Huge congratulations to Alice Wagner, 6th grade science teacher at Elton Gregory Middle School for being awarded the Teacher of the Month Award for May! This spring, Alice took on the enormous task of planning field studies at Smith Rock State Park for the 6th graders at Elton Gregory. With help from her fellow teachers and the Redmond “DCF team”, Alice wrote curriculum, recruited volunteers, gathered field equipment, and organized logistics for 7 trips to Smith Rock! We want to thank Alice for her hard work and also for sharing some thoughts on why outdoor learning is so important.
Right away, there is a big increase in student enthusiasm and engagement in the curriculum and learning process. It’s one thing to talk about ecological interactions in the classroom, but quite another to actually go and discover evidence of these interactions first-hand, in the outdoors. Whether its seeing a garter snake hunting around a pond, finding a deer carcass, or looking closely at the structure of lichen with a magnifying glass, these immediate experiences bring science to life….we get a kind of connection, a ‘wow factor’ that’s hard to duplicate in the classroom. Our hope is that these memorable experiences provide a foundation of interest and curiousity that will fuel future learning both outdoors and in the classroom.
Did you notice any changes in your students while they were at Smith Rock, or after the trip?
Well, for starters, we didn’t have ANY students absent on either of the days that my two classes went to Smith Rock! Also, for many of my more energetic kids and non-traditional learners, getting to move around more and being in a small group really increased some student’s ability to focus. It’s a great boost to their confidence to have this successful learning experience. It’s also a valuable lesson to peers to see that there are lots of ways to learn, and that some qualities that can be problematic in an indoor setting may become strengths in a small group, outdoor classroom.
Since the trip, it has been neat to use that experience as a link to what we are learning in the classroom….for instance, we might talk about parasitism, and hands will go up to remind the class about the insect galls that we observed, or about mistle-toe. Even during our break time, I have noticed kids identifying local wildlife, like turkey vultures, and speculating about what they might be scavenging for.
This sixth grade program was a pilot project and next year we hope to expand to invite sixth grade classes from Obsidian Middle School and the two community schools. Beyond this, I think that all of us on the Redmond DCF team would really like to see outdoor learning experiences developed for all levels, elementary, middle & high school. With that said, I think that we are all cognizant of the fact that taking the time to find out what educators want and rolling out well-organized programs will be really important. Additionally, we are excited about the possibility of working with DCF and the City of Redmond to discuss ways that the Dry Canyon can be used as an outdoor classroom, providing opportunities that don’t require transportation and that can be more on-going.
Thanks Alice for bringing your passion for outdoor learning to the students of Elton Gregory and for your support of the Deschutes Children’s Forest!