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 son in the classroom instead of learning outside,'"re- flected Christine Ishii and Angela Jochum, who are sharing the role of the school's Outdoor Learning Coordinators.
Since the students in Primary and Grade 1 classes are currently studying mass, these young global learn- ers head outside donned in colorful outdoor gear to collect items to weigh on a scale or balance on a seesaw. Together with teaching assistant, Alexander Jäkel, students turn construction wood planks into a shelf for their outside classroom space, further ex- panding their learning to include practice using a drill.
“What surprised us is how much the children bring to the learning and experiences through their dis- coveries and explorations. They are knowledgeable and curious about so much more than we may think,” says Ms. Ishii.
A Balanced Mix in the Right Setting
While the FISW campus is set in the countryside, the forest is not necessarily at their doorstep. After gear- ing up, students must walk approximately 1 km just to reach the forest’s edge, making it a time invest- ment. To further support and facilitate the outdoor learning initiative, the school decided to establish a dedicated outdoor learning space.
At FISW the pedagogy has shifted to regarding nature and outdoor learning environments as living classrooms where learning is purposeful and connected to the world.
A year ago, FISW developed an unused portion of its property, which looks out over a horse pasture. Investing in additional facilities and a new Outdoor Learning Assistant, Erik Oldenburger, makes it even easier for FISW teachers to regularly bring students out for shorter periods of time for different lessons.
Examples include the English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, who have seen value in language learning in the outdoors, explains Ms. Jochum.“When outside, students learning a new language are more in tune communicating with one another. They are not just sitting at a desk speaking. The multi-sen- sory learning makes language more relevant when someone asks for help constructing or solving a problem,” she says.
The“extended classroom”has also moved even closer to the school building. Many teachers have created outdoor spaces right outside their classrooms allow- ing students to flow in and out as needed during particular lessons.
From Grades 6–8 down to First Steps, FISW teachers are finding ways to integrate the outdoors into the lessons and move learning to the outdoors.“It’s great to be a school with a forest nearby,” says Ms. Bachl, who teaches middle school science and humanities.
“I have been able to take students out for observations and to collect samples for science. Being outdoors is also a great place for students to act out skits or have the space for quieter activities such as reading.”
Making Real-World Connections
Even with something as simple as a sledding event, the Primary and Grade 1 teachers managed to turn it into an opportunity. Teachers asked their young stu- dents what they should do since they did not have sleds. Students suggested building sleds, connect- ing to their unit of study about the property of ma- terials. Together they built and tested 10 different sled prototypes to determine which made it down the hill the fastest.“This is connecting their learning to the world in a very real and meaningful way that cannot be replicated in an indoor classroom.”
Ms. Jochum explains that the FISW team adapted a curriculum model of ‘identifying’ three components to outdoor learning. The first is learning for the out- doors, which includes learning to build a fire, camp, make a shelter, or develop other “outdoor”skills. The second is learning about the outdoors, which includes learning about the environment such as ecology or sustainability. The third is learning through the out- doors, which uses the outdoor space as a classroom where learning occurs.
“Being outside allows students to make real-world connections through experiences that they hope- fully will carry with them throughout their lives,” Ms. Bachl says.“There is only so much one can do within the walls of a school. Being outside allows students to explore further than a text or technology such as their computers would allow.”
The teachers delight not only in how the students are developing the critical thinking skills to be 21st century learners, but how supportive the parents continue to be. “We can see that when students are properly outfitted and prepared to go outside every- day to learn and get muddy,” says Mr. Bentley.
Linda Kerr FIS Parent
Students as young as First Steps utilize the outdoor space for learning and exploration
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