Outdoor Learning: The New Snow Day?

Outdoor Learning: The New Snow Day?

Even as an adult, a snow day announcement creates a youthful sense of excitement. The resulting buzz is less about postponing a day of school and more about the rarity and suddenness of unplanned, unexpected time. 

Lisa Ferguson and Kristen Janowiak - two of Thomas Jefferson Middle School’s 6th grade ELA teachers - applied this thinking to recreate the jolt generated by a surprise a schedule change.

Ferguson and Janowiak took advantage of recent warm weather to offer a flipped version of the winter classic: a warm weather day, which included a large outdoor area, new outdoor furniture designed for our young students, the ability for the students to establish and create their own learning areas, and the curricular structure of a traditional school day. The teachers released learners into the natural large group instruction area, allowing students to co-mingle and group between classes and to find their place in the expansive area.

Veteran teacher Ferguson noticed instant engagement: “The bright portable pieces immediately made sense to our students, as they chose between desks, cushions, and faux grass mats to create their learning own spaces.”

The dynamic energy left an impression on the teachers. “We watched students form their own groups, work together collaboratively, take turns reading and helping one another with questions - in essence, forming their own classrooms.”

Both teachers took students outside for two days and agree that their sixth graders will remember the experience because it was memorable. Janowiak says, “While the approach and planning are relatively simple, it’s the ‘something different’ that students will remember and look forward to once we start seeing the warmer temperatures towards the end of the school year.”

School Principal Mark Maudlin adds, “Our school purchased the outdoor classroom furniture with a Valparaiso Schools Foundation grant submitted by our media specialist, and it’s one of many ways our media center partners with classroom teachers and provides learning support.”

One look at the studious and smiling faces says it all! And, perhaps best of all … no snow required.