Experiential Learning Takes Classrooms Outdoors


There's a new trend spreading across the nation which is changing the way students learn about everything from math to science to language arts. It's pretty simple, really, since all students have to do is pick up their backpacks, walk out through their school's doors, and begin their learning experiences in outdoor classrooms.

Nathania Johnson writes for The 74 Million that a new outdoor class at Landstown Middle School in Virginia Beach, Virginia was dedicated and opened last week.

The outdoor space is 14,000 square-feet in size and can seat 40 students. It contains a chalkboard, flower garden, and vegetable beds. The project came to pass thanks to the help of several area community organizations and businesses, including Virginia Beach Consolidated Public Schools Educational Foundation, Home Depot, Seagreen Lawns, Virginia Tech, and Life Touch. The classes will be taught by professionals with skills related to the curriculum, including farmers, chefs, and horticulturists.

And in Holt, Michigan, the new outdoor classroom at Hope Middle School had its students learn leadership and management skills by having the students themselves write grants for the project, which they did to receive $1,400 from the Holt Education Foundation. When a local contractor heard of the project, he donated $6,000 in materials and labor.

Students also drafted a budget for the classroom and designed the space. In order to save money and to be ecologically smart, they used recycled materials and made stools and benches from fallen trees.

"It's like a magical place. It's like a fairy tale," Alshoun Jones, 11, told the Lansing State Journal. "You can read, learn and just treat yourself out here."

Teachers and students at Wheeling Middle School in Wheeling, West Virginia received a grant from West Liberty University and now have a chance to garden everyday and learn from expanded lessons on healthy eating and appreciation of nature.

"Yeah, I think we all love it, and plus Ms. Mckay told our class that the green stuff like outdoors it helps your brain learn better when you're learning outside," 8th grader Amari Poole told WTRF.

Last week, the Kettleson-Hogsback Wildlife Management Area held its 37th annual Outdoor Classroom sponsored by the Dickinson Soil and Conservation Commissioners with the goal of getting students out in nature. 

"We want the kids (to have) an increased understanding of the environment and the world that we live in," said Dickinson Soil and Water Conservation District state secretary Maxine Butler, who coordinates the event each year.

Brandon Hurley of Northwest Iowa Publishing, says the kids learn about wetlands, soil health, grasslands, boating safety, and local wildlife. Butler said the outdoor classroom's 37 year history is in place because of the cooperation of the teachers and the local volunteers.

Ponderosa Elementary School in Billings, Montana also has a new outdoor classroom. When students are studying geography, they can look to the South Hills or Rimrocks surrounding their new space. The class is a collection of artificial logs with seating in a wood-chip-covered area.

Matt Hoffman writes for the Missoulian that Teri DeRudder, a sixth-grade teacher, is a person who thinks outside the box.

I don't teach like a regular teacher," she said. "I believe in the kids experiencing the education, not just hearing it."

That kind of thinking was the motivation for the year-long, $62,000 fundraising campaign by the Ponderosa PTA to purchase and build the classroom. Ponderosa is a Title I school which receives funding from a federal program for disadvantaged children and where more than two-thirds of the students qualified for free or reduced lunches last year. Fundraising for the project should have been difficult.

But everyone pitched in, and if they couldn't do a lot, they did a little. This year the classroom is up, and, as one teacher said, it is a classroom where kids can be kids. Now plans are in place for the addition of a community garden.

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