Teaching Outside: Teachers engaging students in outdoor learning

Whatcom County elementary educators gathered at local schools to engage in the Teaching for the Climate Collaborative’s 2-hour experiential and place-based Teaching Outside course on March 21, 2024 and April 25, 2024. This course is designed to provide teachers with the tools and resources to bring students outside during the school day. Teachers engaged in hands-on learning that incorporated Next Generation Science Standards and climate change education through outside games and activities.

Counting up tokens representing fish caught by fishing fleets before transitioning into a nature journaling activity.

The training days were a success with all teachers in attendance reporting that they have increased confidence in teaching outside and plan to use the outdoors more for their lessons. This has been especially evident in the fact that teachers have applied their learning to provide engaging and effective outdoor learning opportunities for their students.

During the training, teachers were grouped together as fishing fleets and were asked to harvest salmon during different fishing seasons. The game modeled how the salmon population fluctuated with fishing pressure, environmental impacts, and conservation practices. This game was creatively adapted by teachers for the needs of their classrooms such as highlighting tribal treaty rights, teaching about the salmon life cycle, or using a different ecosystem and modeling changes in elk populations.

Other teachers facilitated nature journaling activities by using viewfinders to look at scale and proportion of nature found outside and communicate these observations through drawing. One teacher said, “students created viewfinders and found something to zoom in on/focus on outside to draw.” This particular teacher used resources provided by ClimeTime funding for inspiration in designing this activity.

Another teacher had students obtain and communicate seasonal patterns in nature by using observations to write poems about spring:

“We began our spring poetry project with a time outside drawing or writing down all the signs of spring we were observing with our 5 senses. After our time outside, we compiled our ideas and then wrote SPRING acrostic poems based on the things that we observed.”

Teachers reflecting on the benefits of teaching outside and creating a visual representation of their ideas.

Lastly, a classroom used mathematical thinking to obtain information about what was outside on the school campus and evaluated results using a graph. The teacher reported:

“I created a nature data tally paper with 5 different things that students were likely to find outside (dandelion stems, white rocks, birds, flowers and leaves on the ground)… I reviewed that each time they noticed one of the things on the data collection paper they were to write 1 tally. I also reviewed that the 5 tally should be crossed (gate tally)… We then took the materials inside and analyzed the data. We determined how many things were tallied, how many dandelion stems were observed and which things they saw the fewest of. Students also shared parts of their data that surprised them. It was a really fun way to practice our tally graphing while appreciating a different part of the campus!”

We appreciate our teachers for attending the Teaching for the Climate Collaborative’s Teaching Outside training. Teachers utilized the resources provided and their own expertise to provide a powerful outdoor learning experience to over 400 students in Whatcom County. The activities reported have been truly inspiring!

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