IT'S SPRING AND THE WARM WEATHER is nearly impossible to resist. For your students spring fever can lead to inattentiveness and a lack of concentration and productivity.
In fact, there is good reason for your students to want to be outside. Evidence suggests that outdoor education improves students' performance and can positively influence their behavior. Anecdotally, I can say that my sixth grade students always returned from their time outdoors with better concentration and focus.
However, it is a busy time of year and the next month is packed with exams, assemblies, and end-of-year activities, so if outdoor lessons aren't planned there may be little room for improvisation. But, if by chance you have some flexibility or find yourself with a free class period or two, we have chosen a few lessons that might be just right for you and your students.
While learning intensive, the lessons are fun and can be modified and adapted to meet your needs. We hope that you and your students enjoy the lessons and the benefits that outdoor education can bring to your classroom.
A, B, C...Word Search
In this lesson, students will use language arts skills to correctly identify objects or experiences that correspond to appropriate letters of the alphabet.
Aerodynamics of Seed Dispersal
In this lesson, students will use seeds from trees and flowers to study the concept of Bernoulli's Principal and aerodynamics. Step outside and use the school grounds or your school forest to study various seeds and their dispersal strategies related to physical science concepts.
In this lesson, students work in small groups to map features of a forest plot. Included in their data collection are the measurement, identification, and ageing of trees. As a large group, students compare their information and discuss unique features of the area.
Visit our LEAF curriculum pages, school forest site, or school grounds site for more lessons and outdoor education ideas.
LAST MONTH WE RECEIVED A GREAT COUNTERPOINT to the piece "Useful Apps for Outdoor Learning",
which focused on iPhone and iPad applications, or apps, to assist with
Wisconsin tree identification. The article was intended to showcase a few of
the apps our staff members have used and to help educators find a suitable
digital field guide for Wisconsin trees and shrubs. The counterpoint article,
summarizes a fascinating study, "Creativity in the Wild: Improving
Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings",
designed to evaluate participants' cognitive function after spending three days
immersed in nature without computers, phones, or other electronic devices. The
investigators concluded that experiencing nature without technological
distractions elevated participants' creativity and problem-solving skills by 50
percent. And while we were not surprised by the study's findings, it generated
a lot of discussion within the office about the place of technology in the
outdoor classroom and how to limit the interruptions it often causes.
Although the study was
inconclusive as to the exact cause of the cognitive advantage, the
investigators hypothesize that it was a combination of increased immersion in
nature and decreased exposure to distractive, "attention demanding"
technology. So, if teachers decide to take technology into the outdoors, how do
they reduce intrusions and interruptions?
Below are some of our
thoughts. They may seem obvious, but we hope they provide a good starting point
for those of you who decide to venture out with technology in tow.
- Have students turn off ringers
- this may be evident but it's worth mentioning... and will likely be
repeated more than once in class.
- Have copies of a printed tree
identification book (available
at the Wisconsin DNR's Education Connection web page) for students who use their
iPhone or iPad for anything other than the assigned task. The threat of
having to physically turn the pages of a dichotomous key should encourage
most students to turn off incoming communications for the class period.
- Limit the use of smartphones
and tablets to a predetermined time. Allow students to use their
devices only when the entire class has stopped for a discussion of a
certain species or topic. When you decide the time is right, set a time
limit and provide incentives for correct answers.
- Practice, practice, practice. This too, probably goes without
saying, but it is worth repeating. Don't assume that because your students
know their way around social media sites they'll know how to use a digital
dichotomous key or
Remember, technology is
relative to its time; the printed page was once high-technology and a similar
debate took place in the early twentieth century when the camera was seen as a
major intrusion to the burgeoning nature study movement. So, what seems
intrusive and foreign to many of us today will likely become a staple of
tomorrow's outdoor classroom. As with your indoor classroom, a little planning
goes a long way and regardless of where you stand on technology and the
outdoors, we hope you'll find time to take your students outside to learn.
