Student and Teacher Testimonials
An action research project was completed to gather responses from teachers and students in terms of outdoor classroom utilization. Responses are included below with brief descriptions of each (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 1). Experiences with an outdoor classroom led students and teachers to report an increase in their knowledge and understanding of the topic being taught. One fourth grade student had the following response to a visit to a field/nature center:
- “We learned about the wildlife and where they live and lots of habitats and animals. Where they live and what kind of areas they are in. Some of the animals we saw lived in water, some were living in damp woodland” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 25).
It is important to note how some students learn – through memories that are associated with sights and sounds. For example, one student responded:
- “When we went quiet, we heard birds singing and branches waving from one side to another. It was interesting because it was all different shapes of trees and different shapes of leaves” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 25).
Practical conservation learning was completed successfully according to the respondents. This occurred after the recollection of a sorting exercise, which followed an activity that was connected to sustainable food resources and production. For example, one student responded:
- “I remember the lunch. We put fruit in the compost and yoghurt pots in the re-cycle to take back to school. The waste one was quite empty” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 25).
An important point that one of the teachers put best, after visiting the nature center, was:
- “It’s putting learning into context rather than just seeing things in an academic sense in the classroom.” And that outdoor learning “makes the curriculum come alive…it’s a different experience to the classroom so it’s a more powerful teaching resource because I think it will be more memorable as a learning experience for them” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 26).
Some teachers felt that it was a challenge when students were introduced to an unfamiliar environment, such as an outdoor classroom. These new experiences were also enriching and help broaden student horizons. Student self-esteem and confidence were reported as being lifted because of the freedom of an outdoor classroom and the encouragement the teacher gave to students to try new things. One of the teachers followed up with this idea, saying that a raise in student happiness and confidence helped students become more effective learners (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 29).
Researchers found that collaborative tasks performed in an outdoor classroom environment had a positive impact on “cooperation skills, leadership qualities, perseverance, reliability, initiative, and motivation” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 29). One teacher had the following response, making reference to the social benefits for students:
- “The shared experience, it’s not only for us and the children. I saw some children talking to each other that would not normally talk to each other, it’s not a big deal but it bonds children together as a class, a kind of community feel about it. We are all going on a coach, we are all going to walk up a hill. It contributes to the gelling of the school. This is why we go in November time, so it’s a nice beginning and end” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 29).
Some promising effects of outdoor learning, where individuals took action together as a group, occurred during and after such learning events. Participants learned how to influence society, specifically in a way to promote positive environmental action. For example, primary school students took a field trip to a national park, and one responded:
- “We got all the rubbish out of the school play yard. [We] Got litter pickers and went round picking it all up. [We have] still got them and we still keep the playground tidy” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 30).
Teachers also found direct benefits when they could observe students being taught by someone else, such as an outdoor educator. These teachers felt as if they were able to learn more about their students, including student reaction and interaction with the topic being taught, as well as how much knowledge was actually gained by such an experience. One teacher responded:
- “It was nice for somebody else to do the activity, and for me to look because I am up here [at the front of the class] all the time so it is difficult to see how the children are responding. So it is a good opportunity for me to do some assessing actually. ‘Is he listening? Because he doesn’t listen in a classroom here.’ That sort of thing, so I can take a step back while somebody else is running the show. And it teaches me more about them than I would be able to do in the classroom” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 31).
Finally, teachers felt they benefited from outdoor learning because they were able to interact with their children in a more relaxed setting in an informal environment, which contrasted that of the normal teacher-pupil relationship. The relationships between students and teachers improved because students were able to see teachers in a different way and vice versa. One teacher responded:
- “… as a teacher you don’t get the chance to chat with them so that gave us some space to do that. We were talking about what we were looking at, their vocabulary was much wider than I had imagined” (Dillon et al., 2005, p. 32).