Igniting curiosity among students not always seen

Outdoor instruction will go mainstream in public K-12 schools. And when it does, such as when one teacher says “we can do an algebra lesson under a tree” and another says “real trees and vistas might actually be a good thing for an American history lesson,” there will be no turning back. At least if what Brooke Teller said on CBS Sunday Morning the other day is correct.

Teller, who was named coordinator of outdoor instruction with Portland (Maine) Public Schools last summer, said that outdoor learning “ignites a curiosity in students that we don’t necessarily see when they are confined between four walls at home or in a classroom.”

It’s hard to imagine getting better than that! So kudos to the Portland school district, which didn’t wait for the Covid-19 pandemic to drag on for a year to recognize that it had more choices instructional choices than inside the building or virtual, and which quickly set up 156 new outdoor classroom spaces at its 17 school locations.

Green Schoolyards America, a nonprofit organization that was helping schools figure this out before the pandemic, does a great job of capturing what the folks in Portland did. Please take a look.

And a couple more things about Portland, Maine, and its schools. The coastal city of 66,000 averages 49 inches of rain annually and 61 inches of snow. The weather certainly isn’t any more conducive to outdoor instruction than it is in Albany. And with 6,750 students, 53% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the school district doesn’t look entirely different than Albany’s.

So what does this have to do with school gardening, where the Vegetable Project began its work? Well, we’re in the education business as much as we are about gardening. And we can see every time we venture outside with kids and especially when they get comfortable with getting their hands dirty the opening to for meaningful learning. So we talk up what feels like a natural extension of where we started.

–Bill Stoneman

Leave a Reply