Taking on the Take Me Outside for Learning Challenge: A teacher’s perspective
August 1, 2019
I love being outdoors, and as I have gained teaching experience I have learned how to navigate the barriers of taking students outside, and have come to a place in my career where learning outside has been enjoyable and effective. Teachers, if you are at the planning or brainstorming phase for the upcoming school year, I highly recommend you to consider participating in the nation-wide Take Me Outside for Learning Challenge. Before I jump into the details of this great initiative, I’ll discuss two strategies for the planning phases of taking your classroom outside.
1. The Outdoors as a Resource for Curricular Content
Take a deep dive into your curriculum! Many subject areas include content that can be authentically studied by going outdoors. For example, studying the school flowerbed, making observations about a nearby stream, or inferring how organisms are linked. Going outdoors doesn’t necessarily mean focusing on nature: you could connect the content to urban planning, social responsibility, or identifying geometric shapes in architecture. When I begin to think of taking my students outdoors, the first thing I do is use the curriculum as my guide. I identify the links to how the outdoors can be a resource for teaching, and I begin to plan my outdoor experiences from there. One of my favourite outdoor lessons was on World War II, where we did a lesson and played a tag-like game on the sand at the local beach to give the students an idea of some of the difficulties faced at the Normandy beaches on D-Day.
2. Using the Outdoors as a ‘Setting’
One thing my classroom never seems to have enough of is space! Going outside can instantly give you room for groups to work, to play a game, to execute icebreakers, or give students personal space to silently read or complete work. In my experience, students often enjoy simply ‘switching it up’, why not do math with sidewalk chalk, or use the schoolyard to inspire writing or art? On a beautiful spring day one of my colleagues moved their entire classroom (desks and all!) to an unused green space where they continued business as usual. Using the outdoors as a setting doesn’t necessarily need to be planned well in advance, at the bottom of my lesson plan I have a space for ‘how to go outside’ and on the day before I can see if it will work out.
The ‘Take Me Outside’ Challenge
Each year I participate in Take Me Outside Day, and when information about the ‘CBEEN Take Me Outside’ Learning Challenge landed in my inbox, I was very excited. This year, the Learning Challenge will be supported by Take Me Outside and will be nation-wide. For the challenge, teachers commit to taking their classes outside one day per week throughout the school year. I found the commitment to be fairly easy to execute, especially with some extra support. Take Me Outside will circulate a monthly tip sheet about outdoor teaching, be it activity suggestions, research tidbits on the benefits of going outdoors and ways to communicate to parents, administrators, etc. They will also have an on-line forum for sharing information between teachers so we can help support and assist each other.
Another great support was my local administration: if I had questions, or was unsure of a protocol they were there to provide answers. If you’re a teacher looking to take your class outside for perhaps the first time, I recommend talking to your admin team, and teachers in your building who take their students outdoors regularly. I’d also suggest reaching out to outside specialist groups that can be a huge ally!
Taking students outside regularly has so many benefits – I’m excited to see teachers across the country take up the challenge so we can give more students these great outdoor experiences!
Kate Porter is an educator in Cranbrook, British Columbia. She has experience teaching elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students, and has had opportunities to teach elaborate outdoor education programs in the area. She currently teaches core subjects at the middle school level.