My STEM Units

Sunday, April 27, 2014

No Teacher Left Inside: Leaving Base Camp

Everyone in the education world is familiar with "No Child Left Behind".  With the abundance of testing, the inside joke became "No Child Left Untested".  Sad, but oh-so-true.

Yes, it is important to teach our children to read and do math, but does it always need to be inside?  I have championed "No Child Left Inside" for the last 10 years.  I looked at my classroom as our base camp.  We came together there, set our purpose, gathered resources, and then set outside.  

For Math, we went on Math Walks; looking for shapes on the playground.  Suddenly the bars on the monkey bars are now transformed into parallel lines!  That seam in the sidewalk is magically a perpendicular line!  With a simple line drawn with chalk, that line in the sidewalk became examples of acute angles or obtuse angles.  A walking field trip to the local grocery store was a Math lesson, as the students had to complete a PBL assignment while there.  

Although we didn't read as much I would have liked outside, our adventures always sparked new interests in informational texts when we returned to base camp the classroom.  I never had to coerce my students to read.  Students were so much more animated when reading about worms, dirt, wildfires, etc. after a trip outside.

Which is why I have started my new Professional Development Workshop "No Teacher Left Inside: Leaving Base Camp".  Most teachers who have joined the profession in the last 10 years, have been under the spell of NCLB.  Four hours of English-Language Arts and two hours of Math.  Textbooks, worksheets, tests, and lots and lots of seatwork.  Even if a teacher wanted to take their class outside, they might not have been "allowed" to do so.  Well, if you ask me, that's just plain boring for the students and teachers.  What standards have to be taught indoors, that you can't go outside to teach them and reinforce them?

That is exactly the premise behind my PD Workshop "No Teacher Left Inside".  We look very closely at our standards.  Very closely.  And then, with some guidance from me, we head outside.  After some time spent walking around and taking notes, we return inside to reflect and share out.

What grade levels/teachers can go outside?  

Well, just this last weekend, I had teachers from as far as 3 hours away attend a workshop.  The grades represented spanned preschool to junior high.  There were general education teachers, special education teachers, and ancillary teachers in attendance.  So, the answer to that question is: ALL TEACHERS!

What subjects can be taught outside?

ALL SUBJECTS!  Some examples include:

Reading: students are brought outside to find the letter of the week.  For instance, if the letter of the week is "B", students can look for bark and bushes.   

Writing: students add more detail and description to their writing after spending time outside.  Some even begin to personify the trees and write stories about "the giants on the playground".  

Math: students can use common core standards of measurement with appropriate tools to measure the circumference of trees or length of rocks.  Just standing on the playground can spark students to write their own word problems, using the trees, rocks, and equipment as subjects.  

Science: Next Generation Science Standards ask that students relate life cycles of plants to life cycles of animals.  A walk outside can provide real world examples of trees in various stages of their life cycles.  You might even spot some animals too!

Social Studies: lessons in barter and trade seem more exciting when students are standing on the playground and look at their surroundings as natural resources.  "I'll trade you one rock for two leaves."  

Foreign Language: show the students the real object, instead of a visual representation of the object.  For instance, "arbol" in Spanish class is now the tree on the playground, not a stick figure on a worksheet.  If your foreign language class also involves culture, students can go outside to learn the traditional dances.

Let's keep the conversation going.  What are your favorite lessons to take outside?

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