- Thousand Oaks High School in California has started constructing an outdoor classroom that taps into technology, which will allow students to use the space as a learning center throughout the school year, District Administration reports.
- The pilot project is in partnership with Schneider Electric, which is financing the building and design of the space for the Conejo Valley Unified School District, but will be allowed to market the finished space to other districts as part of the deal.
- The classroom is expected to be ready for use this year and will have solar paneling on its roof, as well as LED lights, a touchscreen display and outdoor charging areas for devices. Outdoor furniture will also be employed and can be moved around depending on the need, ranging from science to art classes.
The idea of an outdoor classroom is something districts and schools pursued even before the pandemic upended the way students learn. From a preschool’s use of a community garden to learn about healthy eating habits to beehives on campus at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, schools have long tapped into outside space, whether it’s on their own grounds or even a child’s own backyard, expanding the very concept of a classroom.
COVID-19 has forced educators to get creative, as well — particularly with many schools still relegated to digital-only spaces for teaching and learning. In those situations, the outdoors have also proven a fruitful resource, with students using their own backyards for lessons on plants, insects or animals. Entire classrooms have moved outside, as well.
However, geography can play a big role in how long an outdoor learning environment can be tapped. While a high school class can continue to use a school garden in Hayward, California, year-round, one in Green Bay, Wisconsin — which gets an average seasonal snowfall of 40 to 50 inches a year — may have more trouble.
Weather differences may require that teachers adapt how they use the outdoors in their teaching, but it doesn’t preclude sending a class outside. For example, educators can take advantage of frozen temperatures by having students freeze edible items they find outside, from berries to seeds, and see how animals engage with them. Students can even head out after a fresh snowfall to analyze animal tracks, or they can study how plants and trees change in the winter months, learning how to identify them during this season. Changing seasons can also serve as a lesson about the weather itself for younger students, and physical education classes can shift to winter activities with options from cross-country skiing to snowshoeing, if resources allow.
Through these options, schools can continue to lean on the outdoors for learning, regardless of geographic location and the duration of COVID-19's impact to the educational system in the months ahead.