Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Small Steps

Inspired by the Trail To Every Classroom workshops, I decided to start incorporating the outdoors into my lessons.  Students are always asking to have class outside, so why not grant their wish. The lesson seemed simple:  Take some time to walk around and find something inspiring.  The outdoors is filled with amazing sights, sounds, smells, and sensations.  Take a few pictures of what you have found.  Use different angles to really capture what has caught your attention.  Then, write a descriptive paragraph (or two) that describes what you have found.

It was a beautiful day in late September.  I opened the door next to my classroom, and sent my students out into the world of place-based learning.  Unfortunately, like a house cat that steps on grass for the first time, my students stepped outside and froze.  The majority of them took three quick pictures of the first tree they saw.  The tree right next to the school.  Then, they sat down leaning against the school to write their paragraphs.

Apparently, I needed to explain the the outdoor classroom is a bit bigger than just the shadow of the school building.

Being determined to make this work and be a meaningful experience for my students, I made a simple modification to the assignment.  The next class, we went outside again.  This time I led them out past the school lawn toward the woods.  On the way, I had them take a picture of the tall grass in the field.  Then, we entered the woods.  They were told to look around.  Just look around.  We found a birdhouse on the side of a tree.  We took a picture of it.  Now we had two different pictures to write about for this assignment.  Finally, instead of going back to the school, we sat a picnic table at the edge of the woods.  They just needed a little guidance and to be pointed in the right direction.

There were a few complaints about how hot it was out, but overall the second time was more what I was hoping.  Also, the paragraphs were better and more inspired.  Will I take kids outside again? Yes.  Will I take kids on a hike? Yes.  Will it be tomorrow?  No.  Introducing students to outdoor education will take some time.  However, with determination, this can and will work.  All with small steps...

Zack Reinstein
Buckfield High School

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