“Teachers shouldn’t be afraid to leave the classroom!” claimed one 3rd grade educator who joined us for the science module training that the REAL School Gardens education team led last Thursday at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in Fort Worth. We agree!
Armed with hand trowels and a question, “What is Soil?” 65 3rd grade teachers went outside to find an answer. These professionals were the 6th group of Fort Worth ISD educators to be trained by the REAL School Gardens education team on a science module for their district’s online curriculum frameworks. The goal: get teachers (and their students) to approach their learning from the ground up… literally.
By the end of third grade, students are expected to “explore and record how soils are formed by weathering of rock and the decomposition of plant and animal remains,” Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) 3.7A.
Key word: explore. This is perhaps the most important part of any science lesson, and unfortunately one of the most often misinterpreted or even skipped steps. How do we explore soil in the classroom in a way that’s meaningful for a nine-year-old and relevant to the real world? Go outside, of course! It almost seems too simple, but at a time in education when “outside the box” can get even the best of teachers in trouble, “outside the classroom” can be an overlooked or even intimidating option.
But we know it’s okay. In fact, we know it’s better than okay—it’s important to take students outdoors for engaging learning experiences. In addition to the well known social-emotional benefits that come with spending time in nature, it can actually improve students’ academic achievement.
Of course, it’s certainly not surprising that an outdoors-based educational nonprofit like REAL School Gardens would advocate for time spent outdoors. But, the teachers we train feel validated (and sometimes relieved) to know that their district and state are pushing for instructional time outdoors as well. The fact that Fort Worth Independent School District has contracted REAL School Gardens to write complete science modules to include an outdoor component and then train educators on those modules is indication enough of their support of teachers taking their students outside for academics.
Wording in the new science standards for the state of Texas that came out in 2010 demonstrates that support for teachers taking their students outside is even coming from the very top of our state’s educational institution. Although similar wording is in place for each elementary grade level, for 3rd grade specifically, the standard states, “districts are encouraged to facilitate classroom and outdoor investigations for at least 60% of instructional time.” At a recent training that a couple of our education staff attended, we were told that the state thinks it is so important that teachers spend instructional time in the outdoors that they would have mandated it if it were legal to do so.
Written following the 5E format (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate), the 3rd grade Soil Module training had teachers digging, journaling, dialoging, classifying, modeling, synthesizing, and even laughing—engaging them in the same processes and activities that they’ll be able to utilize with their own students in their own classrooms (both indoor and outdoor).
By the end of the day, some of the professionals had this to say:
“The outdoors is a great learning environment for students. We should use the resources that nature provides to teach our students.”
“Students should have chances to explore outside of the classroom! Teachers shouldn’t be afraid to leave the classroom!”
“Going outside is a useful and important component to teaching science. Students have opportunities to excel that they may not have in the classroom setting.”
Kids love to dig in the dirt—and with their teachers now trained to teach the new soil module for the 3rd grade FWISD science curriculum, that’s exactly what they’ll be doing!
We offer a special thank you to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) for the use of your gorgeous indoor and outdoor space, and we extend our gratitude to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden for allowing 65 Fort Worth educators to dig some holes!