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Tips for Teaching Outdoors
You may have decided that teaching outdoors could be fun and exhilarating for your students, but are concerned about how to make it a success. Here are some basic principles you can follow whether you are planning a short outdoor jaunt to look at a beetle or a week-long educational excursion to observe animals, wade in streams or dig for archaeological relics.
Determine the purpose for teaching outdoors. For example, decide whether students are going to watch for birds they can identify by species name or are they going to watch for birds and then write down a description of them.
- Decide whether students will be observers or will they be participants, for example, by actually digging in dirt to find artifacts or plant a garden.
- Will they learn the value of teamwork, such as pitching a tent and setting up a camp?
Once goals have been established, prepare, prepare, prepare.
- Collect permission slips from parents.
- Visit and assess the site. If students will be listening to you lecture and give instructions, determine where they will sit so the sun is at their back allowing them to see you.
- Choose a risk-free site that has clear boundaries. For example, you do not want to take a large group of young children to an area that requires them to be careful about staying away from poison ivy or away from the edge of a cliff.
- Predict the weather as closely as possible. Be sure it will not be too cold, too hot, or too rainy so as to interfere with the lesson you are trying to teach.
- Make a drawing or take a picture of the site to show to students before the outing. Clarify areas that are off-limits as well as the specific areas where they will be working.
- Be sure you will have all necessary equipment with you. For example, will you need shovels for digging a garden, butterfly nets to capture insects, containers for any found artifacts and any other conceivable tool that the lessons might require.
- Include a first-aid kit and plenty of band-aids.
- Make a list of what students will need to bring such as: water, a lunch, sun block, umbrellas, notepads and pens, butterfly net, whistles, etc.
- Remind students to dress in comfortable shoes and clothes that they can get dirty.
- Be prepared for the unexpected and have an alternate plan ready. For example, the weather is predicted to be clear, warm and with lots of sunshine. Instead, you wake up to a cool, rainy day. Will you postpone the outing or take umbrellas? Your plan is to do bird-watching but the arrival of the students has scared all the birds away. Plan for an alternate activity.
Outdoor teaching strategies
Thoroughly educate yourself on the material you want to convey to the students and convey your own enthusiasm about the topic.
- Determine if you need the help of another teacher or expert in the outdoor topic you are teaching.
- Students who are outside expect to be there for hands-on experiences. Keep lectures short.
- Provide visual aids to enhance the experience.
- Share your own experiences on the subject matter with the students and encourage them to share theirs.
- Make your expectations clear. Be sure students know what you expect them to learn and what is required of them to prove they have learned it.
- Foster an environment that encourages questioning.
Evaluate the success of the experience
Review the experience for yourself and determine if the experience met your expectations. Make notes about anything that did not go well and that you want to address before another outdoor teaching experience.
- Make notes about what you believe went exceptionally well.
- Get feedback from students about their favorite part of the experience, their least favorite part of the experience as well as anything they would like to see changed for the next outdoor learning experience.