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  • Writer's pictureLidia

Outdoor Education and Environmental Inquiry

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with so many teachers, student teachers, and educational assistants! I have learned so much from them and they have learned from me. One of the biggest questions teachers ask about inquiry is...


HOW DO I START INQUIRY WITH MY STUDENTS?


In the beginning stages of my inquiry journey, inquiry in my classroom was very surface level and didn't have a lot of depth to it. One could argue that it wasn't even inquiry at all. In 2015, one of my close teacher friends took the leap and moved from grade 5 down to kindergarten. Naturally, at first, I thought she was insane, but if she did not move to Kindergarten I don't think I would have been able to see inquiry at its fullest potential.


I love talking to teachers, collaborating and learning more about inquiry, how to get started and what the benefits of it are for your students. If I am asked the question HOW DO I START INQUIRY WITH MY STUDENTS? I say... If you are new to inquiry, my suggestion to you is... take time out of your day to visit and talk to an amazing Kindergarten teacher who is doing inquiry! I began truly learning about what inquiry actually looks like through my friends teaching Kindergarten.


When I transferred to a new school, I was lucky enough to meet yet another amazing kindergarten teacher who was doing amazing things with inquiry. I looked to these teachers for inspiration and learning because the FDK program (in Ontario) is a great representation of what inquiry could look like. At this point in my inquiry journey, when people ask me what my classroom is like, I often say that I try to resemble the FDK program at a Junior level. So, what does that have to do with the topic of this blog post? A large component of the FDK program is outdoor education and exploration, so why not bring that into your primary, junior and intermediate classrooms?


Outdoor education provides an abundance of resources and materials for supporting the learning of your students in

ALL SUBJECT areas.

While engaged in outdoor education, students are put into an environment full of wonders. It's an authentic way to get students making scientific observations that can be brought back to the learning environment to be further explored.


So where do I start with my students? Outside. Always outside. If I'm being totally honest, I don't even like the outside but FOR THE SAKE OF INQUIRY, I suck it up, I deal with the heat and bring my class outside. Do we go outside to learn everyday, NO definitely not, but I do try to bring them out into the community to get the inquiry ball rolling. So much awesome learning happens when you bring your students outside. You don't need to take them far, learning can happen on the grass field students run on at recess, the park across the street, or even the path at the back of the playground that connects to a subdivision of houses. This could be your first PROVOCATION.


I believe that the first step to starting an inquiry is to EXPLORE.


Let your students explore the passions and interests they have. Not every student will be interested in the outdoors (as I said, I don't even like it) but that's not why we go outside. If you approach outdoor learning through play, exploration, and discussion, the questions and curiosity will occur naturally.


There are only four things you as the teacher need to do while engaging in outdoor education for your first provocation:

  1. Bring your students to an area that is rich with discoveries.

  2. Let them explore, play a game that sparks questions or discussions

  3. Be engaged in the discoveries yourself, walk with your students, talk to them, point things out

  4. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN

The Curriculum connection to nature:


I have mentioned several times that Science is where I begin when I plan for inquiry. Our science curriculum can be YOUR GATEWAY into inquiry. When you and your students are engaging in outdoor education or outdoor provocations, the questions they ask will almost always connect to something in Science. It is your job as the teacher to make that connection. In Ontario, there are four strands of Science but the two strands I get the ball rolling with are:


Understanding Life Systems and

Understanding Earth & Space Systems


In my experience, when looking at the curriculum document for Science, I try to think about what area my students will have the most prior knowledge. You want to start with something that is familiar to them when engaging in inquiry. This makes the first steps of inquiry run a lot smoother because sometimes when you don't know anything about a topic its harder to ask questions about it. This is why I believe picking the Natural Sciences as your starting point is a good idea. It is very likely that most, if not all of your students have had some exposure to the natural world. Whereas, that might not be the case when it comes to having meaningful prior knowledge of Structures and Mechanisms and Matter and Energy.


We are always keeping student choice and student voice at the centre of all learning. But in the beginning stages of inquiry, your learning is going to be more STRUCTURED. With that in mind, student choice is important but that does not mean teachers shouldn't be thinking about what possible questions our students might have.


I have compiled a list and created a document that shares possible questions students might have during outdoor education. These are questions I have heard my students ask me and also possible questions students might ask while prompted or engaging in exploration outside.


I have taken these questions and connected them to one of the Science strands I mentioned above. The document is organized from grade 1 to grade 8. There can be some overlapping questions that are happening but that is just the nature of our Science curriculum. The goal of this document is to put educators in the student's shoes. This document will give you an idea of what to listen for so you already know exactly where it will connect to your science curriculum!


(You can view and access this document on my TpT by clicking the image to the left.)



Outdoor Education during the first few weeks of school:


The first few weeks of school is a crucial time in determining how your classroom will run. Teachers spend so much time going over routines and procedures, which is very important, but we need to remember that these 2-3 weeks will also model how learning will be happening in your room. Community building is more than just name games and personality games. Outdoor learning creates a strong community when it is purposeful. This is why I try to take my students outside daily or at least every other day at the beginning of the school year. I create learning and exploration games, scavenger hunts, or even just play "I spy with my little eye". Create learning opportunities where students have a chance to build community while also exploring their curiosities in an authentic way.


Do not force the learning. You don't want to bring students outside and say "Okay, go explore. When you have a question come tell me". Instead of saying that, play hide and seek and when the game is over gather in a circle and ask, "Did anyone notice anything weird or cool out on the playground when you were hiding? Did you feel the tree trunk? You were hiding in a bush, what did it smell like?" Ask them questions, listen to their response, help them form questions they have, and open up a forum for discussion.


As the educator, you want to open your student's eyes to the world around them. If you engage in these meaningful outdoor learning activities, having discussions and time for reflection, day after day, voicing curiosities and questions will become easier and more natural for your students.


- Lidia




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