From Stanley Mikles, science teacher, Hill City Secondary School in northern Minnesota)
- Are my students trained to be in the forest/swamp/field/schoolyard? This process begins on the first day of each semester. We advance outdoors by short steps. It takes some time to build respect and trust.
- Every excursion has a well-defined purpose and well-defined expected outcomes. Having said that, the purpose of the excursion does not necessarily have to fit with the topic we are studying. Sometimes surprises open the doors for discovery!
- Safety is discussed, not dictated. In 18 years, I have never had a serious injury in my classes.
- Do my students have the necessary clothing for the environment and the weather? Over the years, students have abandoned coats, gloves, hats, and boots to a point where I have a room full of the stuff. As winter comes, I remind them to get ready. We can't go if even one kid shows up in a t-shirt and shorts. That's when I pull from my jacket and boot collection.
- I must be motivated by the work at hand. If I am having a "bad day," and I let it show, it rubs off. On the other hand, my passion for the topic builds passion in my students.
- Establish a rallying point (central meeting place) for each event.
- Use a signal to meet at the rally point. I use a cow call that kids can hear for miles.
- Field journals are required. No journal entries for the day equals a zero.
- Teams are good, sometimes. I have to know my students.
- Make accommodations for my less capable students. Arrange for a paraprofessional to escort students with special needs—brief your paraprofessionals on the what, why, where, when, and how's.
From Mark Studer, Bemidji Middle School
- Have the kids establish the outdoor "rules" that they will live by for the year the first week and have all agree to them (thumbs up is fine)
- If you need to warn more than once about behavior - send them in to sit in the classroom. Don't get mad - tell them you are sorry, but they will have to go in - and continue with your class. Kids respect that and are much more likely to give you their "undivided" attention once someone has been sent in. And I follow up with a short phone call to the parent to chat with them.
- Have them bring their science notebooks and always have something to do in the science notebook, whether it is a journaling entry or notes on something you are talking about, a sketch, or other observation.
- When I am speaking, I tell them to huddle and make sure they are not any more than "two-deep" around me. Works fairly well.
- I take time for "teachable moments" when we run into something outside that is unexpected, like the walking stick (insect) that a student found while we were sitting discussing ecology - we all got a look at him and discussed the term "mimicry."
- Teach them how to observe with "soft eyes," looking not just in a specific spot but focusing on everything simultaneously. It helps them to see movement and the bigger picture.
- For an initial trip outdoors in the fall, position them along a trail so they can't see each other and have them sit and observe with all their senses their surroundings while they are perfectly still.
- I carry a small backpack with me when I go out—I carry an anemometer (wind meter), thermometer, extra pencils, rulers, first aid pack, clipboard, magnifying lens, water bottle, candy, field guides, binoculars, and anything else I think might be useful.
- Don't be discouraged if you take your kids out every time things don't go perfectly. Reflect on the event and make a few notes on how to make it better the next time. Then go out again!
- Take your students out in the winter as well. Just do it.
Teachers like these exist everywhere. Find one at a local nature center or through your state environmental education organization.