Why do high school students have fewer outdoor experiences than their younger counterparts? Some teachers cite a lack of resources while others point to the sheer amount of content needing to be covered in each course leaving limited time, if any at all, to bring their teenage students outdoors. Despite the obstacles, there are numerous benefits to combining the outdoors with classroom learning when teaching teens. Outdoor settings are ideal for cross-curricular learning that can help students make connections, enhance their skills across different subjects, and renew their enthusiasm.[i] Students can also develop their interpersonal skills by getting to know their class and teacher better through sharing outdoor experiences.
To better understand how outdoor learning might work in high schools, we spoke with five high school science teachers in Alberta, Canada who frequently use outdoor settings to engage their students. These teachers were chosen based on their use of the outdoors, and we found that they have the following things in common. For these teachers, the outdoors is viewed as an educational setting where students can apply their knowledge and develop a scientific lens to understand the world outside of school. Socially, they feel classroom dynamics improve after returning from an outdoor experience. For example, instead of students competing with one another, they help each other. In turn, the learning atmosphere becomes more positive and the classroom is more of a learning community rather than a group of individual learners. As well, each of these teachers uses outdoor settings to complement indoor learning, rather than to replace or displace it.
To help empower other high school educators, we asked each of these science teachers to share outdoor activities they find particularly effective. In the following, we provide a brief general description of how to do each activity with the understanding that each teacher has their own style of teaching and not all activities will be replicated identically. These examples are meant as a starting point to alter in whatever way the inspired teacher reading this article sees fit, rather than a specific set of “how to” instructions for each activity.
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