YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel
Outdoor Classroom Expo
Back in the 1990s, with only a vague idea of how to go about it, I decided that my students and I would create a nature trail on the grounds of the middle school where I taught. It was easy to do—if I discount the time I nearly got run over by a truck hauling gravel, the backbreaking work of dragging wheelbarrows filled with gravel onto the trail, the misery of being attacked by poison ivy, and the difficulty of finding funds for the project. After battling on our own for months, the neighborhood association generously provided funds for the completion of the trail, and the Extension Service built a small amphitheater that students could use as an outdoor classroom.
As we turned onto the road leading to Lanark, the beauty and tranquility of this natural sanctuary flowed over us.
Lanark Nature Center (Boris Datnow)
The center encompasses 350 acres of forests, fields, streams, wetlands and ponds traversed by five miles of boardwalks and trails. Boris—my husband and tech guru—eagerly set off to explore and photograph the preserve. I joined the teachers registering for the Expo in the spacious and elegant Lanark Pavilion. About the Alabama Nature Center
Lanark Pavilion (Boris Datnow)
Teachers had the choice of an excellent variety of workshops. April Waltz, Alabama Wildlife Federation Outdoor Classroom Program Coordinator, outlined a master plan for building outdoor classrooms. April showed how schools with outdoor classrooms can create learning stations that include herb and wildflower gardens, as well as wildlife habits from woods and ponds, to creeks and bogs. Michelle Reynolds presented practical ideas for growing lovely native plant gardens that attract insects, butterflies and birds. Teachers with a certified outdoor classroom—from Barkley Bridge Elementary in Hartselle, Alabama—report using their outdoor classrooms throughout the year.
Teachers from Barkley Bridge Elementary in Hartselle, Alabama
with Helena Uber-Womble
Helena Uber-Wamble, from the Birmingham Audubon Society, did several fascinating workshops on birds. We specially enjoyed the mellow, misty morning bird walk with Helena.
Mist Shrouds Live Oaks at Lanark Nature Center (Boris Datnow)
Just some of the other stimulating topics covered were: exploring bog habitats presented by Lynn McQueen, Bringing Literature alive in the Outdoors by Joy Thomas, How to Write and Eco Mystery, (which I presented), Elizabeth Johnson inspired teachers to bridge the gap between teaching indoors and outdoors, Doyle Keasal assisted teachers in finding a way to fund and write grants.
Logo for Barkley Bridge Elementary in Hartselle, Alabama
The outdoor classrooms are not only places to encourage appreciation of the natural world. The presenters demonstrated how outdoor classrooms can serve as springboard for hands-on, real-world learning that inspires students to apply multidisciplinary skills that include math, science, history, geography, language arts and physical exercise in a stimulating environment.
Thanks to April Waltz and the staff at the Alabama Wildlife Federation for a well-organized, informative and enjoyable Expo. The delicious meals they provided were an added bonus. I highly recommend that educators, parent volunteers, gardeners and nature lovers attend next years’ Expo.
Resources for Teachers:
Outdoor Learning Guide
Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program
Project Learning Tree
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