Thursday, March 31, 2016

Can We Go Outside? Lessons for Your "Natural" Classroom

The weather is warming up, the children (and teachers) are getting antsy for summer break, and you hear the request "Let's have class outside!"

Early in my teaching career, I would have brought outside what we were doing in the classroom and we would read a book or bring our work to the playground. Then I started thinking, wouldn't it be neat to have specifically designed lessons using the "natural" elements? So using lessons from over my career, ideas inspired by other educators, and with the help and brainstorming of my Wake Forest elementary education seniors, here are our Top 10 lessons that you can teach outdoors:

1) Easter Egg Hunt: There are so many ideas you can do with Easter Eggs!
  • Write a math problem on the top half of the egg, the solution on the bottom half, and hide the halves in different places. As students find a half egg, they need to find a classmate who has found the other half. An alternative would be to give each student an answer to start with and they have to individually find the problem that matches the answer.
  • Print out slips of paper with quotes from a book you are reading as a class. As students find the egg with the quote inside, they have to find classmates with quotes that identify similar themes, characterization, or message. For example, you can have quotes that demonstrate love, vengeance, friendship, etc. 
  • Instead of using actual plastic Easter eggs, you can use the concept of an Easter egg hunt in science by "planting" different kinds of rocks around your outdoor space. Students are searching for specific rocks based on your standards.
2) Geometry Scavenger Hunt: Each student has their math journal or a clipboard and travels around the playground of outdoor space to find examples of geometric shapes throughout the space. You can also give students pre-made labels that they can put on examples of that shape.

3) Chalked Polls: Chalk is one of the most common and easy to implement ideas for outdoor space. We frequently see it used for math problems or vocabulary words, but what if you turned it into a larger scale purpose. For example, have students put out a poll to the rest of the school asking various questions that require choice. So as classes go outside for recess, students can contribute to the poll questions. The next day (hopefully it doesn't rain!) go back outside and have students collect the data and turn it into graphs and charts. Be sure to let your colleagues know what you are up to so they can participate!

4) Tic-Tac-Toe Relay Game: The idea for this came from a YouTube video where students did a relay race Tic-Tac-Toe for what appears to be a warm-up in PE. This can be brought outside using the same racing concept, except that students cannot run to the Tic-Tac-Toe board until they answer a question. This would be great for math fact review since you want to have questions that students can quickly answer and then run.

5) Playground Division: Tell the students that each grade level is receiving an equal piece of the outdoor space. The students must figure out how to equally divide up the outdoor space by determining the area of the space, how to divide it, and what is the most equitable means for dividing it up where each grade receives a fair space to use for their students. If you provide string students can even rope off the areas to show how it is divided.

6) Convertible Car Push: For grade levels that deal with force and motion, this is a great activity that I did for many years with my students! First, find an extra adult or two to assist! Then find a teacher that has a convertible car and kindly ask them to borrow it. Have the kids safely out of the way and have a starting and finishing line marked out (about 50 feet is good). With an adult in the driver's seat, put the car in Neutral. Then call your biggest kid up and have him push the car as fast as he can across the finish line. Have someone time him. Then bring up two kids and do the same. Continue this with 3, 4, and 5 kids. You can measure speed, force, and several other science and math concepts with this activity.

7) Speedy Kids: In a classic race format, have students sprint across a track and record their times. Using the times (which can be differentiated by whole seconds, tenths, hundreds, or thousandths depending on the grade level), use this data to order and compare times of the runners. This is a good opportunity to use chalk as well when dealing with the times.

8) Paleontology: Create a scenario where you tell the students there has just been a magnificent find on your school campus and they believe a fossil has been discovered. Take the kids outside and have them dig up (get permission for this!) a bone (that you have previously buried) for the kids to find. After finding it, have the kids begin measuring the circumference, diameter, etc. and then they can discuss and write about what kind of bone they think it is, what animal it may have come from, and use estimation to guess how old they think it could be. This involves a lot of good story telling and role play from the teacher!

9) Water Balloon Launch: Using a sling shot and water balloon, have the students launch water balloons as far as they can. Measure the distances of the balloons in feet, yards, meters, etc and have them convert them to different units.

10) Historical Reenactments: Since most famous historical events have occurred outside, it would seem natural to reenact them there! In small groups, have students create scripts and characters for a reenactment of a famous historical event (e.g. Boston Massacre, The Alamo, Battle of Antietam).


If you do one of these lessons, or any other neat outdoor lesson that you create, put pictures up on social media (Twitter, Instagram, or the RCA App) and tag me @adamdovico by April 22nd. My students and I will pick our favorite one and you will receive a free signed copy of my book, Inside the Trenches