The Benefits of Outdoor Education

Submitted by Allie Floyd on Thu, 2017-07-13 00:00


Hello Digi-learners! I hope this week is going well for everyone!! Another eventful day for us with lots of fantastic presenters. I was joking earlier that my catch-phrase this week is "Wow, I didn't know that!!" and have probably averaged saying that about 15 or more times a day! Haha! I am loving this workshop and I am so happy we are able to share these adventures with you!!!

There was a question written for us today that says, "What is the value of spending time outdoors? How could you get your students outside more?". I love this question because using nature and the outdoors as a tool to stimulate student interest and engagement is SO important. I value this so much and it was a practice near the end of this school year that I started applying and my classes had the most positive 360 degree turn around, not only in behavior, but also in work ethic. We would do small things in my class such as taking our students reading time outside, doing review games for tests out in the school garden, and having our vocab study sessions out on the lawn behind my building. My students would literally jump out of their seats with excitement when I told them they had earned these days outside- even my students that were never engaged and hadn't previously invested in their education!! Quite honestly, I wish I would have figured this out much sooner, so it is a goal for me this next school year to get my students learning outside as much as possible. 

One interesting fact we learned about today is that there have been studies conducted and research completed that shows students' (and adults') stress levels significantly descrease when either participating in recreational activities outdoors or just spending sometime in a forrested area simply to relax. This makes absolute sense because all the times I have been most happy in my life involve the forrest and outdoors! Is that the same for anyone else? In a longer answer here, there is value in spending time outdoors to reduce stress, increase dopamine levels, engage students on a much higher level with the information they are learning, and hopefully give them a passion for something they did not know they enjoyed so much before. Another goal I have made is to do at least 1-2 field trips outdoors next year related to the curriculum. As a first year teacher this last year, I was too overwhelmed to set them up, but I am bound and determined to make it happen this year!! 

Here is my question for you all... What are you currently doing outdoors to get your students more invested and engaged in learning? If you are outdoors, how do you keep your students focused and what benefit do YOU see in taking their education outside?

As an overview for today, we spent the day at Eagle Island State Park, completed a hike around the island, did some bird watching, learning about Monarchs (and attempted to find some unsuccessfully), and ended with a fantastic presentation on Birds of Prey! Even got to meet two beautiful birds of prey literally a few feet away from us... pictures to come!! Looking forward to your responses!!! 


Darcy Hale's picture

I learned during my in-person adventuring in Pocatello that one is able to record audio of bird calls in iNaturalist and scientists will identify the bird.  Capturing a photo of the bird is not necessary.  I thought this would be a great application for my walking/trekking class.  It would teach the kids to key in to senses other than sight if they were assigned to walk the campus trails while LISTENING for bird calls.  I already have a bioblitz planned for capturing the flora and fauna we can see on campus.  I'd like to attempt capturing some audio and identifying birds on campus as well.

Darcy Hale's picture

I have my BA in Spanish and have spent years teaching Spanish and English Language Learners.  In my language classrooms I employed Total Physical Response (TPR) lessons daily.  The gist of TPR lessons is that information is first heard and then better remembered if there is a physical, bodily response to the information being acquired.  My lessons often took us outdoors to play games like the Hoqui Poqui or act out our classroom vocabulary through short skits or readings in the target language.  Sometimes it feels like sciene and MILES vocab is a foreign language to me!  :)

I do not think teachers should fear classroom management issues if the classroom is moved outdoors.  No matter what I teach, no matter where I teach, my number one classroom management tool is well-planned lessons that use our time fully and wisely.  If your classroom is well-planned and well-managed within four walls with desks, do not fear!  Your good teaching habits are easily extended and transferred outside.  

