Saturday, July 31, 2021

Summer PD: A Walk on the Wild Side

I mentioned in my toe-dipping into back to school ideas that I've been attending a series of one-day summer institute professional development days at school. They're run in-house and on a completely optional basis (though paid!) and cover a variety of subjects. One of the nicest parts is that you can gear it toward your own professional learning and interests. Additionally, it is a great way to meet up with a variety of our preschool to grade 12 colleagues and get to know them better. Classes run from from anywhere to 6-20 "students" (aka other teachers), so a quick connection builds and the discussions can become quite rich--both on topic during class and off topic during lunch.

Like most teachers, I love learning new things. I also often teach a class or two in the summer. This year, I co-taught a class called "Walk on the Wild Side: Integrating Environmental Education in Your Classroom" with an Upper School Science teacher. We taught it in Summer of 2019, and rebooted it this year. One of the fun perks is that we have all of the participants bring their bikes and we bike the 2+ miles between campuses on the community bike trail and picnic and geocache about halfway along the way. 

In addition to discussing  Florence Williams' book Nature Fix and the health benefits of why we need to get outside, we incorporated some tools such as scavenger hunts and nature observations which can help teachers get in touch with the outdoors. 

One of our activities was to inspire our participants to come up with a setting outdoors for a 2 inch Playmobil figurine using only natural items. (My kids loved these when they were little and we have a ton of them. They make the perfect teaching tool!) The neat thing about this activity is the curricular connections: it could serve as inspiration for a story students would then write;it could be to build and showcase a chapter in a book; or it could be a maker activity putting the design process to work solving a problem. Our adult creations and backstories were phenomenal. Plus, it got the juices flowing for other ways teachers could modify these (and other) activities in class.

Along with afternoon work time for teachers to think of their own ways to infuse the outdoors in their classes, we invited participants to add to the growing document of ideas that we started, that grew in 2019, and grew even more this year. The list is housed in a professional development part of our online portal and available to all. Here are some of the inspirational and collective ideas from our teachers to you! We broke them down into time periods so anyone could find something that fits with whatever time block they have available!

5-10 Minute "Walk On The Wild Side" Classroom Activities to get kids outdoors--Many at this time period could be"brain break" events:
  • Hide and seek with objects or people -- especially in foreign language classes
  • Pato pato ganso (Duck Duck Goose in Spanish) or on hot days, drip drip drop or tie in with new vocabulary (example: noun, noun, adjective)
  • Numbers freeze dance on playground using sidewalk chalk and music
  • Compare our weather to weather in target country
  • Sidewalk chalk recording and illustrating the themes in the book as an anticipation strategy prior to reading
  • An inside activity, but daily: tally the number of days or hours you DON’T need to turn on lights due to lights coming into the room.

10-20 Minute Activities
  • Scavenger hunt with nature vocabulary, team building, or tie to concepts and bring it outdoors
  • Bury magnetic letters in sandbox and have preschoolers dig out and identify letter
  • Book Club Activity based on a novel about survival/nature
  • How many triangles can you make with 9 sticks?
  • Practice writing letters using water and paintbrushes
  • Play season detective and scour the schoolyard for all the signs of the given season 
  • Use sidewalk chalk to create a grid where kids can count and sort objects
  • Build a nature structure using “found nature” items outside for a “character” (Lego or Playmobile figure). Put a time period on it. Photo and share (or annotate), museum walk, etc. Put on parameters about how tall, wide, the perimeter, etc.

20-30 Minute Activities
  • Maximizing the exploding can (hydrogen coffee can experiment)
  • Bohr Model of the Atom Amphitheater
  • Build a Structure for Lego person and calculate “you size” (scale/dimensional analysis?)
  • Soccer with language immersion (foreign language)
  • Collect flowers and leaves and do leaf rubbings with crayons (younger students)
  • Novel read aloud at outdoors- have the kids “act out” different characters and add stage directions to the text 
  • Shape walk, followed by sketching and labeling what you saw
  • Write math problems on the blacktop with chalk and have students find pinecones, rocks, etc., to represent the answer.
  • Build a model of a topographic map with natural items

30-45 Minute Activities
  • “Escape Room” that takes place/incorporates outdoor space 
  • Have students chalk compass directions onto the blacktop and take note of what they see in each direction. 
  • Form adjective list, then go on a walk or on schoolyard nature trail and try to find an object that matches each descriptive word.

45-60 Minute Activities
  • Kite flying (and making) for the Breadwinner chapter book unit
  • Book-themed party hosted outdoors w outdoor challenges/activities 
  • Scavenger hunt from PD Day 
  • Solar Ovens/Wind Turbines
  • Water Quality in pond or stream
  • Carbon sequestration (tree diameters)

An Hour-long + Activities

Apps & Other Goodies

Art from my camera or created on

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