For some, taking classes outdoors an act of faith

6-2016, Bill Stoneman, Albany school gardensConsiderable research suggests that contact with nature can ease stress, help keep attention where it belongs and sooth emotional pain. A particularly notable paper, published earlier this year, reported on students focusing better in a standard indoor classroom after a lesson taught outdoors than after a lesson in the standard classroom. Insights in these findings could be really important in schools where we work.

And so we develop ideas that would take classes outside, if only for a single class period, and pitch them to teachers. We think that putting teaching and learning in an outdoor setting occasionally could help with the social and emotional underpinnings to successful classroom outcomes. And we would posit that social and emotional needs often pose the biggest issues for students who disrupt and then fail classes with a resounding thud.

Problem is, taking a class outside, with really energetic students, who generally ignore boundaries, feels like a risky proposition to many teachers. And understandably so. It takes some faith to believe that even the most challenging students could become easier to work with after a turn or two or three, even if things look even worse initially.

Maybe it’s too easy for outsiders like us, without direct responsibility for students’ conduct and test scores, to say that it will work. But we still would encourage a couple of thoughts. One is that research, while hardly definitive, paints a compelling picture of the good that seems to come from contact with nature. Another is that command and control efforts in traditional classrooms are not especially successful with the most challenging students.

–Bill Stoneman

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