Outdoor Learning – Breathe It In

Today was a day I have been looking forward to since filling out paperwork last spring. MarshQuest is a student-led environmental learning experience held in man-made wetlands near Aylmer, Ontario.  The local high school students who run the day are part of an Environmental Leadership Program led by an innovative teacher that values out-of-the-box learning and immersive experiential training.  Cool!  It is great to link up with these student leaders and watch as my grade 4 students are taught by these youth.  I bet my students are happy to have someone other than “Mr. D’s” voice leading science discussions.

As my career lengthens, I am keenly aware of the value of these outdoor opportunities.  Is it the way an outdoor ‘classroom’ smells?  Is it the refreshing blasts of fall air keeping senses sharp?  Or, is it the immersive experience that captures student engagement?  All of the above!  First and foremost, taking students out of the four walls they begrudgingly become accustomed to immediately creates a buzz factor.  New!  Novel!  Different!  Secondly, walking around a marsh, a block or two around town, or even the school yard means that we are moving and thinking at the same time.  Talk about quality activity.  Lungs, heart and brain are activated.  All senses become part of the learning – not just the eyes and ears.

Impact is something we hope and plan for our lessons to possess.  But let’s be honest…not every classroom lesson is going to be as impact-full as we wish.  Authenticity matters, and taking kids TO the learning creates more impact then bringing the learning to the kids.  Authentic experiences stick with us.  I don’t remember a lot of lessons from my school days, but I can remember almost every field trip I have ever been on.  Why is that?

A trip like today’s MarshQuest trip reminds me why I decided to turn this school year into a professional project.  A field trip EVERY WEEK!  These will mostly be walking field trips to find curriculum learning in the local community.  I’m really hoping that taking students TO the geometry we see on main street will make the learning stick.  I’m optimistic that taking students TO the real-world examples of advertising means that the examination of use of media will be an experience students remember.  I’ll guarantee that taking students TO the community experts and citizens in Aylmer will deepen understanding of how our social studies, arts and science curriculum connections matter.

My professional project for this year is entitled, “Community Citizenship through Curriculum”.  I’ve aligned with pillars of the community to provide unique access to information that will allow students to create their own inquiry project about the heritage of the town as Canada’s 150th birthday approaches.  It means leaving the four walls of our classroom often.  It means a little more organization on my behalf and a lot of support from parent volunteers but I truly believe it will result in an unforgettable year for these kids.  Did I mention that I’m fundraising for a 1:1 iPad ratio so that these kids are armed with the most creative learning tool out there?  Positivity!  I’m learning that if you don’t ask, you don’t receive, and I humbled to acknowledge that I’ve already reached 30% of my fund-raising goal.

Outdoor learning.  And lots of it.  Where do you see science?  Where can you find evidence of humans helping or harming?  How can multiplication be found in a grid of bricks on an alley wall?  Can an obtuse angle be found in a tree branch?  How can we make a meal following Canada’s food guide when in the grocery store?  What speaks to these students’ identities as we explore our community?

I’ll admit I’m curious to venture into Google Expeditions – the virtual reality field trip app for tablets and smartphones (ideally in Google Cardboard).  I’m just wondering to myself, does a field trip still feel like a field trip without that blast of wind, rustling of leaves in the background, or the smell of environment stimulating all your senses?  I think I already know the answer…

Hey, if you’d ever like to go for a walk through Aylmer, I have 27 students that would like to come along for the ride.  I promise you’ll learn something!