Outdoor Classrooms as STEM Learning Environments
I would like to encourage STEM activists to consider installing outdoor classrooms in their schoolyards. STEM professionals understand that hands-on experiential learning not only increases student engagement but also results in higher knowledge retention rates for students. A typical outdoor classroom may include gardens, habitat areas, trees, renewable energy demonstrations, water flow systems, weather stations, compost bins, bird feeders and more. The capital costs for an outdoor classroom are modest compared to most bricks and mortar school construction projects and the OC can be designed and installed in phases so that the design process is itself an opportunity for STEM education. The outdoor classroom gives students a chance to interact on a regular basis with elements of the natural world, introduces the fundamentals of systems thinking through a mini-ecosystem, and offers an alternative to text based instruction for students with different learning styles. My own hypothesis is that experiential learning activities may be especially helpful for students who are English language learners and for kids where reading is not a high priority at home - in short, those who comprise the so-called Achievement Gap. I look forward to the day where outdoor classrooms are as ubiquitous as a school's auditorium, cafeteria, library or computer room. Of course, it is up to all of us to make this happen, both at the local level and as a matter of education reform and public policy - let's start thinking outside the walls and see what kinds of innovative steps we can take. This is not only a matter of science education but also of education science. We owe it to our kids and communities to give young people the best and broadest education possible.
For more information on green schoolyard development visit http://greenschoolyardnetwork.org.