Can We Learn Outside?

By Christy Martin, Ed.D.
Originally published by the Learning Counsel.

Last week, Anthony Fauci suggested that students should learn outside as much as possible. To some educators who are relying on technology, that scenario may seem impossible. Others say students will be too distracted. Not so, say many of the experts.

Schools’ wifi should be able to handle student Chromebooks from remote areas on campus. Football stadiums, baseball bleachers, play areas, benches, and even grass can become an alternative to classrooms. Some schools have outdoor eating areas that make the ideal outside classroom.

In instances where wifi is not up to the burden, instruction can be given outside with the actual time needing a connection brought inside. It would be a welcome relief to students who are returning from schools that have been closed since March and provide teachers and students a moment to take a “breather” outside as well.

There are a multitude of apps out there that can add to or enhance instruction in the digital age, and all students need is their phone. If all else fails and the teacher is desperate to add a bit of technology to the great outdoors, there is for sure something available that would do that. Almost all students have phones and it would eliminate the necessity for a wifi connection.

Research tells us that students who have distraction issues function better outside and might be able to benefit from some classroom time outside. A new study from Frontiers in Psychology indicates that students are actually more attentive after lessons outside, and for many of them, their attention to the lesson continues when they return to the classroom and on into the day.

Schools with ventilation, air return issues or just plain stale air might want to consider an outdoor alternative and find ways to make it appealing to teachers and students.

Of course, finding the right place, at the right time, in the right weather is challenging in certain parts of the country. As are other things in the education world, this would have to be well planned and timed to provide optimum online experience, combined with classroom interaction in real time.

Dr. Fauci is not an education expert, but teachers are. They know what is feasible in their classroom. Teaching outdoors is something all teachers may consider and evaluate, and administrators can do their best to facilitate if it seems like a feasible alternative at their school. Check the wifi signal on various places on campus. Refresh your knowledge about phone apps for learning. Look at possible seating or classroom areas outside and work with teachers to schedule and balance some outdoor time if it works for your school.

While this might not be an option for many facilities, planning for wifi expansion, physical areas, and integrated instruction might be a consideration. We are learning many things during this pandemic and have tried many things. Moving instruction outdoors alongside technology when appropriate and possible could very well be one thing that outlives the pandemic.

Dr. Christy Martin recently retired with 30 plus years of experience as an educator in K-12 and higher education and another 6 years in social service for foster youth. She considers advocating for at-risk youth a calling. Since retiring in February, she has returned to her love of writing, currently practicing that craft by writing about child welfare and school issues. She lives in East Tennessee, 15 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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