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Outdoor Inquiry - How do we provide meaningful outdoor experiences for student learning?

Session 1
Sandra Marr — The Collegiate School, Richmond, VA

Outdoor education helps students connect with lessons differently in several important ways. First, being outside gives students a richer sensory experience than a classroom can. Physical and emotional feelings associated with movement, sounds, weather and smells can imprint a story with class content. This first-person storytelling can be a powerful tool for learning. For example, I took college students to a river in winter. While in waders, they plunged their arms into frigid waters to collect snails. The safe discomfort etched the experience into student memories and helped them better understand environmental factors that affect aquatic organisms.

Another way outdoor education serves student learning is by getting students out of their classroom routine. A change in physical location, especially going outside, can help students problem-solve from different perspectives. Serendipity, too, plays a key role in generating opportunities to discuss content. Recently, two of my biology students found a stingless wasp. Their excitement and interest in looking at the small insect led to their learning about microscopes and ecological interactions that were not a part of the original lesson plan (but that are science standards they need to know). Sharing how instructional flexibility can build content knowledge is an important focus to this conversation as well.

In summary, I will center on the myriad of benefits of getting students outside and on using student-led inquiry to drive outdoor learning. I will facilitate group dynamics by providing a quick overview and a hands-on experience that will be the launchpad for generating ideas.

Conversational Practice

I have been using outdoor education to enrich my practices as a science teacher for over 10 years. Gained through extensive experience, I will share how I integrate outdoor opportunities into preK-12 curricula; and I will offer tips to address safety and tips to manage students outside.

During a brief introductory presentation, I will describe outdoor inquiry and share research about the benefits of getting students outside both for their personal well-being and for their learning about content.

Participants will then explore a 10-15 minutes hands-on lesson using living Bess Beetles to engage their senses and curiosity. Using the experience as a launch pad, we will break-up into small groups to discuss: how we felt watching or holding a beetle, what we wonder about beetles, and what questions we might ask about beetles (from science, mathematical, literary, historical contexts).

In new groups, participants will be asked to brainstorm: logistical limitations to taking students outside (class size, safety, experience), specific ways they see themselves working outside with students (inquiry lessons, projects), and best practices for outdoor education.

Groups will document their initial experience with post-it notes and their brainstorm conversations in a shared online resource (wiki or Google slide) that participants will be able to access during and after the session.

Conversation Links

Presenter Profiles

Sandra Marr
Sandra Marr
Collegiate School


Sandra Marr

Hello, I've posted the comments from our conversation on the site below. Please keep in touch and let me know if you'd like to brainstorm! Peace and potential, Sandra


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