The Bridge Between Classrooms and Outdoor Learning
By Holly Steele - Adminstrator
Upper Newport Bay Becomes a Classroom
Can you remember a time when you rushed to a window to see a rainbow? How about walking outside after a spring rain shower just so you can smell the newness in the air? These experiences generate a sense of “awe” that connects you to a world bigger than yourself. What if engaging experiences in nature could be connected to classroom lessons? Could that same sense of “awe” be replicated as students are learning?
We believe the answer is yes. Inside the Outdoors’ unique approach creates a bridge between in-class learning and experiences in nature. We call this the “in-between” space, meaning that we are situated in-between traditional outdoor learning experiences and traditional K-12 classroom experiences.
ITO’s “In-Between” includes:
Engagement through Exploration: ITO programs are designed to promote student engagement through exploration, either through direct hands-on activities or comparable virtual ones as appropriate. Students conduct hands-on experiments to collect data that helps them understand phenomena and solve problems. This encourages students to provide evidence to support explanations or design solutions to real world problems. This active student engagement through exploration further promotes student curiosity, awe, enthusiasm, and excitement of the natural world.
Standards-Driven, Phenomena-Centered: Careful selection of instructionally valuable, locally-relevant, and interesting phenomena help expose students to new experiences and generate a sense of awe and excitement for students. ITO programs nurture a natural curiosity. For science-centered programs, the Performance Expectations, in conjunction with individual dimensions and Engineering as appropriate, are the primary drivers of the program. The dimensions include the Science and Engineering Practices, the Crosscutting Concepts, and the Disciplinary Core Ideas at the appropriate grade level for the program. In addition, student-centered, phenomena based sense-making are valued as features of the program. For history-social science programs, the current California standards and the History-Social Science framework should be the main drivers of programs. All programs include purposeful connections to the Environmental Principles & Concepts, where appropriate and in connection with a standard, in order to develop environmental literacy.
Promoting Sensemaking: ITO programs are designed to engage students in age-appropriate sensemaking strategies including observing, wondering, asking questions, discussing, listening, making connections, explaining their thinking, or agreeing/disagreeing with one another. These strategies, structures, and activities are specifically designed to support students in the process of constructing and revising the understanding of the program’s relevant phenomena and standards. Staff listen to students and provide meaningful feedback to student ideas and discussions.
Safety: ITO programs provide students with a cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physically safe place to learn. When students feel safe, they are able to ask questions, participate in activities, and try new things without being apprehensive.
Expert Facilitation: ITO programs are facilitated by expert practitioners who use facilitator moves such as encouraging students, providing guidance, and moving around the physical or virtual space in order to use proximity appropriately. Additionally, staff promote both collective and independent thinking through intentional utilization of grouping strategies based on the size of the group, group make-up, etc.
As we shared in previous reports 2020 & 2021 have been especially challenging for us, too. In the midst of a pandemic and the loss of our environmental education site to a wildfire, we remain focused on strengthening our position in the “in-between” space as it leads to stronger student outcomes. We hope that you’ll join us in our work to connect students to nature.
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