School grounds can offer a plethora of resources for educators to pull from when teaching concepts in the natural sciences and beyond.
Outdoor spaces can be used to augment science lessons with hands-on opportunities in topics ranging from plant life cycles to meteorology, said Alicia Conerly, president-elect of the National Science Teaching Association and instructional specialist for the Marion County School District in Mississippi. Standards from disciplines including math and English language arts can also be integrated to expand students’ learning across subject areas.
For instance, lessons can integrate English language arts standards for informational texts, Conerly said. And math standards are “embedded wherever measurements, calculations, and orders of operations are needed.”
While educators can use some parts of a school ground like a lunchroom or hallway for lessons relatively easily, others may take a greater investment of time and resources to create learning experiences in. Outdoor classroom activities can include options such as campus beehives or school gardens.
Conerly noted that school gardens can offer students a way to learn about plant life cycles and even sustainable gardening. Nature trails or walkways adjacent to a school can give students a window into the natural habitats of animals and plant life. And educators can set up weather stations on school grounds to collect data on details like wind speed and humidity.
“Students can monitor and analyze this data, learning about meteorology and climate science,” Conerly said. “They can also compare their school's weather data with other schools or regions.”
But Conerly also said that when tapping school grounds for use as alternate classrooms, educators should be mindful that the areas are not just accessible but also secure for students to explore.
“Remember, safety should always be a priority when conducting any science experiments or activities,” Conerly said. “Ensure that proper safety measures and supervision are in place, and consult with science teachers or professionals for guidance if needed.”