WE ALL KNOW THAT TEACHERS, in addition
to teaching, are required to constantly keep up with and learn the
latest technologies. And, over the last few years this task has become
even more challenging with the advent of tablets and smartphones and the
(sometimes) wonderful things they help us do in the classroom. Once a
novelty, the iPad has become ubiquitous in our schools. And while the
iPad can be a very powerful tool for you and your students, the number
of apps, or applications, is overwhelming. So, to save
you some time and help prepare you for getting your students – and their
iPads and iPhones – outside this spring, we thought we’d share a few of
our favorite outdoor education apps.
Key to Woody Plants of Wisconsin Forests, a free iPad and iPhone app, authored by Catherine L. Woodward, Ph.D. UW-Madison Institute for Biology Education,
is a fantastic tool for identifying Wisconsin trees, shrubs, and vines.
Set up like a dichotomous key, the app includes 85 species of trees
and 57 species of shrubs and vines and includes native, exotic, and
invasive species. This free app was made possible by a grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board.
Leafsnap, developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution
contains beautiful high-resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruit,
petiole, seeds, and bark. Currently Leafsnap contains the trees of the
Northeast, but will soon include trees from the entire continental
United States. Visit their website
to see the tree species included in Leafsnap, the collections of its
users, and the team of research volunteers working to produce it.
TreeBook is the authoritative guide to 100 of the most common trees in North America, produced by veteran forester Steve Nix (of forestry.about.com fame),
and developed by Ash Mishra (developer of the very popular CBC Hockey
and CBC Radio apps). - description from the iTunes Store
by Chad Janowski
As you know, the opportunity to use hands-on technology and the chance
to get outside often excites and engages students. And, integrating the
Global Positioning System (GPS) into your classroom does just that.
However, as with any lesson, decide on your focus in advance. Is your
curriculum goal to teach students how to use GPS or is it simply a form
technology that you are using to collect data as part of another
lesson? Just like many other forms of technology we must sometimes
teach students how to use it, but then keep the focus on the curriculum
that we need to teach. If your lesson focus is the GPS technology, then
it is understandable that you would go into detail about the satellites
and how GPS works. Otherwise, keep the focus on the learning
objectives and treat the GPS like any other lab equipment.
GPS is a tool that can be used in all grade levels and in many
disciplines. However, by no means should you feel it necessary to add
GPS lessons to an already jam-packed curriculum. Instead, evaluate how
GPS utilization can enhance existing lessons. In many cases GPS can
provide a way to get students interested in collecting information about
their communities and provide real-world context to the curriculum. A
sampling of potential lessons are included below:
• Elementary students learning about maps can use GPS to mark the
perimeter and locations of playground equipment. When students begin to
learn about the coordinate systems, they could estimate the coordinates
of a feature on a map, then navigate to the estimated location to
determine how far off they were.
• When studying geography, students can locate local landmarks, historic sites, and geological features.
• Environmental science students participating in water quality
monitoring can save locations of sample sites for mapping and data
analysis. When plotted on a map, students can then hypothesize about
differences in data from different locations.
• Students could assist in monitoring the spread of invasive species,
by plotting the extent or garlic mustard or purple loosestrife.
• Forestry or horticulture students can save locations of trees and
shrubs on the school grounds or a local park. They can then identify
the species, monitor growth and health.
• Social studies students can mark vacant lots, or businesses in town
and compare to other socioeconomic factors to look for trends in
• Physical Education students can use GPS receivers to collect data
on maximum and minimum speeds when walking, running, or biking. They
could be also used to plan routes and calculate distances.
• While Geocaching by itself, seems to lack substantive educational
value, there are ways to modify this hobby to give it a cognitive kick.
Coordinates could be used to guide students and visitors on an
educational expedition in the community, at a local park, or even a
school forest. They could lead students to different outdoor learning
stations. They could even be used for virtual field trips using Google
Maps or Google Earth.
• Large-scale art is possible with GPS drawing. Students create
works of art by utilizing the tracking feature in a GPS. The Earth then
becomes their canvas.
