In our classrooms, our students are engaged in 21st century learning that incorporates technology into almost every lesson. Technology allows us to solve real world problems quickly and efficiently while communicating globally. With our students constantly using technology and connecting with the outside world, are we losing touch with our outside environment? Over the past two school years, I worked with my Administration, Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and the Nutley Educational Foundation to assure that our students extend their learning outside of our building with an outdoor classroom.
As part of our school’s mission to promote civic responsibility in our students and learn to work outside of the classroom, this outdoor space is helping us to achieve our goals. In our very near future, I foresee a beautiful outdoor classroom for out students to learn but also a space that they will learn to protect. Students that have opportunities to connect with nature in their natural environment will learn the importance of protecting their local environments. This small step can lead to students thinking about their own impact on the environment and what they can do to promote changes big and small in their own backyard and globally. How does this outdoor classroom stand to help students achieve in school? I think it can help in several ways. In one study I read about involving 24 grade 3 students, two classes were given different indoor and outdoor treatments to address the same topic in Science. Quantitative data was collected and indicated that when given a treatment of both indoor and outdoor experiences, the students performed equally as well with similar pre and post-test scores. Qualitatively, students overwhelmingly favored the outdoor learning experience with 75% of class A favoring the outdoor experience while 68% of class B favored this as well. When students have the opportunity to learn outside the classroom they become a part of their community and will learn to protect their environment. They can also spend time learning about the history in our parks, the old mill productions, Annie Oakley, Red Cross, Lenni Lenape Indians and the Puritans that once were dispersed through out our parks area. Students will have great interdisciplinary opportunities to engage in environmental studies and water quality in Science, find area and perimeter for a Mathematics class, write a poem while surrounded by nature in Language Arts, play music, paint, and any and everything you can imagine the space will be able to provide an outlet for us. As an educator for ten years, I also see the potential of an exciting new opportunity for students to explore in as something fresh that students will want to also learn in.
Working to create this outdoor classroom for Nutley Schools is something that I am most proud of. My teaching career has been filled with wonderful experiences and this has been by far the largest impact that I can have on my local community. I know that students will enjoy this space for years to come. During my graduate studies I have strengthened my own resolve to pursue Administration as I am looking to make greater contributions to my local school and community. In the classroom, I get to work with approximately 20 students at a time and while each experience is unique and presents its’ own challenges, I am very interested in building relationships when working with an entire student body and community. According to Rubin (2009), “relationship management is what a collaborative leader does. It is the purposeful exercise of behavior, communication, and organizational resources to affect the perspective, beliefs, and behaviors of another person (generally a collaborative partner) to influence that person’s relationship with you and your collaborative enterprise.” (p.2) The supportive environment that I have worked in during this process has also allowed me to value the collaboration and resolve it takes to get things done right. I will take this experience with me as I work on my next challenge “outside” of the classroom.
Dhanapal, S. s., & Cally Cheng Yee, L. (2013) A comparative study of the impacts and students’ perceptions of indoor and outdoor learning in the science classroom. Asia-Pacific Forum On Science Learning & Teaching, 14(2), 1-23.
Rubin, H. (2009). Collaborative Leadership (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.