TPR lessons can be used beyond the language acquisition classroom.  Meditate on this proverb:  Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I'll understand. Think of ways to give instructions to your students that require a physical response.  An example I love is the ELA teacher trying to teach sequential writing (I acutally did this lesson for a speech class).  Have students use real props to make a PB&J sandwich and then orally repeat to a partner the instruction and then write their own instructions on paper for the process of making a PB&J sandwich.  For science head outside and teach the kids about solid and liquid molecules.  Have the kids put their bodies into rigid solid molecule shape and then clump together and "vibrate" around to move about.  Have them take the shapes of liquid molecules and move about a little more loosely and with fluidity.  Students could act out a reading on environmental issues on an outdoor stage (like Reader's Theater).  I think of the times I have visited Native American interpretive centers and there are always TPR Storytellers that present deep ideas relating to nature, humans abuse of resources, conservation, and preservation through body movements.  Students could utilize this story-telling strategy as a vehicle to expand their ecosystem services vocabulary by contextualizing the vocab in high interest, personal stories that incorporate hearing, seeing, acting out, retelling, revising, rewriting, etc. Like our high interest digital storytelling in this workshop, take it outside and old-school and act it out in TPR fashion instead.  Think of ways students can get out of their desks, move their bodies, and bring a lesson to life rather than having it remain on paper or on screen.  Many kids respond well to lessons that involve kinesthetic and tactile learning options.  

I am glad you guys learned about research that supports outdoor learning. In my environmental science class that is one of the first questions I get, "Are we going to go outside?" I find it easiest to get outside during the beginning and end of the school year. Those winter months can keep us cooped up, so if anyone has ideas about adventuring outside in the winter months I would love to hear them. I have only done one big field trip with my class. We took the Boise city bus downtown to look at the vermiculture at Bittercreek. They showed us around the restaurant and let us dig in to the compost, but it was a lot of work to plan. Instead of big trips I take my class on "mini field trips", these take place right outside the school. I have taken them outside to identify plant life, find examples of ecological succession, we have ventured down to wetlands type area behind our school, we have picked up trash on Earth Day, we do a lab about biodiversity and the greenhouse effect that I will try and attach links. I can see where some educators hesitate about taking their students outside and being worried about management issues. I agree with Darcy that the best way to combat this is a well-planned lesson. I teach at an alterative school and my kids are well behaved when we go outside because I set clear expectations and I think it also helps to have them writing or drawing something. We usually take clipboards or small whiteboards out to write/draw on. I hope all educators will look for opportunities to head outside. I think it makes the learning tangible and more meaningful. 

Danielle Wilson's picture

Hi Allie,

Thanks for sharing this information. I want to answer the same quesiton you did, "How could you get your students outside more?" I have taught 6th Grade Reading for the last 8 years and in that time I think we took our reading outsde maybe 4 times. I absolutely loved the idea of bringing kids outside to read, but with classes with upwards of 30 students, it got kind of hard. This year I am teaching a new class that will incorporate team building. My hope is to be able to bring kids outside more for those activities. It would be awesome to be able to take them hiking every so often, I'm just not sure that is feasible. Regardless, we will definitely be outside more! I agree that stress levels go down when we can be outside and I think it would do my students a great service to get them out of the classroom and into nature.



Getting outside is great, but we have to get them outside for a reason, not just to get them outside. If students have a clear "job" to do while outside, then the time will be better spent. As mentioned, if you have 30 students, it is hard to get and stay outside in a controlled manner. My idea is to give students outside assignments to take home. Example: take three pictures of different fields. Then write a short story that takes place in one of those fields. Use the field as the main setting.

Erin Tetreault's picture

I love all of these ideas for getting students outside! I spend so much time on the weekends and during the summer doing outdoor adventures that I'm almost embarassed to admit I hardly ever take my students outside. It's often an end-of-year incentive when we are all tired of winter and being indoors and just want to enjoy the springtime air. Really I should be taking lessons outside as much as possible! I often assumed that everyone's stress levels were reduced when outside, but it's good to know there is actual data to support that theory! My goal for this upcoming school year is definitely going to include reading outside as much as possible. I also love the writing prompts using nature as inspiration. Students need to know that writing doesn't just exist in the confines of school, but that lots of people write about the world around them and for enjoyment, no less! I am definitely going to steal the picture of a field idea for this upcoming year!