Building Student Engagement Outdoors

This year, my class participated in International Outdoor Classroom Day on May 17, 2018. Teachers of over 1,700,000 children in 18,000 schools around the world pledged to take their students outdoors to learn.

Watch this brief video to see my students creating equal groups of rocks with sidewalk chalk as an introduction to multiplication and division in first grade math.

Check out sites like Project Learning Tree and iNaturalist for resources on how to incorporate nature into the school day. Two huge benefits of moving teaching outside of the classroom walls are:

1. Changes of Scenery Heighten Engagement

Honestly, at this point in the spring, switching locations for half of our math block and getting into the warm sunshine really helped my students to focus and stay engaged. We have less than a week of school remaining, and attention can be a bit scattered. Of course, this can apply at any point in the year - even when rainy or snowy if students are appropriately attired. While it is true that for some, being outdoors is more distracting, I believe that overall it increased student buy-in for the lesson. Also, I did not teach a brand new concept while outside; rather, I offered practice opportunities using different materials than those used indoors.

2. Curiosity and Connections Come Naturally

Students' brains are working overtime as they are stimulated by their environment. The tactile effects of picking up textured rocks and chalk fire up neural pathways. Moving and talking (yes, using "outdoor voices") help those who learn better in a kinesthetic style. Students noticed connections to rock types from a past science unit, and showed interested in bugs and birds. Many students were also excited that they could easily replicate this activity at home with the same materials.

 Students used the school grounds to inspire poems.  Photo by Alison Travis

Students used the school grounds to inspire poems. Photo by Alison Travis

 Students write nature-inspired poetry in nature!  Photo by Alison Travis

Students write nature-inspired poetry in nature! Photo by Alison Travis

 First graders participate in Outdoor Classroom Day Spring 2018.  Photo by Alison Travis .

First graders participate in Outdoor Classroom Day Spring 2018. Photo by Alison Travis.

We've also gone outside recently to do our daily picture book read-aloud, to practice addition and subtraction math facts with chalk, to write poems inspired by nature, and to check out our habitat and what is in it. I encourage you to get outside with your students in ways large and small - and to plan for the next Outdoor Classroom Day on November 1, 2018 by checking out lesson plans and resources.