In most cases, mapping of GPS coordinates can simply be accomplished in
Google Maps. Coordinates can simply be typed in the search box (N51
34.234 W114 32.124). Google maps will plot the location and mark it
with a temporary pin. Maps and locations can be saved and shared with
others when logged in to a Google account. More advanced users of GPS
may also utilize GIS (Geographic Information Systems) for plotting
locations. GIS requires more training but provides powerful analytical
tools for combining student collected data with data available from
other sources, including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,
NRCS Soil Surveys, and much more.
When instructing the students, keep it simple – don’t go over
instructions for features that are not necessary for student’s to use.
Put simple instructions for basic operations (i.e. saving a waypoint,
navigating to a waypoint) on notecards attached to clipboards. Try to
use the basic terminology that applies to all makes and models of GPS.
This will ensure that the skills that they gain in your class are
transferable to other classes, at home, or on the job. If possible, try
to partner students who have experience with GPS with novices. Ask the
novice to take charge of the GPS and the experienced partner to serve
as a coach.
Starting all GPS units prior to class and having them lock in to your
location will save wait time for the students. If the GPS units are
always used in the same general area this should not take long. If a
scout group on a camping trip in Canada used them last, it could take as
much as 15 minutes for some older GPS models to lock in to a new
location. Turing them on before the students use them will also allow
you to check the batteries and ensure that all units and other settings
are still as you wish. Always be certain to have extra batteries on
by Gretchen Marshall
WAEE conference participants who chose to attend the field
trip to the Southern Door School Forest were treated to a beautiful fall
afternoon. We were guided on a tour through the forest by elementary principal Laurie
Connell and school forest coordinator Mike Toneys. The 50 acre property
contains a diversity of habitats including a mixed hardwood forest, field,
pond, spruce plantation, and cave. This forest has some of the largest beech
trees I have ever seen! Trails run throughout the entire property and are
clearly marked on the sign located at the entrance to the forest.
What are students learning about at the forest? Here is a
snippet of a few of the things we discovered: Students and teachers gravitate
toward the pond to study the living organisms that inhabit it. There are a
handful of crudely constructed wildlife observation blinds that high school
students use to collect data. Beginning in elementary school, each student
receives a plot of land to study and collect data about each year. By the time
the students reach high school, they have ten to twelve years’ worth of
research data. What a great longitudinal study!
Facilities on the property include a nature center and sugar
shack for maple syrup production. The nature center is a beautifully
refurbished farm building. This enclosed shelter is a place for classes to
gather and provides storage for supplies.
One of the most unique features of the school forest site is
the cave. While it is not accessible to students or staff, the Southern Door School
proudly boasts of its future environmental benefits. The cave entrance is
sealed, but has the potential to help rejuvenate the Wisconsin bat population currently
under threat from disease.
The Southern Door forest is a diverse property that hosts
excellent learning opportunities for the students and teachers who are fortunate
to be a part of this community. If you would like further information about the
Southern Door School Forest or its educational programming, please contact Mike
Toneys at email@example.com.
by Sarah Gilbert
With a vision for what could be and a WEEB grant, teacher Susie Hobart and the staff of Lake View Elementary
in Madison are off to a great start in using their school site to
teach. The school sits in a residential area of Madison and has a wooded
area with old oaks along with mixed hardwood trees right outside their
doors. The teachers are already using the site, but a WEEB grant allows them to improve the site and provide professional development for teachers. That’s where LEAF comes in. LEAF
is lucky enough to be included in the grant to provide guidance for
their curriculum planning and knowledge of teaching outdoors. We’re
excited to be involved!
Last week LEAF staffers Gretchen Marshall and Sarah
Gilbert conducted a short in-service to get the teachers familiar with
their site. The weather wasn’t on board with the plan, however, so our
walk through the woods to observe and journal turned into a one minute
observation from the window and three minutes to journal about what they
saw. After sharing those observations we did a “telephone”
hike in the school. We began in a single-file line. Each teacher was
given information about something in the hall that they could share with
the rest of the group as they walked by. With just a quick walk down
the hall, a forest products and values lesson was at our fingertips.
