So this past summer I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in a program where prospective teachers would gain experience in classrooms in and around Dublin, Ireland. My placement was a little unique because it was one of very few secular schools in Ireland. Aside from being a secular school, the school I was placed at was unique from other schools in Ireland and even here in a few different ways; most notably, the school I was placed in had a student centered curriculum. This student centered curriculum was great! It was so refreshing to see student’s interests being taken into account, not only in the curriculum, but in how it was taught; teaching became more of a discussion and a collaborative effort between the teacher and student versus just having a teacher talk students for the day. One more interesting thing about this school was how they taught religion; students were taught all religions equally in school, which is different from how we approach cultural differences in the United States. Additionally, if students want to spend more time on any one religion in particular they were allowed to do so during after school programs.
There is one unique thing about the school I was placed at that I would like to expand on further and that is Forest School. Once a week, students would make their way out of the classroom and up a scenic hill (and that is being modest because it more closely resembled a mountain) where they would do activities and hands on learning for the day; they called this Forest School. Now don’t get me wrong, the field trips that we do here in the United States are great and provide some great learning experiences for our students, but what stuck out to me about Forest School is the frequency at which they get out and do this; once a week compared to maybe once a semester in some schools here in the United States. So you may be asking yourself “What do they do in Forest School?”. During Forest school students do hands on building projects, reflecting and hypothesizing about things in nature, mentoring their younger peers, and playing and socializing with their classmates.
So all of this thinking about Forest School has me wondering; Can learning outdoors be beneficial for promoting literacy? Seeing the students out there, even though it was a regular occurrence, they were much more engaged and cooperative, so why not try and teach out there? Immediately I started thinking about my own content area of science and biology and the possibilities are endless. For example, I could have students do a mark and recapture experiment to estimate the population of a species, explain why leaves change colors with real life examples, try and identify rocks, or have students hypothesize about why certain trees or shorter than others. Thinking about this some more I came to the conclusion that you could use the outdoors for teaching just about anything, and maybe it was just the fresh open air that made the students more engaged, not the fact that the teaching was specific for the environment. For example, maybe one could teach basic addition and subtraction using rocks and leaves, or read poetry about nature in nature. The point I’m making is that I believe that using the outdoors occasionally may be beneficial to students learning by making that learning authentic and maybe exploring teaching outside of the classroom could be beneficial. Given my limited exposure to teaching in this environment, I am excited to get a chance to try it out.