous project-based learning remotely.”

But that kind of change takes an incredible amount of planning, preparation, training, and support, which Tori and her teammates took on in June.

“I’m not going to lie. After two weeks of 8+hours per day of online trainings and meetings, the teachers prepping for summer instruction (again!) were less than thrilled that I added yet another session to the very end of the very last day. Their cameras were off, but I swear I could hear their eyes rolling when I told them I’d added the Out Teach session.”

Tired and skeptical, but ever diligent and professional, teachers grudgingly logged in to the Out Teach virtual training session, only to have Out Teach Instructional Coach Luisa Aviles promptly send them outside for their first hands-on outdoor activity.

“The second they came back in from outside and started sharing, you could tell the mood had completely shifted. They were happier, interested, and getting more engaged with the exercise. They were coming up with really creative strategies to incorporate outdoor learning into their lessons. I thought to myself, ‘We’re adults and we’ve struggled to stay focused learning online for the past two weeks. Imagine how hard it would have been for the kids, and how much they’d love this new approach.”

Teachers’ showed their appreciation for the new ideas in their exit comments:

  • We like to think of virtual learning as something done indoors at a computer, when in reality there are many different ways we can engage our students while we have them for virtual learning.
  • I feel good about bringing a hand- on approach to the virtual learning program for my students. I plan to use the journaling idea to get my students moving around and excited about the outdoors!
  • Get moving, and get outside! This will be especially good for this time as we’ve just experienced such a lengthy lockdown with the pandemic.
  • I feel excited to implement outdoor explanations in my lessons.
  • Nature can add a lot to traditional lessons, in very simple ways. It can also make lessons more enjoyable. Simply going outside or looking outside the window for the opening example that we engaged in was exciting.
  • I have struggled to engage students in fun ways during distance learning that allow us to explore the world together but away from the computer screen. I now feel more capable and have new ideas to bring to life.
  • I feel good about bringing a hands-on approach to the virtual learning program for my students. I plan to use the journaling idea to get my students moving around and excited about the outdoors!
  • During the summer, I need to make sure that I assign and encourage to get kids outside! This could be through journaling, nature scavenger hunt, and science experiments. I am currently working on a hummingbird feeder for kids to make while we are focusing on the country Jamaica. Hummingbirds are its national bird!
  • There are many ways to integrate the science lessons into the curriculum as activities for students to go outside even though we are not directly instructing in science. I enjoyed being able to take a moment and go outside and take notes on my surroundings. It was actually pretty calming.

Tori added “I was really glad at the way the PD session was set up so it wasn’t yet another brand new thing I was forcing teachers to add to their ever growing list. Everything was focused on supporting teachers, and giving them more effective, efficient, engaging, and fun ways to help students achieve their objectives. Lots of specific content and concrete examples. It was very practical, useful, and not at all overwhelming. Lord knows there’s enough out there to be overwhelmed about. I certainly didn’t want to add to that.”

In addition to making summer learning more active, student-driven, and engaging, we hope that these teachers can take the same techniques and use them in the fall, regardless of where instruction takes place. Students have always loved going outside, and with COVID-19, the benefits of increased social-distance and fresh air shouldn’t go to waste.

Thank you to Tori and all of the teachers in DC Public Schools’ Summer Learning Institute for everything that you’re doing to ensure #EducationIsOpen. We’re incredibly proud to partner with you in your important work!

Outdoor Classrooms Close Achievement Gaps and Create Safe Spaces for Learning — #EducationIsOpen

A PDF of this document can be found here.

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls using outdoor spaces for learning a “high priority” for schools reopening in the fall because of how they positively affect social emotional learning and can be used as a social distancing strategy. Outdoor spaces also:
• Increase social distancing
• Increase fresh air
• Decrease shared surfaces

In their reopening plans, many states such as Georgia and Florida specifically emphasize the importance of utilizing outdoor classrooms as much as possible, because outdoor learning spaces are a quick, flexible and relatively inexpensive way to increase any school’s academic footprint.
Out Teach, a national nonprofit, is the leading expert in creating outdoor learning spaces and providing effective teacher training to ensure spaces are well-used and well-maintained. Partners benefit from:
• 15+ years experience designing and building outdoor classrooms
• Landscape Architects on staff
• Specialized educational features
• High-quality, long-lasting, low-maintenance spaces

In addition to adapting to meet health guidelines, schools ALSO need to make up huge learning gaps caused by COVID-19 shutdowns.
• Research shows that students may be returning to schools this fall with 70% of a typical year’s reading gains, and only half a year’s gains in math. — NWEA
Studies show that outdoor classrooms accelerate learning and improve outcomes for all students when used for real-world hands-on learning. Experiential learning in an outdoor classroom will:
• Increase subject comprehension and information retention long-term — EdWeek
• Accelerate learning for disadvantaged students –National Wildlife Federation
• Improve STEM skills — American Institutes for Research
• Support cross-curricular learning for every subject – Outdoor School For All
• Embed SEL and 21st Century skill development – Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Out Teach is the leading expert in empowering teachers to activate outdoor spaces for effective instruction. Districts and schools can support their return to school plans with:
• Design and Construction Services
• Job-embedded coaching
• Group trainings
• Online resources
• Learning Communities

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Out Teach, formerly REAL School Gardens, provides professional development for elementary school teachers. Out Teach prepares them to use school gardens, outdoor classrooms, and green schoolyards to improve instruction through three-dimensional project-based learning, and outdoor experiential inquiry-based education. Professional learning with Out Teach improves hands-on science and STEM education through instructional coaching and digital education resources and improves 21st Century skills.