My Students Took Me To School Today!

Today is the first day I intentionally  took my students outside since the beginning of the year.  (The last time we went outside we had just come back from a field trip so it was an afterthought.) Not only is it a nice day outside but it is one of my student’s birthday, and I want them (and me) to be active. What I didn’t expect were the lessons I learned about them in ways I never could have imagined.

I learned that a student who gives me such a hard time every day and has pretty much failed my class every marking period is an excellent wide receiver! I mean this boy is bad! He’s pretty to watch and he’s got moves — like serious NFL moves! Oh — and I learned that another one of my students runs faster than a speeding bullet. He’s headed for Penn Relays and then the Olympics — he’s super-fast! I learned some fun and encouraging cheers from my students who are cheerleaders — but yet they are so quiet in class! These girls’ voices were loud and motivating! My students are so talented in so many ways!

There’s really something special about taking them outside.  It affords me a chance to connect with them in an unassuming environment and to learn things about their academic and personal lives that are meaningful. I now know who got accepted into the Junior Honor Society (congrats!), who likes who (juicy middle school gossip ), who watched “Thirteen Reasons Why” and what they think about it (very insightful), who is physically fit and active, and who was
inspired to be active just because we were outside!

I watched  kids who don’t talk to each other in the classroom support each other and play as a team right there on the school lawn. I saw kids create their own rules, regulate and amend those rules as a unified body, and play fairly by those rules without incident. That’s democracy in action. I learned that two of my students are “foodies.” They sat outside and not only did they teach me about McDonald’s “fake” food, but they rooted their arguments in information found in the book “Chew On This” by Eric Scholosser and Charles Wilson. I got to see the standards for citing textual evidence and engaging in age-appropriate speaking and listening in action. 

I had the privilege to witness a student who doesn’t stutter educate another student who does stutter about how to breath deeply to stop himself from stuttering. It was such an intuitive, heartfelt recommendation — and it worked, too! I happen to stutter and went to speech classes in the sixth-grade and everything she taught him I knew to be true and effective because I was taught that same strategy by professionals. This incident brought me to tears — happy tears, of course.

And then two  of my students shared openly their Hindu faith and how it helps them do well in school and in life. I was so inspired to learn this information that a test just can’t provide.

I came back inside and began to research studies about holding classes outside because this was a good and new experience for me and my students. I’ve held classes outside before and had similar results, but that was earlier in my career and I simply chalked it up to the rapport I had with those students after years of being their teacher, not necessarily to the outside environment. There’s more to it than that.

According to Wide Open Education, teaching outside “achieves the gains in communication by requiring students to work as teams to solve problems on expeditions. Students have to lead discussions, contribute their ideas by making their voices heard, give each other feedback, and resolve conflicts. Granted, these activities can be done in a traditional setting, but according to a 2006 study, the impact is more significant when the consequences are real.”

This is what I witnessed outside today. The study goes on to state that “a unique form of education has sprung up uniting the ideas that a) education is most effective when paired with experience, and b) knowledge ought to be used to benefit others.” That was the “stuttering tutorial” two of my students engaged in. Finally, and this really just bought it all home, studies about the benefits of holding classes outside and learning through play say that “moving the class outside opens up a world of fresh stimuli for the senses that have an amazing power to lock into the brain and secure whatever information was being learned at the time along with it.”

So why are we still teaching classes inside the school building? I’m not sure why you are and I hope that after reading this you join my students and me (albeit in your neck of the woods) outside on the field, the playground, the blacktop — whenever is accessible to you. Today I learned about the science of education, not just the art of it. My students took me to school today and I enjoyed every minute.

What do you think?

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