My STEM Units

Friday, September 19, 2014

Nature as Your Classroom

Imagine that learning is a journey through a landscape. Follow a trail to a rocky outcrop where fossil sea creatures erode out of a hillside. The fossils show that this place was once washed by an ancient ocean. Farther along, cicadas call from the trees, teaching you that sounds are vibrations rippling through the air.  All of nature is your classroom.
               At Cradleboard Elementary School on the Fort Apache Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona, this kind of outdoor learning is becoming a reality, thanks to the energy and vision of people like STEM Coordinator, Susan Rodriguez and a Heritage Grant provided by Arizona Game and Fish. With this grant teachers, students, and community partners are revitalizing the Cradleboard Interpretive Trail adjacent to the school. The ½ mile trail had fallen into disrepair, but now it is a functioning outdoor classroom.
              The children have written text in English and in Apache for interpretive signs along the trail, and they are using computer technology to create an audio narration in both languages that visitors will be able to access electronically as they walk the trail. Future plans include expanding the trail to ¾ of a mile and opening it to the public.  The project, scheduled for completion this December, interweaves language, culture, science, history, technology, and teamwork.
              It is monsoon season in Arizona’s White Mountains. Thunder rumbles in the distance, cold raindrops splash down and mist rises from the ground, illustrating the water cycle.  “My slogan is ‘no child left inside’,” says Susan Rodriguez. (Liz Blaker)

In a time where teachers are doing all they can to increase test scores, it can be as easy as "taking a hike".  Literally.  "Research shows that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50%", cites Abigail Wise in her article in the Huffington Post.

In my ten years plus in education, I have found that the students who tend to struggle in the classroom, tend to excel outdoors.  Gardner posited that we have multiple intelligences, yet we continue to test only one or two types.  Through the use of our interpretive trail, we have been able to take our students outside for learning opportunities.  Our new trail signs (paid for by a grant from our state lottery funds), will incorporate the new Next Generation Science Standards. But it's not all science on the trail.  Teachers also use the trail for writing, reading, and math.

Interested in setting up your own trail, but don't know where to start?  Stay tuned (by subscribing to this blog on the right sidebar) for a post about how to establish your own interpretive trail.

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