Either of these techniques can be used in any setting – a forest, a
small woods, a school yard with only grass and a few trees, and even the
school itself! These might even be great activities to get a group that
isn’t used to being outside in practice for a field trip by doing them
first in the school building they are comfortable with.
by Gretchen Marshall
The Superior school forests sits on 700 acres of land
approximately 20 minutes from the city of Superior. Recent revitalization of
the program has allowed over 2,000 students to visit the forest each year. As
with many districts who need to travel from their schools to outlying school
forest sites, transportation costs are an issue.
Superior school forest coordinator Lori Danz has developed a
creative community fundraising program. Through the “Flock to the Forest”
program, local area businesses are asked to donate money to cover student field
trip costs. In return for sponsoring field trip transportation to the forest
for students, the local businesses receive a “Proud Sponsor of Flock to the
Forest: Superior School Forest” sticker and window decal to proudly display in
their window or storefront. What a great way to gain community support for your
school forest program!
The school forest also had a neat portable challenge course,
recently renovated classroom space, and is working on archaeological dig
activities for the students. If you have questions or would like more
information about the Superior school forest, please contact Lori Danz Lori.Danz@superior.k12.wi.us.
by Gretchen Marshall
The Nels P. Evjue School Forest, owned by the Merrill Area Public
Schools, recently received a WEEB (Wisconsin Environmental Education Board)
grant and generous donations to add a windmill to their school forest property.
The windmill generates the power to aerate the pond. Previously, the pond could
not support fish life. With the aeration capability now in place, the pond is
stocked with fish, and teachers have developed curriculum to support this
Recently I was able to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony
for the Pond Project. It was refreshing to hear students reflect on why the
school forest is important to them and what they have learned at the
forest. Sixth grade students spent a
portion of their day learning to fish and trying to catch the newly stocked
fish. Once caught, the goal was to record the number and size (in centimeters)
of each fish caught. For many of these students, it was their first time
fishing. What a wonderful learning and recreational opportunity!
If you would like further information about the Merrill
school forest or their Ponder the Pond Project, please contact Mary Wendorf at Mary.Wendorf@maps.k12.wi.us.
by Gretchen Marshall
The Shell Lake School Forest hosted a Log A Load for Kids
event which was sponsored by the Northwest Chapter of the Wisconsin Professional
Loggers Association. The mission of the Log A Load for Kids program is to raise
fund for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
This two day event hosted approximately 1100 students from
schools throughout Northwest Wisconsin. Students toured the forest and
participated in various lessons reflecting on wildlife found in our forests,
harvesting timber with horses, how power machines cut trees, and so much more.
Students were able to witness a timber harvest taking place in real time and
understand the economic importance of Wisconsin’s forest resource.
For more information about Log A Load for Kids, please
contact the professional loggers association in your region of the state.
What Is the LEAF School Grounds Program?
What Do Outdoor Teaching Sites Look Like?
LEAF and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental
Education (WCEE) continue to expand their support of outdoor education with
the LEAF School Grounds Program. Viewing school grounds as part
of the larger urban forest, the program serves as a resource for Wisconsin
schools seeking ways to use their school grounds as outdoor teaching sites. The
program was designed to help teachers discover teaching and learning
opportunities that exist right outside the school doors. Whether a school site
is in need of just being used, or needs an overhaul, the program has resources
and tips on how to “Open the door and step outside.”
about any space can be used to get students learning outside. Several trees,
one tree, an open grassy area, a flower bed, a vegetable garden, even a parking
lot can all be used to teach.
Educational Benefits of Outdoor Education:
has proven that outdoor learning provides many benefits, from improved academic
performance and classroom behavior to strengthened community and family
In-Services & Workshops:
LEAF’s expert staff will come to your school to help you assess your site and
determine how best to use the site to teach and learn. To Request an in-service complete this form.
educators can find information on how to get students outdoors to learn, even
if it is just outside their door. Provides three entry points depending
on comfort level:
Outside helps those just getting started,
Your Site assists those who are looking for ways to improve their existing
Your Site will help you build your dream outdoor teaching site.
To request an in-service or workshop please complete this FORM
For other inquiries, please contact Sarah Gilbert at Sarah.Gilbert@uwsp.edu