So both Shaylin and I have talked at length about different ways teachers have and can continue to take their students outside and the lessons be enhanced by students using networked technologies, but I realize we haven’t yet formally presented why outdoor education is beneficial (or even necessary) in a formalized school setting.
When recommending the other thesis paper I wrote a blog post about, Dr Valerie Irvine also recommended that my group read another thesis paper written by a UVic Masters of Education alumni wrote entitled “The Benefits of Placed-Based Learning Initiatives in K-12 Schools”. At first glance, I passed this project off as irrelevant to our project, as it does not explicitly discuss how technology might be blended with outdoor education. However, I now realize that to understand how networked technologies and outdoor education may be brought together, we as a group need to know why we support both outdoor education and the use of technology in a formal educational setting. It would also be beneficial for us to know the benefits and disadvantages to using both with students individually before assessing the benefits and drawbacks of marrying outdoor and technological education with students.
A Matter of Definitions
Besides the benefits of taking student learning outside of the classroom, something from this thesis paper that stands out to me is how the writer defines different catch words the educational community has used to describe taking students outdoors for educational purposes. I now see that what I meant when I’ve written “outdoor education” actually more closely resembles “place-based education”, which can be defined as “tak[ing] place on or near the school grounds and us[ing] the natural environment and the outdoor setting for learning” (p. 16). Conversely, “outdoor education” is more about taking students on a multi-day trek or camping trip into the wilderness and learning in that setting, which is relatively unrealistic for a group of elementary students. So I’m committing to now use the term “place-based education” when describing our project instead of “outdoor education”.
Positives of Place-Based Education
So without further ado, this is what this thesis paper “The Benefits of Place-Based Learning Initiatives in K-12 Schools” states are some reasons we all might want to take an extra look at incorporating place-based education into our classrooms:
- It gives students an experience they otherwise couldn’t find within the four walls of a classroom
- It lets students be the children they are in their love for discovery
- It allows students to build connections with their peers, as the outdoors is typically a less teacher-managed environment
- It can be tailored to students of all ages and ranges of abilities
- It requires active engagement from the students
- It breaks down the sometimes perceived hierarchical teacher/student relationship, as teachers are given permission to let students explore and be (relatively) free
- It allows students to change their persona: “A child can develop a new identity as a capable learner” (p. 29)
- It allows students to connect with nature, thus helping them understand the world around them and be shaped by nature
- It lets teachers change their persona and get out of the constricted classroom setting, increasing their happiness and thus the happiness of those around them (okay, I may have embellished on this point a bit)
- It gives students’ eyes a break from staring at the screen of their iDevice or a classroom computer, which is detrimental to anyone’s health with prolonged usage
- It positively affects students’ development
- Being outdoors and in nature is therapeutic, and many scholars have found being outdoors beneficial for our mental health
- It encourages students to be active, when they are typically very sedentary within school-time hours, therefore not receiving nearly as much daily physical activity than is recommended
- It helps students manage conflict in the classroom better
- It connects and helps students appreciate the community more
- It can help teach students the importance of respecting the environment
- It encourages students to use all their senses to learn
- Research has shown it increases students’ motivation to learn
- Research has shown that it causes a positive increase in student engagement with the material
Connection to the New B.C. Curriculum
I see taking students into the great outdoors and letting it be their teacher as interacting with the new B.C. curriculum in multiple ways. First of all, I feel it lends itself to inquiry-based learning, as students could just be let to explore the plant or creature life of the area the teacher takes them to.
I also see “place-based education” addressing parts of the “Positive Personal and Cultural Identity”, “Personal Awareness and Responsibility”, and especially the “Social Responsibility” Curricular Competencies as students could have the opportunities to learn more about their strengths and their culture as they explore a new area or way of learning, grow in independence as they explore what in nature they would like to learn about, engage in activities that are beneficial to their overall well-being, and learn how they can take care of the environment.
Though I have heard about “place-based education” before, I am much more interested in finding ways to incorporate that into my future lessons as an educator one day after reading a bit of this UVic Masters of Education alumni’s thesis! Who knows, maybe I’ll lead a lesson with a group of students as part of my upcoming practicum!
Thanks for reading! I hope that reading this article has also peaked your interest in this topic as much as it has mine.